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Handicapping MLB Playoff Series vs. Regular Season

Baseball and Glove

As summer begins to wind down and the temperature gets a little cooler, Major League Baseball begins a transition of its own. After a long and grueling regular season, finally, in the fall, five teams from each league advance to the post-season where the stakes become much higher. While the regular season can drag somewhat and feel tedious at times due to the volume of games, playoff baseball is a different beast entirely.

In the post-season, every pitch matters. The Wild Card round, which opens the playoffs, is a single-elimination series which determines the fourth team in the divisional round for each league. The stakes are incredibly high, and they don’t get any lower in the subsequent best-of-seven series. This makes gambling on the MLB playoffs feel significantly different than your average regular-season betting.

There are numerous factors that change once the road to the World Series has begun. The players are all 100% engaged and focused at all times. However, they are also under drastically more pressure. We’ve seen plays like Bill Buckner’s famous error in the past, where one horribly-timed misstep can both cost your team their season and become immortalized in baseball history.

In some ways, knowing that clubs will be playing all of their best talents and that those players will all be giving maximum effort to win makes gambling on playoff baseball even easier. You don’t have to worry as much about a late scratch from the lineup. But, at times, it can be difficult to anticipate which players will rise to the occasion of the post-season and which will fold under the increased pressure.

That’s why, in this article, we’ll be looking into many of the variables that make MLB playoffs betting different than the regular season. We will also examine some of the most crucial elements in determining a series and share why you should have them in mind when betting on post-season baseball. The best of the best play America’s pastime in the fall, which means us handicappers need to be as locked in and focused as the athletes on which we bet!

Increased Pressure

Pinpoint PressureThere are many differences between handicapping a regular-season baseball game and a playoff contest, but perhaps none are more extreme than the immense pressure the athletes feel. Every pitch is analyzed, every swing is under the brightest lights, and everybody is watching. Depending on the player, this can have a dramatic effect, either positively or negatively.

In the regular season, it is unlikely that any single matchup or even series will make or break your year. Sure, there are instances when the stakes are much higher coming down the stretch, mainly when teams are battling for a playoff spot, but the average game pales in comparison to its post-season counterpart. But in the fall, any single play can ultimately prove to be the difference-maker.

When handicapping a playoff matchup, you may want to look at players’ previous experiences in the fall. Research whether their averages traditionally increase or decrease when it’s all on the line. Now, keep in mind that it’s likely that some stats will decrease simply due to the level of competition, but it’s still worth looking for any strong patterns or trends that can help with your decision.

Due to the increased importance of every game, the strategies employed by the managers are altered as well. In the regular season, a team won’t start a pitcher on short rest, whereas they’re much more likely to take a chance later in the year. Furthermore, organizations will use their starting pitchers in relief duty or wherever necessary in the playoffs, especially if a game goes into several extra innings.

That’s the most critical difference – teams will pull out all the stops to earn themselves a playoff win. And this is a beautiful thing for handicappers because you don’t have to worry about external factors such as rest or let-down games. As long as both teams are giving it their all, you can exclusively focus on the data that impacts the upcoming contest.

Experience Levels

Another variable you must consider when betting on playoff games that you don’t worry as much about in the regular season are the teams’ experience levels. During the summer months, younger players have the luxury of time to acclimate to the big leagues and catch up to the pitching. This is not the case in the playoffs when clubs need their best performers on the field playing up to expectations.

A lot of the time, more experienced players have an easier time adjusting to the more intense post-season. For this reason, it’s worth your time to see how many contributors each squad has that have contributed to successful playoff teams before. Their experience will help calm the rest of the roster and keep them prepared.

For Example

In 2017, Carlos Beltran used his experience to help the rest of the roster by noticing Yu Darvish tipped his pitches. This was shared with the rest of the team, and the Astros scored the series-winning runs against Darvish in the final outing.

Young players may have the pop and stamina to turn heads in the regular season, but in the fall, players that have been there before are key.

Pitching Depth

Dodgers Player PitcherWhen betting the MLB regular season, gamblers usually focus on the starting pitcher, with some additional weight given to the bullpen and closer as well. But in the playoffs, this emphasis on pitching depth is much more pronounced. As we mentioned previously, managers are willing to make drastic substitutions to win each and every pivotal game.

Pitchers that would generally start in the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation may be used more in relief. Meanwhile, managers will shorten the rotation to utilize their best throwers in as many games as possible. This adds depth to the bullpen and keeps their most talented athletes on the mound for a more significant percentage of the series than what you’d see during the regular season.

In the summer, handicappers will focus more on the single upcoming game. They’ll analyze the starting pitcher, which relievers are fresh in the bullpen, and the effectiveness of the closer. In the post-season, you must take the entire pitching staff into account, as you never know when numerous players may take the mound. Sure, the starting pitcher is still the most vital teammate on the mound, but there are many more possibilities than the typical contest.

Closers are another vital piece of the equation for winning playoff teams. Because the post-season is populated with top-level baseball clubs, most of the games are competitive and only won by slight margins. This adds much more significance to the closer role than your average regular-season contest. A team that’s dominant in every other way but shaky when it comes to closing will give up some heartbreaking games in the post-season. Make relief pitching, and closers in particular, a much more substantial portion of your handicapping in the fall.

