The league championship series are officially set, as the Tampa Bay Rays knocked off the New York Yankees last night in a dramatic game five that saw Tampa Bay come from behind to win the game late and advance to the American League Championship Series. In the ALCS, the Rays will match up with the Houston Astros, who beat the Oakland Athletics in four games, to make their fourth consecutive trip to the league championship series.
In the National League, we have a blockbuster matchup, as the Braves and Dodgers square off, with neither team having lost a single game in the postseason so far this year. The Braves are coming off of a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins in the NLDS and are a perfect 5-0 in the playoffs. For LA, the Dodgers easily dispatched their NL West Division rivals, the San Diego Padres, in three games, and look poised to win their first World Series title since 1988, as they have baseball’s best overall record.
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2020
We here at TheSportsGeek are going to be your home for all of the MLB championship series betting coverage that you need to make money betting on the 2020 MLB playoffs. In this article, we will preview the NLCS and tell you which team you should bet to win the series. Let’s get started!
Atlanta Braves (35-25) at Los Angeles Dodgers (43-17)
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves will play a best of seven series from Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas this week, with a trip to the World Series on the line. Both of these teams enter this series red-hot, as both squads are coming off back to back sweeps in the NL wild-card and division series rounds.
Similar to the previous two rounds of the playoffs, these teams will play every night until a winner is declared, giving us MLB’s first-ever, seven games, in seven days, series. The Dodgers are the current betting favorite to win the series at (-210).
How Did We Get Here?
Before we get too far into breaking down what is going to happen this week in Arlington, I want to take a quick look back and see how both of these teams got here. It is hard to tell where you are going if you don’t know where you have been, so taking a quick look back at how these teams played in the regular season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, is going to help us make an accurate prediction as to which team will be winning this series and taking home the National League pennant this year. First, let’s take a look at the Atlanta Braves.
The Atlanta Braves came into this season as the favorites to win the NL East Division, and while it was a tight race much of the way, by game sixty, Atlanta lived up to those lofty expectations, and indeed took home the NL East crown, finishing four games ahead of the second place, Miami Marlins. The Braves 35 regular-season victories were the third-most in the National League, trailing only the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.
Atlanta got the job done by being one of the hardest hitting teams in all of baseball. The Braves finished number one in the Major Leagues in slugging and on-base percentage, and second in home runs, batting average, and runs scored. Atlanta was led by NL MVP front-runners, Freddie Freeman and Marcel Ozuna. Ozuna nearly took home the NL triple crown honors, as he finished first in the NL in both home runs and RBI and third in batting average.
— MLB (@MLB) October 8, 2020
Freeman was right there with him though, finishing second in the league in batting average, with Nationals superstar Juan Soto edging him out for the NL batting title, and second in the league in RBI, trailing only his teammate, Ozuna. The Braves also saw Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuna Jr, and Adam Duvall all smash double-digit homers.
The Braves pitching staff was mediocre in the regular season, as they battled a ton of injuries, but in the playoffs, they have been nearly unhittable. In the Braves five postseason games this year, they have shut their opposing team out in four of them! That is a nearly unprecedented level of success on the mound, and Braves pitching coach, Rick Kranitz, has these guys all pitching well right now.
Los Angeles Dodgers
We just talked about the Braves being one of the best hitting teams in the league, and while that is absolutely true, they might not even be the best hitting team in this series, as the Dodgers can absolutely hammer the baseball. LA finished tied with the Braves as the top slugging team in MLB, and also led the game in home runs and runs scored.
Mookie Betts will finish right near the top of the NL MVP voting with Freeman and Ozuna, as will Corey Seager, who had a bounce-back year after seeing injuries slow him down the past couple of seasons. Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and AJ Pollock, joined Betts and Seager, with double-digit dingers in 2020, for LA.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners are considered the gold standard for modern-day regular-season excellence, as they won an MLB record 116 games, good for a .716 winning percentage. This year, the Dodgers surpassed that mark, as they finished with a .717 winning percentage.
It is hard to say how history will remember this COVID shortened season, but the Dodgers had a record-breaking regular season, and they have yet to lose a game in the postseason. If they can continue this level of play and run the table to a World Series title, this team could go down as one of the greatest of all-time.
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2020
While both of these teams match up similarly at the plate, the Dodger’s major advantage comes on the mound. LA finished number one in basically every major team pitching statistic, including ERA, WHIP, and batting average against. The Dodger’s ability to score a lot of runs, and not give up very many, led them to having by far the highest run differential in the game this season.
The 1927 New York Yankees are widely considered to be the greatest baseball team ever. They had guys like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, maybe you have heard of them, and their lineup was coined murderer’s row. That team won 110 games (remember they only played 154 games back then) and finished with a run differential of +376.
That is an average run differential of +2.44 a game. The 2020 Dodgers finished with a +136-run differential in 60 games, which is +2.26 a game. If this Dodgers team isn’t the greatest team ever, they are certainly in the conversation at this point, and a strong finish to the season that ends in a world title, just might put them over the top.
Who Do I like?
To be honest, I really like both of these teams, a lot. Whichever team emerges from this series, to represent the National League in the World Series, will be favored against either team from the American League. At the end of the regular season, I would have said that the Dodgers were clearly the heavy favorites, and I do still think that is the case, but with how the Braves have been pitching so far in the postseason, the gap between these two teams has shrunk considerably.
Both of these teams have elite hitting, and while guys like Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler are household names for LA and the Braves are using younger pitchers that aren’t as established, like Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright, the starting pitching is going to be a lot closer than most people might think.
