MLB Playoff Picks: MLB Wild Card Betting Preview

MLB Playoff Picks: MLB Wild Card Betting Preview

This article is part of our MLB Picks series.

MLB Picks: MLB Wild Card Betting Preview

The first-ever eight-team MLB Wild Card Round has arrived. Baseball fans are in for a treat, especially Saturday, when a guaranteed four elimination games will take place. The main challenge will likely be finding a way to follow it all at once.

For those looking to add a bit of extra fun to the tournament, I'll be previewing each round of the playoffs, offering my top picks for each series as well as a bonus bet from every matchup. Below, you'll find my best bets as well as projected starters and a brief statistical look at each series, showing the overall rank of each team's lineup, rotation and bullpen. We'll use park-adjusted stats for those rankings, going by team wRC+ for hitters and ERA- for pitchers. You can also find my World Series picks article with a look at three teams to consider backing at their current odds and prices.

Wild Card Round Series Odds

  • Guardians -125; Rays +105 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Cardinals -130; Phillies +110 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Blue Jays -160; Mariners +130 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Mets -175; Padres +145 (DraftKings Sportsbook)

Tampa Bay Rays (86-76) at Cleveland Guardians (92-70)

Key Stats

Stat

Rays

Rank

Guardians

Rank

Team wRC+

101

15

99

16

     vs. RHP

99

17

104

11

     vs. LHP

108

13

84

27

Starter ERA-

94

9

96

12

Reliever ERA-

91

9

78

5

Projected Starters

Unconfirmed pitchers in italics

LHP Shane McClanahan (2.54 ERA, 2.82 SIERA) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (2.88 ERA, 3.21 SIERA)

RHP Tyler Glasnow (1.35 ERA, 2.37 SIERA) vs. RHP Triston McKenzie (2.96 ERA, 3.58 SIERA)

RHP Corey Kluber (4.34 ERA, 3.85 SIERA) vs. RHP Cal Quantrill (3.38 ERA, 4.50 SIERA)

Series Preview

This one is stuck in the early Friday slot for a reason, as it features two teams from smaller markets whose rosters are among the weakest of the remaining 12 clubs. Both teams deserve to be here, but with neither ranking higher than fifth in any of the above categories, neither looks like a real threat to make much noise. What we do have, however, is two front offices that have found ways to put together competitive teams despite significant budget restrictions, with both teams sitting in the bottom six in payroll. The Rays got here by mastering the art of mixing and matching, using 158 different batting orders this season. They consistently get the most out of a deep collection of decent or better players, but they lack star power, with just one player (Yandy Diaz) finishing with a wRC+ above 125. If young phenom Wander Franco (149 wRC+ in 25 games since returning from a fractured hamate bone) continues his star-level performance, though, the lineup looks a bit more threatening.

The Guardians don't have anything close to a threatening lineup, though they have an entertaining one for fans who prefer a throwback style. This isn't quite a lineup full of Steven Kwans from top to bottom, but it's close. Cleveland's 18.2 percent strikeout rate led the league by more than a point, but their 127 homers led only the lowly Tigers, with Jose Ramirez the only Guardian to clear the fence more than 20 times. Kwan epitomizes this lineup in another way in that it skews left-handed. Fellow young breakout hitters Andres Gimenez and Josh Naylor also hit from the left side, while the switch-hitting Ramirez much preferred facing righties this season. A key to this series may wind up being Rays lefty Jeffrey Springs, who isn't currently scheduled to start any games but who could throw several innings out of the bullpen in Game 2 or Game 3.

Series Pick: Rays, +108 (FanDuel)

If you're a believer that the Royals really did crack the puzzle in 2014-15, maybe you can justify going with the Guardians here. Going all in on contact, speed and defense certainly has its fans, and the Guardians have the strong bullpen that those Royals teams did as well. That Royals bullpen was league-leading, however, not merely fifth-best like this Guardians unit is, and they had a top-10 offense by wRC+ in the second of those seasons. This Guardians team had an admirable season, but their record is inflated by playing in the AL Central. They simply don't have enough overall talent in their lineup and rotation to be favored against any other playoff team, and I just don't think I can back a team in this era that hits so few homers. I'll gladly take the slight plus money on the Rays here. What tips the scales firmly in their direction is just how severe the Guardians' weakness against lefties is, which will be a problem in Game 1 against McClanahan as well as in whichever game Springs gets the ball.

