Each day during the MLB Playoffs, LT Profits seeks a side that has a better chance of cashing than its odds would indicate. Here is their MLB Playoff Value Play for Friday.
The underdogs appear to have the pitching edge and are our choice Friday night in Game 1 of the ALCS when James Shields and the Kansas City Royals (93-73, 49-34 away) pay a visit to fellow right-hander Chris Tillman and the Baltimore Orioles (99-66, 52-31 home) at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD at 8:07 ET in a game televised nationally on TBS.
The posted money line at Pinnacle Sports has Kansas City as a road underdog at current odds of +119.
Beat the Top Two AL Favorites to Get Here
This is somewhat of a Cinderella ALCS matchup based on preseason projections, and both of these teams have even been MLB pick underdogs every step of the way during these playoffs until now! The Royals have had the harder path in that they were first home underdogs in the single elimination American League Wild Card Playoff Game, and after that upset of Jon Lester and the Oakland A’s, they were decided underdogs to the top seeded Los Angeles Angels.
And yet Kansas City has swept its way to a 4-0 post-season mark thus far in its first playoff appearance in 29 years, which snapped the longest such drought of any of the four major North American sports.
But the Royals are not the only team that has yet to lose a game this post-season, as the Orioles went right into their ALDS as American League East Champions and swept the three-game series from the favored Detroit Tigers, beating Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price in the process! Those elite Tiger starters all performed well but the Orioles took advantage of the terrible Detroit bullpen in winning the first two games before besting Price 2-1 in Game 3.
Best Starter for Either Team
Now, our choice for this contest should not come as a surprise as we are already on record picking the Royals to win this series and advance to the World Series at +121 odds. And a key reason is that we feel the Kansas City’s “Big Game James” Shields is the best starting pitcher in this series for either team and should be able to win on the road here, a road where the Royals as a team have performed well all year at 49-34 combining regular season and playoffs.
Shields pitched much better than his 14-8 record during the season as, like the rest of the Royals’ starters, he was plagued by a lack of Kansas City offense over the first half of the season. That offense got better as the year went on though, and the same thing can be said about Shields as he had a 2.62 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a .235 batting average allowed after the All-Star break, compared to a 3.65 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and a .271 average allowed before it.
In totality, Shields finished with a 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a very good ratio of 180 strikeouts vs. 44 walks. He also had a good groundball rate of 45.2 percent, and ended up with a 3.59 FIP and 3.56 xFIP that were basically in line with the ERA.
He has also made two post-season starts this year already, getting pulled in the sixth inning of the wild card game in a controversial move that almost did not give the Royals a chance to advance before allowing two runs on six hits in six innings in the deciding Game 3 vs. the Angels. And remember that he has one of the best bullpens in the league supporting him, a pen that has a 2.37 ERA over 19 post-season innings with 21 strikeouts.
Furthermore, those bullpen numbers include a bad outing by the starter Yordano Ventura in relief of Shields in the wild card game.
Sabremetrics Do Not Add Up
Now, Tillman posted impressive numbers on the surface during the season as he went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, but unlike Shields, Tillman’s mainstream numbers were not supported by his sabremetric numbers, which is usually not a good thing.
You see, Tillman had mediocre command numbers at best with 150 strikeouts vs. 66 walks in 207.1 innings and 21 home runs allowed, and he also benefitted from a low .267 BABIP, which seems even luckier when you consider his low 40.6 percent groundball rate. All of this combined to lead to just a 4.01 FIP and 4.20 xFIP, which certainly do not look like Game 1 starter numbers.
And Tillman was only decent in the Game 1 win over the Tigers in the ALDS as he lasted only five innings despite allowing two runs on four hits. Two of those four hits were home runs though that allowed Detroit to tie the game after he was staked to a 2-0 lead, and he labored through 105 pitches just to navigate those five frames.
Now granted the Baltimore bullpen has also been excellent all year including the playoffs, but that only makes the bullpens a wash here and it may already be too late to save this game if the Royals get to Tillman as we expect with an offense batting a solid .266 and averaging 5.40 runs overall over the last 10 games.
Best Road Record in American League
Finally, we get that the Orioles were terrific at home all season going 51-30 at Camden Yards and they then tacked on a 2-0 showing here in their ALDS vs. Detroit, but that gets neutralized here by the Royals finishing with the best road record in the American League at 47-34, which was second best in the Major Leagues behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers at 49-32! And the Royals then went a perfect 2-0 in Anaheim vs. the top-seeded Angels in their ALDS.
Thus, you can basically take home vs. away out of the equation here and rely on the numbers on their own merit, and we feel that the pitching edge the Royals appear to have with Shields should be enough to draw first blood in Game 1 of the 2014 ALCS from Baltimore on Friday.
MLB Pick: Royals +119