Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 1:45 PM EST odds are subject to change.
World Series - Game 5
Philadelphia +138 over Houston
8:03 PM EST. The World Series used to be a can’t miss event. People all over the continent would gather like it was a prize fight between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier. You know what’s crazy? For every 1 person watching pivotal Game 5 of the World Series tonight, about 500 more will be watching a meaningless Thursday Night Football Game between Philadelphia and Houston, where the Eagles are a 14-point favorite. That’s because the NFL is one of the greatest marketing firms ever while MLB wouldn’t know how to market free gold. In any case, it’ll be Houston v Philadelphia in both sports but it’s really a shame that nobody gives a f**k about baseball anymore. Could you imagine a regular season baseball game getting more viewership than the Super Bowl? The ratings tonight won’t even be close, which is very sad.
“Justin Verlander doesn’t have a World Series win” is one of those weird stats that sounds fake, like “Roger Maris wasn’t intentionally walked in 1961” or “Henry Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a single season.” Alas, all these things are true, and Verlander’s futility on baseball’s biggest and brightest stage continued in Game 1. Father Time is the more likely culprit for Verlander’s current struggles than a sudden inability to pitch well because the balls have “World Series 2022” printed on them, or some sort of Calvinistic predetermination means that one the greatest pitchers of our time must suddenly start sucking because we’ve reached the end of the playoffs. He is a 39-year-old coming off a two-year layoff who has 190 innings under his belt. The third time through the order penalty hit Verlander harder than most in the regular season, and it’s probably past time for Dusty Baker to employ a quick hook tonight but we’ll see.
The bar is much lower for Noah Syndergaard, who was scheduled to pitch Game 3 before Monday’s rainout allowed the Phillies to juggle their rotation. He has been used sparingly this postseason, with his only start coming in a three-inning no decision against Atlanta in the Game 4 clincher of the NLDS. Syndergaard has an illustrious albeit brief postseason history but comparing the Thor who dominated for the Mets in four 2015-2016 October starts to this year’s iteration is like comparing Chris Rock to Carrot Top. Both pitchers on the hill tonight missed nearly two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but where JV seemingly never missed a beat, Thor looked like he was playing Name That Tune with both ears underwater. Thankfully for Philadelphia, the game plan for tonight doesn’t hinge on recapturing that old Mets magic but rather getting 3-4 solid innings before going to the bullpen. The modest goal of “just keep us in the game early” puts the Phillies at far less of a disadvantage than it would if they were expecting anything more.
Even in an era when managers rely on their bullpens more than ever, there is frequently the hope that the starting pitcher can go six or seven strong innings and (mostly) save the men in the pen for another day, particularly in early November when everyone’s tired and running on fumes. However, we already know the Phillies game plan heading into tonight. Game 3’s blowout combined with Major League Baseball’s decision to give both teams an off day heading into Game 6 gives Rob Thompson more flexibility than he might have had without the rainout on Monday. Apart from last night’s maneuver to yank Aaron Nola and put José Alvarado in with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth, Thompson’s willingness to use any reliever in almost any situation has paid off, both in terms of results on the field as well as providing the confidence that every reliever out there believes he can get the job done. While the Phillies home run outburst has justifiably received most of the attention, they’re not tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 without the excellent work of this pen.
The Astros bullpen is that classic Ferrari in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that Cameron Frye’s dad keeps in a fancy garage, cleans with a diaper, and never drives. A strong case can be made that Houston lost both Games 1 and 3 in this series because Dusty Baker fiddled while Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. burned. Yes, Baker didn’t mess around last night and went to the pen after Christian Javier had thrown 97 pitches, no-hitter be damned, but the stakes were significantly lower and the game for all practical purposes was in hand. This isn’t groundbreaking analysis, but we’ll let a sleeping dog lie. We’ll hope Dusty has a bubble above his head while leaning on the railing with a toothpick in his mouth and the bubble says ZZZZZZZ. Let the man sleep.
Momentum is a thing until it isn’t. The same applies to lethargy, which freethesaurus.com informs us is an antonym for momentum. The Phillies offensive plan during a mostly forgettable 14-17 September and regular season October was Schwarber and Realmuto and pray for a weather event that rhymes with Realmuto. That all changed in the postseason, where nearly everyone in the lineup has contributed something in at least one big moment. The key has been Harper, a megastar who had a down year (at least by his standards) thanks to a broken thumb in June that cost him two months and sapped his power when he returned in August. It sounds like a tired cliché, but Harper has risen to the occasion and is putting up one of those postseasons they’ll talk about decades from now. Last night lethargy returned for what we'll hope was a one-night engagement.
Outside of a miserable performance in Game 3 of the World Series and 17 innings of goose eggs in Game 3 of the ALDS that ended with Jeremy Pena’s go-ahead home run to lead off the 18th inning, Houston’s offense has been solid. It also hasn’t been the dominant force it was during the regular season. It’s overly simplistic to focus on one hitter’s struggles, but Jose Altuve’s miserable postseason slump really does stand out, particularly since he is the only non-catcher on the squad who has struggled in the playoffs. This isn’t an old timey movie, so there isn’t a path to success that includes “starting David Hensley at second base to clear Altuve’s head so he can go back to the bucolic village where he grew up, visit with that coach from his youth, and turn it all around in the deciding game,” so Baker has no choice but to just keep rolling his All-Star second baseman out there and hope he turns it around, or at the very least delivers a key hit like he did in the fifth inning last night. If you’re picking nits and looking to fix something on offense, pinch hitting for either Maldonado or Vazquez wouldn’t be the worst idea, as long as Baker doesn’t use Maldonado or Vazquez to do the pinch hitting like he did in Game 1.
We don’t know what’s going to happen but Philadelphia cannot be counted out. Verlander’s struggles are not surprising to us one bit, as we have warned you about his luck all season. Regardless, Philly had all the momentum last night and lost. The market is overreacting to the momentum shift in the Astronauts favor but all it takes is a 1-2-3 top of the 1st and that momentum will shift again. If Madison Bumgarner pitched for Houston tonight, gave up 23 straight home runs and never recorded a single out, he would still have a better career World Series ERA than Justin Verlander and we’re not going to take back this price in Philadelphia against him? C’mon man.
Philadelphia +138 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.76)