Dodgers sluggers Manny Machado, Justin Turner and Matt Kemp
Welcome back to the LazyBets Free MLB Picks column for Thursday, October 4th. The Yankees advanced to the ALDS with a 7-2 win over the A’s on Wednesday, winning us our moneyline bet in the process.
The -177 odds were a bit steeper than we would’ve liked, but it ended up being a great value after the Yankees closed as a -200 favorite. I guess everyone eventually came around to the same conclusion we did - if you’re going to go with your bullpen for a full game, you better have some really quality relievers to make it work.
We’ll look to keep the ball rolling with a bet we really like for Thursday’s NLDS Game 1 between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. The two division champs took very different routes to get here - the Braves cruised to an NL East crown after being written off in the preseason, while the Dodgers had to scratch and claw their way back from an huge early season deficit to finally clinch the NL West in Game 163 on Monday.
It’s a fascinating matchup, so let’s take a closer look at Game 1 to show you where we’re putting our money and why.
Atlanta Braves (Foltynewicz) at Los Angeles Dodgers (Ryu)
Mike Foltynewicz, Atlanta’s Game 1 starter, had a career year this season. After 65 uninspiring starts from 2015-2017 (4.85 ERA), the 26 year-old Braves righty finally had his breakthrough, going 13-10 with a 2.85 ERA that led to his first ever All-Star appearance in 2018. His success was undoubtedly related to a huge jump in strikeout rate - he managed to post a 27.2 K%, which is over 6% higher than his previous career best.
While his fastball velocity did increase this season, some are skeptical that Foltynewicz can maintain such a high strikeout rate without having increased his swinging strike rate much - his 10.3 SwStr% in 2018 is only 0.3% higher than his previous career best.
He also fared very well in some categories that are heavily influenced by luck - his BABIP was 4th lowest amongst qualified starters, and his left-on-base percentage was well above league average. Those stats wouldn’t be as damning if Folty was avoiding hard contact at a better-than-average rate in 2018, but he wasn’t - his 35.1 Hard% was mediocre at best.
All of this may lead you to think that we’re leaning toward betting the Dodgers on Thursday, but we think their Game 1 starter may be a bitter overrated as well.
Hyun-Jin Ryu has been lights-out in an injury shortened season this year, going 7-3 with a 1.97 ERA over 15 starts. He missed three months in the middle of the season with a groin strain, but the lefty was equally dominant on both sides of his DL stint - he posted a 2.12 ERA in his 6 starts before the injury, and has an incredible 1.88 ERA since returning in early August.
While we certainly prefer Ryu to Foltynewicz, we don’t think he’s nearly as good as this season’s stats make him out to be. Like his counterpart in Game 1, he’s also had a seemingly unsustainable jump in strikeout rate, punching out 9.7 per nine after having a previous career high of 8.2. He’s also getting particularly lucky with runners on base, leaving over 85% of them on base without scoring - a rate that would be second highest amongst qualified starters.
The Dodgers have the clear offensive advantage in this one - they finished tied with the Yankees as the #1 offense in baseball by wRC+. The depth in their lineup is absurd; in Monday’s NL West tiebreaker, the worst hitter in LA’s lineup by wRC+ (besides pitcher Walker Buehler) was second baseman Kike Hernandez, who hit 21 homers this season. Manny Machado and Justin Turner are the cornerstones of the offense, but there is truly no weak link in this Dodgers batting order
The Braves offense had a pretty average season as a whole, but they were far better against lefties, finishing 3rd in wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Freddie Freeman somehow hit better against southpaws than he did against righties this season, despite swinging from the left side of the plate. Rookie phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. murdered the entire league in his debut season, but lefties took the brunt of it (.302/.397.595). Fellow youngster Ozzie Albies cooled down quite a bit from his hot start to the season, but he still managed a very solid 139 wRC+ against left-handers. Ryu has his work cut out for him on Thursday.
Dodgers Braves Final Thoughts
Both starters taking the mound in Game 1 are being overrated by the public, the Dodgers offense has no weak links, and the Braves get much better when facing lefties. All of this leads us to believe that a lot of runs are going to be scored on Thursday night.
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Best of luck out there, and we’ll see you right back here soon for some more playoff baseball action. Let’s get a win!
Bet the OVER - 7 Runs
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