Dave Tuley's Vegas Beat
LAS VEGAS – This MLB postseason already looks like none other in recent memory, and the sports books here are gearing up for more surprises.
We already knew it would be different with the New York Yankees not making it to the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years (the other being 2008) and with the Pittsburgh Pirates making their first appearance in 21 years (1992, with a pre-PED Barry Bonds). These new-age Pirates won the NL wild-card game Tuesday night, 6-2 over the Cincinnati Reds, and then the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Indians 4-0 Wednesday night after knocking off the Texas Rangers on Monday night in the play-in game (technically the last game of the regular season).
So now we have the final four in each league with no overwhelming favorite. The LVH SuperBook has the Los Angeles Dodgers, making their first playoff appearance in four years, as the lukewarm 3-1 favorite to win the World Series with the Boston Red Sox, back after a one-year hiatus, at 7-2. They're followed by the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals each at 5-1, the Rays (after starting the week at 25-1 before their 2 wins) and Oakland A's both at 8-1, the Atlanta Braves at 9-1, and the Pirates at 12-1.
Keep in mind that the AL champion will have home-field advantage in the World Series by virtue of the league's 3-0 win in the All-Star Game.
The Dodgers are 3-2 (same as a money line that would be expressed as +150) to win the NL pennant, with the Cardinals at 2-1, the Braves at 7-2, and the Pirates at 5-1. In the AL, the Red Sox are 8-5, with the Tigers at 2-1, and the Rays and A's at 4-1.
NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISIONAL SERIES
Pirates vs. Cardinals
This series kicks things off at 5:05 p.m. Thursday with the Pirates having to come back and play the first game after getting through the wild-card game on Tuesday. The Cardinals are the -160 favorite with home field in the five-game series (2-2-1 format) and have far more playoff experience (it is further credit to the organization that Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols left after the Cardinals title two years ago and Pujols hasn't made the playoffs with the Angels yet the Cards have been in the playoffs both years under Mike Matheny and are one of the top contenders).
The Cardinals are also coming in as the hotter team as winners of 10 of their last 12 games, including closing the season with a six-game winning streak. The Pirates are +140 in the series (for those who don't bet baseball, the series have a 20-cent line just like football sides and totals, though game prices are usually a dime line). Some offshore books have seen Pittsburgh money (perhaps partially for the Cinderella factor) drop their odds around +130 but action has looked a little more balanced here in Vegas.
In Game 1, the Cardinals are a consensus -150 favorite in Vegas (pretty much mirroring the series price) with ace Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA) facing A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA). Wainwright started three times against Pittsburgh and was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA while Burnett was 3-1 against the Cardinals. It is interesting to note that the Pirates won the season series 10-9 against the Cardinals, so this should be a competitive series.
Dodgers vs. Braves
Thursday's nightcap has L.A. visiting Atlanta. The Braves have home-field advantage due to their 96-66 record compared to the Dodgers' 92-70, but the Dodgers are a solid -160 favorite with the Braves at +140. That's due to the fact that the Dodgers will be favored in the two games at Atlanta (with Zack Greinke going in Game 2) despite the Braves having an MLB-best 56-25 home record. It's pretty much assumed that the Dodgers would have had a better record, but they were looking quite middle-of-the-road until Yasiel Puig burst on the scene in June and turned their season around.
In Game 1, the Dodgers are -140 with Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA) taking the mound against Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11 ERA) at +140. However, it's interesting to note that if you bet on the Dodgers in all his starts that you would have lost money and he was always a heavy favorite plus the Dodgers were 3-5 in games in which he got a no-decision. This is an intriguing series as the Dodgers would be a huge favorite if they had home field, but the Braves having it helps level the playing field. The Braves also won the season series 5-2, but you can't put too much stock in that as all those games took place before the Dodgers turned their season around.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISIONAL SERIES
Rays vs. Red Sox
Friday's AL playoffs start with the Rays wheeling back with their third game of the week, though I wouldn't weigh that too much as it's not an overly strenuous schedule by baseball standards. If anything, the Red Sox could have more of a problem with rust, though they had an intrasquad scrimmage on Wednesday to try to stay sharp. The Red Sox opened as a -125 series favorite at the Treasure Island sports book on the Las Vegas Strip with the Rays as a short +115 underdog. With the Red Sox winning the season series 12-7 and having home field, this number seems a little short, but that shows how much respect is given to the Ray and manager Joe Maddon.
In Game 1, the Red Sox are a -140 favorite with Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA) taking on Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29 ERA). Moore is consider the Ray's No. 3 starter behind David Price and Alex Cobb, who needed to be used earlier this week to get the Rays to this spot, but his stats stack up quite well as he was also 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA against the Red Sox. The Rays have a good chance to steal a game in Boston either in this matchup or in Game 2 when Price takes the mound against John Lackey, who was just 10-13 this year and had an 8.10 ERA in two starts against Tampa.
Tigers vs. A's
Just like the Dodgers-Braves series, we have the team without home field being the favorite. The A's were 96-66 to the Tigers' 93-69, but the Tigers are a -155 favorite over the A's at +135. There has been early support for the A's as the series price opened -160/+140 at the LVH. The A's won the season series 4-3, but it's only considered that they have the better bullpen while the Tigers are the better offensive team with the stronger starting rotation.
In Game 1, the Tigers are around a -125 favorite with probable Cy Young winner Matt Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA) getting the honor on a strong staff and facing Bartolo Colon (18-6, 2.65 ERA). The Tigers also have Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.45) and Anibal Sanchez (14-8, AL-best 2.57 ERA) to justify why they're favored. As stated, the A's have the better bullpen, but it's not clear how many of games they'll have a lead in the middle to late innings and be able to take full advantage of that.
That looks like four pretty competitive series. We'll check back on the “Vegas Beat” after this round with an update of the odds to win the World Series and a look at the league championship series.
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website, ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 47, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.