Wednesday's Baseball Previews

CARDS/NATS, O'S/YANKS BOTH KNOTTED AFTER FIRST TWO GAMES

Normally when a series is tied, you'd think that both teams have a relatively even chance to make it to the next round. But, in this non-sequitur postseason, a split is actually a big win for the series favorite. Washington and the NY Yankees both broke serve in their first games at St. Louis and Baltimore respectively. Each must only hold serve twice in three times at home to move on to their respective league championships.

Of course, neither is in position to wrap things up yet here on Wednesday. The Nats will have the first chance to take a 2-1 series lead as host in an early afternoon start in the nation's capital. Let's run some key indicator stats for that game...followed by tonight's game in the Bronx where the Yankees will try to surge ahead of the O's...

ST. LOUIS AT WASHINGTON (Game 3)
1:07 p.m. ET on MLB Network
Las Vegas Line: Pick-em, total of 7.5

Interesting that this game is seen as a toss-up even though the series favorite is at home. That speaks well for the respect St. Louis has earned in recent playoff action (winning the World Series last year as a Wildcard, then surviving the play-in game this year in Atlanta), and also represents skepticism about the true championship potential of Washington. The market is still saying "Prove it" to the new league power.

THE SERIES SO FAR
Game One: Washington 3, St. Louis 2
Game Two: St. Louis 12, Washington 4

Typical of what we've seen all season for the Cardinals. They lost a close game to start things off, then scored a bunch of superfluous runs in a blowout right after that. This team had a fantastic run differential over 162 games because this went on all year! They typically execute poorly late in close games, but they sure know how to pile on the runs when they've found a vulnerable pitcher to hit. It's great for the Cards that they lead 14-7 on the scoreboard. That just hides the trouble they're in because of that service break. St. Louis must win twice in Washington to move to the NLCS.

WEDNESDAY'S PITCHERS
St. Louis: Carpenter (0-2, 3.71 ERA, 1.12 WHIP)
Washington: Jackson (10-11, 4.03 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)

You can see why this game is pick-em! Because of injuries, Carpenter made only three starts this year. There's just no way to know for sure what St. Louis is going to get out of him in this crucial spot. He doesn't have a long track record. What's his current health? What's his current stamina? Is he really big-game ready given so little time on the mound this season?

For his part, Jackson continues to be an inconsistent pitcher who frustrates whoever's paying him. It's a bad sign when you can only go 10-11 in wins and losses for a team that almost won 100 games! He's the type of pitcher who's either feast or famine...and it's a coin flip as to which you're going to get on a given game. He could easily throw a gem and push Washington ahead in the series. But, a late season meltdown vs. these very Cardinals (a game that pushed his season ERA from the mid 3's into the low 4's) suggests that St. Louis can have a big game if he's not on.

JIM HURLEY is working very closely with his sources on both teams to get the right read here. Based purely on stats and knowledge of the pitchers...pick-em is the right line because there's so much uncertainty in the air. Resolve that uncertainty, and a big play could be in the offing at a value price.

BALTIMORE AT NY YANKEES (Game 3)
7:37 p.m. ET on TBS
Las Vegas Line: NY Yankees -170, total of 8.5

New York always gets plenty of line respect at home. That's certainly the case here with a high price. Is that too high when these teams were so close in the final season standings...and when these teams just split the first two games of the series? Well, New York has more frontline talent, more depth, and significantly more playoff experience. Vegas is giving them FULL credit for all of those plus maybe some more for their starting pitcher. Can a team offer value at that high a price? Or, is this a "Baltimore or pass" situation?

THE SERIES SO FAR
Game One: NY Yankees 7, Baltimore 2
Game Two: Baltimore 3, NY Yankees 2

Baltimore was the opposite of St. Louis this year, in that they were FANTASTIC in close games, but tended to get blown out if their starting pitcher got rocked. Buck Showalter used an interesting strategy this year of letting his worst relievers eat up innings when the team had fallen behind, but using his best relievers in short bursts in winnable games. That's why the one-run record was so stellar...foreshadowing their bounce-back win in Game Two. Normally, we'd attribute a strong one-run record to good luck. Showalter's strategies (and the fact that the team has done well in close games vs. blowouts in all three of his seasons there) have us re-thinking that in this case. Of course, it's tough to win one-run games as a visitor in the Bronx with that park's home run potential.

WEDNESDAY'S PITCHERS
Baltimore: Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)
NY Yankees: Kuroda (16-11, 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)

Gonzalez is one of many "Who the heck is that guy?" contributors on the Orioles this year. He came from out of nowhere to produce in a rotation that had no margin for error down the stretch. We think he was throwing a bit over his head...and young arms are known to implode under playoff pressure. Gonzalez has NEVER faced the kind of pressure he'll see Wednesday Night.

Kuroda had a great season, which was hidden some by poor run support early on. In context he basically had a Cy Young type season when you factor in his home ballpark. Of course, he'll also be facing great pressure because all of Japan will also be watching. The combination of a Japanese star throwing for the New York Yankees creates burdens that few professionals have to deal with. If Kuroda shines here, he could be the linchpin player that takes the Yankees the distance.

Is Cinderella about to see her coach turn into a pumpkin? People have been asking that about the Orioles since July! Gonzalez must keep the game close so that the O's relievers can use their pixie dust until it runs out (if it ever will). JIM HURLEY'S statheads have found a couple of very interesting factors that suggest to them this Vegas line is off by at least 45 cents. You'll have to sign up for service to find out in which direction that edge lies.

There are also two Game Fours on Wednesday in the San Francisco-Cincinnati and Detroit-Oakland matchups. Each team that was down 0-2 stayed alive last night. Be sure to click here to get Wednesday's games. You could be looking at a Parlay...a Triple Crown...or even a Wednesday Grand Slam from a handicapping legend!

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