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Bonus Bet: Rays Most Runs in Wild Card Round, +800 (DraftKings)

I care much more about a series' likelihood of going three games than I do about the strength of a particular offense for this prop bet. That means I'm looking at the winner of one of the two AL teams to claim this particular crown, as you'll see further down that I'm expecting the two NL series to be brief. The Rays don't have as strong a lineup as the Mariners or Blue Jays, but they do have far better odds than both teams, who occupy the top two spots in this category. Additionally, Progressive Field is the only stadium among these four that ranks in the top half per Statcast's runs park factors. I wouldn't expect a ton of runs against Shane Bieber in Game 1, but the rest of the Guardians' starters are hittable enough. As long as Cleveland manages to take at least one of the first two games, I think the Rays will be up there with the other AL winner as the teams most likely to win this category, so I'll take the potential for a big payout with Tampa Bay.

Philadelphia Phillies (87-75) at St. Louis Cardinals (93-69)

Key Stats

Stat

Phillies

Rank

Cardinals

Rank

Team wRC+

106

10

114

5

     vs. RHP

102

12

109

5

     vs. LHP

115

6

131

1

Starter ERA-

93

8

101

17

Reliever ERA-

104

22

93

10

Projected Starters

Unconfirmed pitchers in italics

RHP Zack Wheeler (2.82 ERA, 3.19 SIERA) vs. LHP Jose Quintana (2.93 ERA, 4.02 SIERA)

RHP Aaron Nola vs. (3.25 ERA, 2.80 SIERA) vs. RHP Miles Mikolas (3.29 ERA, 3.99 SIERA)

LHP Ranger Suarez vs. 3.65 ERA, 4.11 SIERA) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (3.48 ERA, 3.61 SIERA)

Series Preview

The Phillies finally ended their 11-year drought and will return to the playoffs to face the team that knocked them out in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. That game featured a pitchers' duel between Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter, and while neither team has quite that level of ace available this series, the Phillies get much closer. In Wheeler and Nola, the team has arguably the second-best one-two punch in the league, trailing only the Mets' Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. In a longer series, questions about the Phillies' pitching depth would become more pressing, but there's a chance the team's top pair doesn't leave many innings for the bullpen to handle in what could be a two-game series.

The Phillies lineup, which is stronger now that Bryce Harper is back from the injured list (albeit in diminished form thus far), should be able to score against whichever good but not elite pitchers the Cardinals send out there, though it's far from impossible to make a case for the home side. They have one of the best relievers in baseball in Ryan Helsley and can pair him with Giovanny Gallegos in the late innings, so the mediocrity of their rotation may matter less than you think. Even more importantly, their lineup has been excellent, primarily because 35-year-old Paul Goldschmidt and 31-year-old Nolan Arenado have had career years. A lineup this good definitely has a chance to go off even against pitchers like Nola and Wheeler, and I'd favor the Cardinals by a significant margin if this gets to Game 3 against lefty Ranger Suarez, as no team has been better against southpaws than St. Louis has. 

Series Pick: Phillies 2-0, +290 (DraftKings)

If the Phillies pull this off, it's happening in two games, as Suarez is pretty unremarkable for a playoff starter and not someone you'd trust against the best lefty-killing team in the league. But in a series where Nola and Wheeler could possibly handle over three quarters of the available innings, I'm siding with Philadelphia against most teams. I'd take the Phillies straight up to win the series as well, but since I think they'd be clear underdogs to win it if they lose one of the first two, we might as well go with them to win it in two games, which offers a far greater reward.

Bonus Bet: Cardinals 2-1, +220 (Caesars)

This is the series where I'm most interested in trying a bet on both sides, targeting specific scores. Yes, if the Phillies win in three or the Cardinals win in two, you're out two units, but I'd consider both outcomes very unlikely. With this pair of bets, you'd win 1.9 units if the Phillies win in two (the outcome I expect to happen) and 1.2 if the Cardinals win in three games. I just don't see St. Louis besting both Wheeler and Nola, but if they squeak out one of the first two, I fully expect Lars Nootbaar or Brendan Donovan to become the latest in a long line of unheralded Cardinals to become a playoff hero.