Team Momentum

How a squad enters the post-season can have a great deal of influence over how they play when it matters most. Clubs that are fighting for a playoff spot down the final stretch of the season will be less rested when the post-season series finally begin. Additionally, they won’t have the luxury of saving their pitching lineups for maximum strength when the series starts.

On the other hand, these teams that don’t spend the last several weeks of the regular season resting players are more battle-hardened for the fall. By playing meaningful games before the playoffs, they’ve already gotten into the mindset required for the post-season. A team that went on an impressive run to secure a playoff spot late in the season may be feeding off the positive momentum, which occasionally fuels teams to deep runs.

Some years, there are clubs that secure their playoff spot with several weeks to spare who then let their foot off the gas while they set their sights on the World Series. This can be counter-productive, as these squads will sometimes overdo their rest and get rusty. The playoffs require these organizations to be sharp, so it can be a major setback when they get themselves out of rhythm by having too successful a regular season.

Momentum plays a massive role in the final outcome of the post-season. It seems that every year, a team gets hot at the perfect time and rides their good fortune all the way to a World Series. Pay attention to who is playing their best baseball at the end of the season. That’s who you want to bet heavily on as the rounds progress!

Stylistic Matchups

In the post-season, how teams match up against one another is much more pronounced than in the earlier months. The level of scouting and preparing done is greatly increased, as there are no other upcoming opponents to worry about or more pressing matters than advancing past the current round. Teams have in-depth analytics on every player they’ll face and will work hard to exploit their weaknesses.

A team that relies on lots of contact and getting players into scoring position before sequentially moving them over may work well all year, but against a team with a top-flight pitching rotation, where hits are hard to come by, their style may be their undoing. You need some power and quick runs in the lineup as well to face those aces. A team that’s all power may find themselves in dire straits should they be forced to play in a pitcher’s park. It all just depends on stylistic matchups and which team can gain the more significant advantage.

Versatility on Offense

In the playoffs, the versatility of a team’s offense is much more critical than during the summer. They should be able to produce runs by hitting into the gaps as well as hitting for power. A solid side should also be able to bat effectively from either side of the plate. Similarly, they’ll need a pitching staff with a good mix of righties and lefties so that they have the personnel to deal with most situations they’ll potentially face.

During the regular season, these factors aren’t quite as important. The clubs are more likely to play their typical lineups while resting players and sticking to what they do best. It’s more about what they do and less about thwarting the opposition and game planning against them. For that reason, versatility means much less earlier in the year than it does in the playoffs.

Emotional Highs and Lows

When handicapping the regular season, we also talk about being mindful of winning and losing streaks. They’re an inevitable part of a 162-game season. But in the playoffs, you want to place more emphasis on the emotional well-being of the two sides. Baseball is very much a mental game, so the players’ mindsets are a crucial piece of the overall equation.

That’s why in the playoffs you should be more considerate of the athletes’ mental status. Obviously, you aren’t in the clubhouse, so there’s only so much information available, but you can judge their emotions somewhat based on the previous contests.

For Example

If a team gives up multiple late-innings runs to tie the game, and then loses in extra innings, this can be brutal on their psyche. This is especially true if the contest was a pivotal moment in the series, such as game five when the teams are tied 2-2.

Another example is a team that enters the divisional round after upsetting a favored opponent in the Wild Card round. Once these teams feel they have destiny on their side, they can become extra resilient. Teams with a healthy mindset that are riding the high of winning some significant matchups may be more locked in and should continue to play above their average level.

The Wrap-Up

Playoff baseball is like taking regular-season games and turning the volume up to eleven. Everything is more important, more stressful, and more intense. This is true for everyone involved, from the players to the viewers and, of course, us handicappers! Because of the significant added pressure to perform, the MLB post-season requires a slightly different approach from a gambling perspective.

Teams will be employing every strategic measure they can think of to win every game. A manager will use every player available on the bench and in the bullpen, including starting pitchers that recently threw. We’ve seen aces such as Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling come in late in playoff games to put their team over the top in must-win situations. Nobody ever sits out to rest like they do the rest of the year.

As we’ve mentioned in other articles, baseball is perfect for sports betting. The long season and wealth of statistical resources make following trends and handicapping games much more convenient for the bettors. Well, post-season baseball is even better since you no longer have to fret over last-minute scratches from the lineup or games in which the players seem fatigued, disengaged, or unfocused.

On the biggest stage, you get every athlete’s best. Now, this doesn’t mean they’ll always perform up to their usual standard. Some players are affected negatively by the added pressure and eventually earn a reputation for being a choker. But the men that do rise to the occasion and elevate their play go down in the history books for their heroics. Those are the players you hope to have money on when the time is right.

The basics of handicapping a baseball game are the same regardless of the part of the season in which they’re played. However, there are some extra considerations one must make when breaking down the games, including the higher stakes, intense pressure, and the managers playing to win at all cost in each contest. Keep these things in mind, and the fall can be a very lucrative season for your sports gambling!