Handicapping MLB’s First-Ever Wild Card Round With 3-Game Series

Major League Baseball is expanding from a 10- to 12-team playoff format starting Friday, Oct. 7. Four teams from each league get a bye and the division winner with the worst record in both leagues competes along with three other teams in the inaugural MLB Wild Card round.

Courtesy of MLB.com

This includes four best-of-3 series with the league’s division winner hosting the last wild-card seed and the second wild-card seed visiting the first. The higher seeds host all three games and each wild-card series begin Friday with the divisional series starting Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Below, I’ll give a little betting analysis on all four series and hone in on the ones worth betting. (NOTE: “Pitching Probables” is a mess. Some teams have officially named starters via MLB.com otherwise I’m sourcing FanGraphs and Baseball Reference to project the starters myself.)

American League Wild Card Series

No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays at No. 3 Cleveland Guardians

Courtesy of MLB.com

Series Price (DraftKings Sportsbook)

  • Rays (+105)
  • Guardians (-125)

2022 Head-to-Head Record:

The Guardians won 4-2 with a +4 run differential (22-18).

Pitching Probables

  • Game 1: Rays LHP Shane McClanahan vs. Guardians RHP Shane Bieber
  • Game 2: Rays RHP Tyler Glasnow vs. Guardians RHP Triston McKenzie
  • Game 3: Rays RHP Corey Kluber vs. Guardians RHP Cal Quantrill

WAR (MLB Rank) per FanGraphs

  • Pitching
    • Rays: 16.5 (13th)
    • Guardians: 18.6 (9th)
  • Lineup
    • Rays: 19.8 (14th)
    • Guardians: 21.6 (10th)

Handicap

Spoiler alert: I’m defaulting to my priors in a couple of these matchups.

In this case, my instinct is to bet the Rays at plus money because I picked Tampa to represent the AL in the World Series in a 2022 MLB preview. The return of Glasnow isn’t getting enough buzz.

Glasnow is one of the best power pitchers in baseball and, if right, is the ace of an above-average starting rotation. Glasnow’s return instantly raises the ceiling Tampa’s ceiling.

McClanahan was the odds-on favorite to win the AL Cy Young around the All-Star break and is the best starting pitcher for either team this season.

The Rays should jump out to a 1-0 lead after Game 1 with McClanahan on the mound because the Guardians cannot hit lefties.

Cleveland’s lineup ranks 27th in both wRC+ and wOBA, 28th in hard-hit rate and last in ISO vs. left-handed pitching, per FanGraphs.

Also, the Guardians beat up the weakest division in MLB (AL Central) and had the worst non-divisional record out of any playoff team.

That said, I’m going lay off Tampa’s series price here because Cleveland has the second-best record in the AL since August and I like bigger underdogs in the following series.

PICK: ‘Lean’ Rays (+105) with no official bet


No. 5 Seattle Mariners at No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays

Courtesy of MLB.com

Series Price (DraftKings Sportsbook)

  • Mariners (+140)
  • Blue Jays (-170)

2022 Head-to-Head Record

The Mariners lead 5-2 with a +7 run differential (28-21).

Pitching Probables

  • Game 1: Mariners RHP Luis Castillo vs. Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah
  • Game 2: Mariners RHP Logan Gilbert vs. Blue Jays RHP Kevin Gausman
  • Game 3: Mariners LHP Robbie Ray vs. Blue Jays RHP Jose Berrios

WAR (MLB Rank) per FanGraphs

  • Pitching
    • Mariners: 13.8 (16th)
    • Blue Jays: 17.0 (11th)
  • Lineup
    • Mariners: 23.1 (9th)
    • Blue Jays: 31.1 (5th)

Handicap

What have the Blue Jays shown to explain their series price? The only thing that makes sense is the home-field advantage and four of the Mariners’ five wins vs. the Blue Jays were in Seattle.

However, with all their talent, Toronto missed the postseason last year and fell a half-game short of their 2022 regular-season win total (92.5).

Furthermore, Seattle is five games above .500 vs. teams with a winning record while Toronto is four games below .500 against winning teams.

The Blue Jays clearly have the better lineup. But, postseason baseball is pitching and I’d give the Mariners the edge in that department.