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Seattle Mariners (90-72) at Toronto Blue Jays (92-70)

Key Stats

Stat

Mariners

Rank

Blue Jays

Rank

Team wRC+

107

8

118

2

     vs. RHP

106

10

118

3

     vs. LHP

110

11

115

7

Starter ERA-

101

18

103

19

Reliever ERA-

90

6

98

15

Projected Starters

Unconfirmed pitchers in italics

RHP Luis Castillo (2.99 ERA, 3.35 SIERA) vs. RHP Alek Manoah (2.24 ERA, 3.85 SIERA)

LHP Robbie Ray (3.71 ERA, 3.50 SIERA) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (3.35 ERA, 2.94 SIERA)

RHP Logan Gilbert (3.20 ERA, 3.84 SIERA) vs. RHP Jose Berrios (5.23 ERA, 4.13 SIERA)

Series Preview

This might be the most exciting of the four wild-card matchups, in no small part because it brings a team that just erased a 21-year playoff drought into the electric atmosphere of a playoff game at SkyDome. Adding even more intrigue is the fact that the matchup pits two players who could be the faces of baseball for the next decade against each other, with 23-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looking to defend his home turf against 21-year-old Julio Rodriguez. Both superstars are surrounded by more than capable supporting casts, though you can see from the statistical rankings above that neither team is without its flaws.

The Blue Jays have a truly elite offense, with depth being its main strength. Six regulars finished with a wRC+ of at least 129, allowing the team to finish second overall even in a relative down year for Guerrero (132 wRC+). That offense has covered for a rather mediocre pitching staff, though their starters' poor ranking is due in large part to back-end options who may not need to participate in this series (assuming Gausman's lacerated finger has healed). The team's bullpen hasn't been particularly deep but is anchored by a strong core led by Jordan Romano (2.14 ERA, 36 saves). The Mariners' bullpen, on the other hand, is an excellent and deep unit. Led by Paul Sewald and Andres Munoz but featuring several other very reliable weapons, the Mariners' relief core lessens the pressure on a rotation that isn't fine but not a strength by playoff standards, though that unit got stronger with the addition of Luis Castillo.

Series Pick: Mariners, +144 (FanDuel)

Here we come to the first time I'm picking a team that I might not take if not for its friendly odds. While I'd take the Rays and Phillies at even money, the Jays' elite lineup is enough of a strength that I'd give them a slight edge without the odds factored in. There's no way I can take them at -160 or worse, however, and +144 is a boost I'm happy to take on the Mariners' side. It's possible the Blue Jays hit well enough to overcome the questions about the team's pitching staff, but I think the Mariners' bullpen is deep enough that they can be leaned on heavily across a three-game set to help prevent that, especially if one of the team's four trustworthy starters moves to the pen for the series. There are simply too many ways for Toronto's pitching situation to go wrong. Maybe Gausman's finger injury actually is an issue. Maybe Alek Manoah's SIERA is more predictive than his ERA, as SIERA usually is. Maybe Ross Stripling falls back to earth, or even worse, maybe Jose Berrios gets a start.

Bonus Bet: Teoscar Hernandez Most HRs in Wild Card Round +2500 (DraftKings)

The Mariners' pitching staff generated the second-lowest groundball rate in the league, beating only Arizona. Additionally, this series will be played at the most homer-friendly of the four venues in use this round. Plus, this seems like a series which is among the more likely to go the distance, as neither team's strength comes from having two dominant starting pitchers. It all adds up for someone on the Jays to have the best shot at leading this category. Any of Toronto's best power bats make for a solid bet, but I'll go with Hernandez, whose 13 second-half homers led the team and who gets better odds than Guerrero, Bo Bichette and George Springer.

