There’s a certain synchronicity to the Major League Baseball postseason at this point. The American League will provide the World Series favorite and the National League will provide the underdog. It’s really that simple.
That’s what happens when the bottom two seeds reach the league championship series on the NL side and the two top seeds reach it on the AL side. This year’s ALCS, which gets underway at 7:37 p.m. ET in Houston on Wednesday, is as chalky as they come.
But somebody has to be the favorite among favorites and, in this case, it’s the Astros. They’re -210 at DraftKings and -185 at BetMGM while the New York Yankees are +175 and +150 at those two sportsbooks, respectively.
Why Houston is favored
There are plenty of reasons why the Astros are viewed as more likely to advance. They won more regular season games, 106-99. They have played better in the postseason, sweeping their division series with the Seattle Mariners while the Yankees needed five games to dispatch the Cleveland Guardians in a series that stretched across eight days.
The Astros went 5-2 against the Yankees in the regular season and, crucially, are better rested, having clinched Saturday while the Yankees won’t even get a day off between rounds due to Monday’s rainout.
But the Yankees aren’t necessarily in a bad spot here. Because of the rainout and Nestor Cortes’ five strong innings on three days’ rest Tuesday, the bullpen isn’t as stretched relative to Houston’s as you might think. In fact, due to the Astros’ 18-inning game on Saturday, they’ve actually had to extend their bullpen more than the Yankees have, with Astros relievers having pitched 20⅓ postseason innings to the Yankees’ 16⅔ innings.
Also, the Yankees might get DJ LeMahieu back on the roster in this series, helping their lineup depth, which they’re going to need against the best overall pitching staff in baseball.
World Series bets may offer better value
Let’s take a look at the World Series futures prices, since, if you think this is the clash of the two best teams left, you can get better value by assuming neither of the NL teams has a chance in the next round.
Among the major nationwide operators, FanDuel is offering the best price on the Astros to win the World Series at +170. The Yankees’ best price to win it all is +350 at both Caesars Sportsbook and DraftKings.
The Astros’ FanDuel odds imply a probability of 37%, while the Yankees’ odds at those two books imply odds of 22.2% to win the World Series. At FiveThirtyEight, the Astros are projected to have 37% World Series odds while the Yanks are given a 29% chance of winning it all.
Which slugger will go off?
This series just might feature the best right-handed hitter in the game at the moment, Aaron Judge, against the best left-handed hitter in the game, Yordan Alvarez. Judge had the slightly better season by most measures, including OPS (1.111 to 1.019). Barring a shock in the voting, Judge will take home the American League MVP award while Alvarez figures to finish third behind Shohei Ohtani.
But that doesn’t mean Judge is in a better position to do damage in this series. Alvarez was his usual self in the ALDS, hitting two home runs and a double and producing a 1.086 OPS. Judge has just four hits in 20 at-bats, including two home runs, and a .738 OPS this postseason. He has struck out 11 times to Alvarez’s two whiffs.
Naturally, since he hit 62 of them over the regular season, Judge is the favorite to hit the most home runs in this series (+300 at DraftKings) and Alvarez is second (at +400). When in doubt, go with the hotter hitter. Alvarez hit eight balls 95 mph or higher in the ALDS with three of those balls stung at over 100 mph and one of them, a home run off Robbie Ray, smacked at a scorching 116.7 mph. Judge hit seven balls at 95 mph or greater, including five at 100 mph or greater. His hardest-hit ball was a 113.7-mph home run off Tristan McKenzie.
The players also are paired in a head-to-head prop: at DraftKings, Judge is -145 to out-homer Alvarez, who is +110 to return the favor.
Perhaps an even better alternative is Giancarlo Stanton, who produced exit velocities of 100 mph or greater in four of his final six balls put into play against Cleveland. At +750, you get almost unlimited power potential at an appetizing price.
A pitching prop worth considering
On the pitching side, Justin Verlander seems like a good bet to eclipse 6.5 strikeouts (at +120 at DraftKings) in Wednesday’s Game 1.
It’s easy to see why the number was set that low after Verlander allowed Seattle to score six runs on 10 hits and struck out just three in his first postseason start, but his velocity was good in that game. With three fastballs thrown 97 mph or greater, he appears to be healthy. He struck out at least seven batters in four of his last six regular season starts, good enough reason for us to jump back on his bandwagon.
Photo: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY