MLB Playoff Betting Picks: How Our Staff is Playing Nationals-Dodgers
Geoff Burke, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Juan Soto
- The Washington Nationals are betting underdogs (+140 moneyline odds) against Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers (-165 moneyline odds) on Friday night.
- Our MLB analysts pick out their favorite bets for Nats-Dodgers and Cards-Braves.
October will hit a fever pitch today as all eight playoff teams are in action. The slate kicks off at 2:05 p.m. ET with Game 1 between the World Series favorite Astros and the Rays and continues all the way through the night, closing with Game 2 between the Nationals at Dodgers at 9:37 p.m. ET.
Our staff shares their four favorite betting strategies for Friday’s action.
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75 ERA) vs. Mike Foltynewicz (8-6, 4.54 ERA)
- Cardinals Moneyline: -125
- Braves Moneyline: +115
- Over/Under: 8.5
- First pitch: 4:37 p.m. ET
After St. Louis stole Game 1 as an underdog, it certainly feels like Game 2 should belong to Atlanta. As such, the majority of bettors are expectedly taking the Braves at plus-money because “they’re due” or “they should bounce back” or “they won’t go down 0-2 at home.” Blah blah blah blah blah.
It’s not that simple, folks, and in fact, it’s been the opposite — maybe due to a bit of public line inflation — that’s been profitable. When the majority of bets are landing on a playoff team that lost its previous game, fading that club has gone 160-136 for 49.6 units and a 16.7% ROI since 2005.
In the more rare case that the public side is the underdog (like the Braves), that fade record becomes 49-21 for 17.5 units and a 20.0% ROI.
The PICK: Cardinals -125
Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers
Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (16-5, 3.03 ERA)
- Nationals Moneyline: +140
- Dodgers Moneyline: -150
- Over/Under: 7.5
- First pitch: 9:37 p.m. ET
The Nationals bullpen is probably going to continue to be their downfall in the postseason. Their combined 5.66 bullpen ERA is the highest of any team ever to reach the MLB playoffs.
If you want to back the Nationals in this series, I would recommend playing them on the first five innings (F5) moneyline, when their starting pitcher should be in the game going toe to toe with the Dodgers.
Stephen Strasburg has to pitch this game on short rest, after tossing more than 30 pitches in Tuesday’s Wild Card game, but he has been as good as any starter in the NL this year – and more effective than Clayton Kershaw despite a higher ERA:
I projected the first five innings as more or less of a coinflip, showing the Nationals as a +105 underdog – but I do see them closer to +130 over the full game.
Compared to current lines, I see a gap of more than 5% in expected value from +105 (implied 48.8%) to +130 (implied 43.5%) in the first five innings – more significant value than exists between the full game projection at +128 (implied 43.9%) as compared to the current game moneyline line (41.7%).
Back the Nationals to win the first half of the game behind Strasburg, who might not be able to pitch more than five innings.
The PICK: Washington Nationals F5 Moneyline
This is the spot I’ve been waiting for in this series. Although it’s based on a few Game 2 logical lineup assumptions.
The Nats are deadly against left-handed starters but the same can be said of the Dodgers when they take on a right-handed starter. I try to avoid betting against the Dodgers when they take on a righty. Los Angeles can throw out a lineup full of plus left-handed bats more than any team in baseball. It’s a reason the Dodgers led the NL with a stellar .824 OPS vs. right-handed pitching during the regular season. That’s even higher than their NL-leading .796 OPS vs. righties last year.
However, Strasburg isn’t your normal righty. Because of his elite changeup that dives away from lefty hitters, he’s been a reverse-splits pitcher for the past five seasons.
Just take a look at his OPSA (on-base-plus-slugging-against) lefty vs. righty splits since 2014:
In all but one of the past six seasons, he’s finished with a lower OPSA against left-handed hitters.
Now, assuming Dave Roberts does indeed go with a left-handed heavy lineup, that makes the F5 wager even more appealing than the full game since the shaky Nationals pen has only one lefty on the roster in Sean Doolittle. That’s less than ideal against a Dodgers lefty-heavy lineup that can mash most righties. Los Angeles is very patient at the plate, so you can expect to see the Nationals go to the pen at some point unless Strasburg does something extraordinary.
The wild card with this bet is if Roberts doesn’t go with a lefty-heavy lineup. I can’t imagine him doing so but he did start Enrique Hernandez in the World Series against Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton, two righties that have reverse-split type stuff.
But I’m willing to take my chances. And even if Roberts goes with a more mixed lineup, I still see value in the Nats on the F5 moneyline.
The PICK: Nationals F5 Moneyline
The Nationals aren’t getting enough respect in this matchup.
For starters, their starting pitcher enters this game in better recent form. Strasburg has pitched to a 2.91 ERA over the second half of the season, including a 2.40 ERA during September and October. Meanwhile, Kershaw pitched to a 3.47 ERA over the final month of the season.
Of course, the playoffs haven’t exactly been kind to Kershaw even when he was the best pitcher in baseball. He hasn’t been as bad in the NLDS as he has been in the latter stages of the postseason, but his 3.72 ERA is still nearly 1.5 runs higher than his career ERA during the regular season (2.44).
The Nationals offense is capable of doing some damage in this matchup. They posted a 111 wRC+ vs. southpaws during the regular season, which was the seventh-best mark in the league. They also own the fifth-lowest strikeout rate vs. left-handers, and Kershaw has seen a steep drop off in strikeout rate over the past few years. That means they should put a bunch of balls in play at a minimum, which makes them a live dog.
The PICK: Nationals +137