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San Diego Padres (89-73) at New York Mets (101-61)

Key Stats

Stat

Padres

Rank

Mets

Rank

Team wRC+

102

13

116

3

     vs. RHP

101

14

119

2

     vs. LHP

103

15

109

12

Starter ERA-

98

13

95

11

Reliever ERA-

99

16

94

11

Projected Starters

Unconfirmed pitchers in italics

RHP Yu Darvish (3.10 ERA, 3.39 SIERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (2.29 ERA, 2.88 SIERA)

RHP Joe Musgrove (2.93 ERA, 3.45 SIERA) vs. RHP Jacob deGrom (3.08 ERA, 1.59 SIERA)

LHP Blake Snell (3.38 ERA, 3.20 SIERA)  vs. RHP Chris Bassitt (3.42 ERA, 3.75 SIERA)

Series Preview

The Mets look like a clear outlier among this crop of clubs. Their lineup is in an elite tier matched only by the Blue Jays and Cardinals in this group of teams, but those two units are backed by questionable pitching staffs, at least by playoff standards. The Mets' pitching may look like it isn't meaningfully better according to these rankings, but that ignores the fact that it only includes 11 starts worth of Jacob deGrom. DeGrom threw four percent of the Mets' innings in the regular season, but it wouldn't be a shock if he throws 40 percent of the innings in this series. With Max Scherzer, who recorded a career-best ERA in his 15th MLB season, potentially set to throw a similar amount, you almost have to pity the Padres.

There's a case to be made that the Padres deserved better than a date with deGrom and Scherzer, though their rankings in the table above are rather unimpressive. A group with this much star power shouldn't rank 13th or worse across the board. Some of that star power won't be showing up any time soon, with Fernando Tatis Jr. still suspended, but if midseason acquisitions Juan Soto (.778 OPS as a Padre) and Josh Hader (7.31 ERA with San Diego) look like their former selves, this matchup looks more even. The turnaround is already happening for Hader, who has a 0.00 ERA and 0.54 WHIP across his last 10 appearances, but the Padres' bullpen is still nothing special by postseason standards. Meanwhile, the San Diego lineup looks to be a Tatis away from being a truly threatening unit. Even this lesser version of Soto makes for a formidable pairing with Manny Machado, but no other hitter on the team has a wRC+ above 110.

Series Pick: Mets 2-0 +160 (DraftKings)

We'll pull the same trick here we pulled with the Phillies above, and for similar reasons. The Mets' greatest strength is the dominance of their two aces, a pair that I'd handily favor even over the Phillies' options. The Mets should be clear favorites in both Game 1 and Game 2, and if that's the reason we're picking them, we may as well pick that exact result, which offers a far better payout. Similarly, if I wanted to pick the Padres, I'd do so via their 2-1 series score bet (+310 at FanDuel and BetMGM) rather than picking them to win straight up. I can't envision a world in which the Padres topple both deGrom and Scherzer, but it's not out of the question that pitchers like Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove can hang with them on a given night. If the Padres manage to get to a Game 3 against the good but decidedly human Chris Bassitt, they'll have a real chance, especially as they can start Blake Snell against a lineup that hasn't hit nearly as well against southpaws.

Bonus Bet: Juan Soto Most HRs in Wild Card Round, +2800 (DraftKings)

If the Padres do manage to pull off the upset here, it will have to be because they got past Scherzer or deGrom. If they're to have any hope of doing that, it will require Soto starting to look more like the best version of himself. I don't think a Padres win will come in just two games, which helps Soto's chances. Additionally, Scherzer in particular is more prone to the long ball than you'd expect for a pitcher of his talents, as his 31.1 percent groundball rate is third-lowest among pitchers who threw at least 140 innings. Soto is correctly priced as a long shot here, especially as the Mets may simply walk him in half his plate appearances, but the path to a Padres victory probably requires him having a run at this category.

Visit RotoWire all season long for exclusive sports betting picks from our group of handicappers with their expert MLB picks each day of the campaign and all through the postseason. Remember that betting apps vary in terms of odds and available player props, so we have an easy-to-use odds page that allows you to shop for the best lines at DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and PointsBet. Stay up to date on the MLB futures market throughout the postseason with the latest World Series odds and pennant odds.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Halterman
Erik Halterman is the Features Editor for RotoWire. He also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Baseball on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio.
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