Seattle’s bullpen is better by WAR, ERA, WHIP and home runs allowed per nine. Four of the Mariners’ five-most used relief pitchers have a sub-3.00 ERA while only three of the Blue Jays’ relievers do.

BET: Mariners (+140), all the way down to +130

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Thursday, Oct. 6 at 10:10 a.m. ET.

National League Wild Card Series

No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies at No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals

Courtesy of MLB.com

Series Price (DraftKings Sportsbook)

  • Phillies (+115)
  • Cardinals (-135)

2022 Head-to-Head Record

The Phillies lead 4-3 with a +2 run differential (22-20).

Pitching Probables

  • Game 1: Phillies RHP Zack Wheeler vs. Cardinals RHP Miles Mikolas
  • Game 2: Phillies RHP Aaron Nola vs. Cardinals LHP Jordan Montgomery
  • Game 3: Phillies LHP Ranger Suarez vs. Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright

WAR (MLB Rank) per FanGraphs

  • Pitching
    • Phillies: 22.6 (4th)
    • Cardinals: 13.3 (17th)
  • Lineup
    • Phillies: 21.4 (11th)
    • Cardinals: 32.9 (3rd)

Handicap

On paper, this series is more of a toss-up than the price suggests. But, that’s the story of the Phillies in recent seasons. In fact, Philly fired former manager Joe Girardi earlier this year because the Phillies weren’t meeting expectations as per usual.

The same can never be said about the Cardinals whose pitching is mehhhh and hitting lacks pop outside of All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.

This postseason could be the swan song for Cardinal greats Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Wainwright. Goldschmidt could be the 2022 NL MVP, Arenado is the best third baseman of his generation and Pujols has turned back the clock to end the 2022 regular season.

I’m not fading St. Louis’s juju in the wild-card round.

PICK: ‘Lean’ Cardinals with no official bet


No. 5 San Diego Padres at No. 4 New York Mets

Courtesy of MLB.com

Series Price (DraftKings Sportsbook)

  • Padres (+145)
  • Mets (-175)

2022 Head-to-Head Record

The Padres lead 4-2 with a +13 run differential (36-23).

Pitching Probables

  • Game 1: Padres RHP Yu Darvish vs. Mets RHP Max Scherzer
  • Game 2: Padres LHP Blake Snell vs. Mets RHP Jacob deGrom
  • Game 3: Padres RHP Joe Musgrove vs. Mets RHP Chris Bassitt

WAR (MLB Rank) per FanGraphs

  • Pitching
    • Padres: 19.3 (8th)
    • Mets: 20.3 (5th)
  • Lineup
    • Padres: 21.3 (12th)
    • Mets: 31.2 (4th)

Handicap

San Diego was my prediction to win the 2022 World Series. Truthfully, I power-rank the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers ahead of the Padres entering the playoffs and it was clunky how the Padres got here.

But, this line is too good to pass up and there are about 20-25 cents on the dollar worth of value on San Diego. As in, the fair price for the Padres is closer to +120 or +125.

The bottom line is the Mets’ top two starters are expected to mow down the Padres. But, I see it going another way.

San Diego pelted N.Y. in the regular season and Darvish shuts down the Mets so I give San Diego the edge in Game 1. The Padres are 3-0 since 2020 when Darvish starts against the Mets with a +3.7 margin of victory (5.0-1.3).

Also, Snell is the most underrated starter in this series because he has a losing record. Snell is the 2018 AL Cy Young, is trending up and has big-game experience.

Post-All-Star break, Snell has a 2.19 ERA (5.22 first-half ERA) 1.03 WHIP (1.48 first-half WHIP) and 5.25 K/BB rate (2.13 first-half K/BB rate). Snell has 2.80 ERA over nine postseason games (seven starts) and has allowed two or fewer earned runs in six of those starts.

Finally, if this gets to a decisive Game 3, I’ll trust Musgrove over Bassitt. There’s speculation that the Mets could opt to start deGrom in Game 3 instead. If that happens, Padres will win this series in Game 2.

BET: Padres (+145), all the way down to +125

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Thursday, Oct. 6 at 10:10 a.m. ET.

FOLLOW GEOFF ON TWITTER: @Geoffery_Clark

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Written by Geoff Clark

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