Neither team has lost this #postseason.
— MLB (@MLB) October 9, 2020
The one thing that sticks out to me as a factor that needs to be strongly considered is that these teams play every night. That means these managers are going to have to make some tough decisions on who to pitch and on how much rest, which adds an extra layer of strategy we just haven’t ever seen before. Both of these teams have enjoyed several days off to rest up, and that break should allow them to be able to set their starting rotation just about any way that they want.
The starting pitching matchups have yet to be announced, but as we mentioned above, you can expect both teams to have their best guys going early in this series. Both teams are almost going to have to for sure use a fourth starter in this series, and they could end up using five, or going with a bullpen day for games four and five, as you just can’t start a guy on two days rest and expect much out of him.
Atlanta will likely go with Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Kyle Wright in games one, two, and three as all three guys will be on normal rest and have been pitching well. Fried is the ace of this staff now that Mike Soroka is out with an injury and Fried looked every bit the ace in the regular season, as he went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA.
Against the Reds in the wild card round, Fried tossed seven shutout inning. He wasn’t as sharp against the Marlins in the NLDS, as he gave up four runs in just four innings of work, but this guy is on the same level as a Walker Buehler or a Clayton Kershaw for sure.
Can’t lose if you don’t allow any runs. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/5oFYLHjSzm
— MLB (@MLB) October 8, 2020
Anderson and Wright are both super prospects that are making their first career postseason appearances, and both guys are pitching out of their minds right now. Anderson has made two starts in the playoffs this year and has worked a combined 11.2 innings and has yet to give up even a single run and has 17 Ks against just 3 walks.
Wright wasn’t pitching well early this year, but the former top draft pick has really turned it on lately. Wright made his postseason debut against the Marlins and shut the fish out in six innings. In his last three starts, he has pitched a total of 19 innings and has allowed only two earned runs. More importantly, the Braves haven’t lost with Wright on the mound in over a month, as they have won his last four starts.
We could talk all day about how talented the Dodgers pitching staff is right now. Of their five regular starters, three of them have ERAs below three runs, and the highest ERA amongst any of their starters is Walker Buehler, who just might be the best pitcher of the group, at 3.44. All of these guys, with the exception of Kershaw, are 26 years old or younger, and all of them have nasty stuff.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) October 9, 2020
The Braves four shutouts in five-games is mighty impressive. But those stellar results came against two teams that weren’t really known for their ability to hit this season, the Reds and the Marlins. The Dodgers haven’t been quite as sharp, but they played the Brewers, and the San Diego Padres, who were an elite hitting team this season, and held them to just over two runs a game combined. I don’t want to discount what the Braves pitching staff has been able to do in the playoffs, but I am not sure the performance we have seen from the Dodgers hasn’t been even better.
Trying to pick out which team has the better lineup here would be a lesson in futility. Both of these teams can hit for power and average, and no matter who is on the mound for either team, if they don’t bring their A-game, they are going to get lit up.
One guy that I think deserves a special mention for how he has been hitting so far in the playoffs for Atlanta, is catcher Travis d’Arnaud. d’Arnaud is hitting a sizzling hot .600 in five postseason games. He has hit safely in each game, racking up a total of 8 hits, 4 of them for extra bases, and 7 RBI. Getting that type of production out of your catcher is unheard of, and it makes the Braves very hard to slow down at the plate.
Travis d’Arnaud put the team on his back in Houston.
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2020
For the Dodgers, they have had several guys that have really stepped it up in the playoffs. Will Smith had 5 hits and 3 RBI in game three against San Diego and is hitting .455 right now. AJ Pollock, Joc Pederson, Seager, and Betts, are all hitting north of .300 for a team that is running on all cylinders. And while the Dodgers love that so many guys are hitting well right now, the one guy that they are ecstatic to see hitting the ball hard in the last week, is last year’s NL MVP, Cody Bellinger.
Will Smith cranks out nothing but hits.
— MLB (@MLB) October 9, 2020
I am not going to say that Bellinger had a “bad” regular season, but it certainly wasn’t up to the level we have come to expect from him. Bellinger hit just .239 in the regular season in 54 games and hit 12 homers and drove in 30 RBI.
That’s a decent stat line, but the Dodgers would much rather have the guy that hit .305 with 47 homers and 115 RBI in 2019, back. And so far, in five postseason games, he is looking like his old self. Bellinger has at least one hit in every game and 5 RBI. If the Dodgers can get him going, this lineup is going to be scary good.
Betting on playoff baseball can be tough. I think this series is a much more competitive series than the betting public does. The Braves are a very good team, that have a really nice mix of veterans and young guys. And while the number isn’t an overly bad one, I do think the Dodgers are being overvalued. But at the end of the day, I still seeing the Dodgers winning this series.
This Dodgers team has been playing with a chip on their shoulder all season long, since it was revealed that they were cheated out of a World Series title in 2017, by the Houston Astros. They are a team on a mission, and I think that the Dodgers win this series, and the world title, to right the wrongs from 2017. It will be hard-fought, but I can’t fade them right now, even at an attractive price.
So, with limited options available, I will fire on a lower value play, which is basically a free money spot. I don’t think the Dodgers will sweep the Braves, and they might even lose game one, with Max Fried pitching for Atlanta. I will lock in my action now, with the Dodgers laying -210 to win the series, but hope that the Braves steal game one, and double down on my bet, and hammer LA to win the series as the line will be much tighter if they are down a game. Give me the LA Dodgers to win the NLCS, as they continue their march towards vindication, chasing history along the way, and take care of business against the Braves.