Take the San Francisco Giants at 2.10 to win on the road against the St. Louis Cardinals in game one of the National League Championship Series.
Both starters in this Saturday clash – Madison Bumgarner (Giants) and Adam Wainwright (Cardinals) – are bona fide aces. But there are two factors driving this pick for me. The first is Wainwright’s shaky performance in his club’s division series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wainwright caused great pause when he was crushed for eleven hits and six runs in just 4 1/3 innings in that important contest. (In contrast, Bumgarner has already thrown in two playoff games this year and has allowed just two earned runs in 16 innings pitched.)
Now, I admit great pitchers rarely have back-to-back bad outings, but even if Wainwright does right the ship, the Giants have a strong bullpen advantage. In 2014, San Francisco ranked an impressive fifth out of thirty Major League teams in bullpen ERA. By contrast, the Cardinals were a middling fourteenth. As we’ve seen so far in this post-season, most of these games have come down to which late-inning pitching corps can hold their opponent at bay. In this case, the Giants are more likely to do it.
Look for the St. Louis Cardinals to score first at home in their NLCS match-up against the San Francisco Giants; consider taking it at 1.95.
There is no doubt this is a gutsy pick. Both starting pitchers are capable of great things (and if you read above, you know I’m uncertain about Adam Wainwright’s current form), but the key here is what goes down in the first inning for both Madison Bumgarner and the Cardinals hitters. Throughout his career, there is no inning that Bumgarner has struggled more in than the first. In 147.1 innings of initial frame work, the Giants’ starter has a 4.40 ERA. His next worst inning doesn’t come until the seventh, where his ERA is 4.32 (I’m discounting the ninth, where he owns a 7.20 ERA because he’s only thrown five innings that late in the game, making the sample size too small.)
That’s fantastic news for the Cardinals as there most prolific scoring frame is, you guessed it, the first. St. Louis scored 85 runs in the first this season. The club is clearly a quick starter as their second-best innings in the second (82 runs).
Now, San Francisco is also a good first inning team (they scored their most runs in the first as well), but the Giants taper off quickly if they don’t immediately strike. The team’s numbers in the second inning is not nearly as good as the Cardinals’. Also Wainwright has a better ERA in both the first and the second innings than Bumgarner.