NLDS preview, best bets: Which Cy Young candidates will shine brightest?

Justin Casterline / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It'll be hard to top the theatrics of Wednesday's NL wild-card win, but this side of the bracket promises plenty of intrigue. Who's better between the Giants and Dodgers? And can the Brewers' pitching carry them against the Braves?

No. 1 Giants (+130) vs. No. 4 Dodgers (-160)

San Francisco Giants 107-55 54-27 53-28 10-9 8-2 +210
Los Angeles Dodgers 106-56 58-23 48-33 9-10 9-1 +269

Postseason matchups don't get any better than this. These clubs finished with the two best regular-season records and enter this matchup with the most combined wins (213) in a playoff series in MLB history.

It's also the first postseason series ever between these bitter rivals, which were separated by one game and a combined one run in 19 meetings this campaign. While San Francisco is the top seed, this series is about Los Angeles, which entered the year as the World Series favorite and has held that distinction all season, even when relegated to a wild-card game.

We saw in that contest just how vulnerable these Dodgers are ... and how hard it is to beat them anyway. Max Scherzer clearly doesn't have his best stuff, but the bullpen shut down the Cardinals' hopes of a rally. The heart of Los Angeles' lineup mustered just one run, but pinch hitter Chris Taylor saved the day with that walk-off two-run blast.

Still, as deep as this team is, it isn't the same one that waltzed its way to 106 wins. And that should give bettors some pause before laying such a short price.

Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer - two of the Dodgers' best pitchers entering the year - won't be available for this series. Neither will Max Muncy, an MVP candidate and the team's most productive hitter this season. Trea Turner has been a stud since leaving the Nationals, but Scherzer has now struggled mightily in three consecutive starts after Wednesday's clunker, the second-shortest start of his postseason career.

Los Angeles still has enough talent to win it all, but should it be favored here by such a wide margin? After all, the Giants had a nearly identical wOBA (.329) and wOBA allowed (.286) to the Dodgers (.327, .272) and beat them 10 of the 19 times they met in the regular season. And if you still believe those stats are a fluke, you might want to take a closer look at this San Francisco roster.

Kevin Gausman looked like a potential Cy Young winner for much of the season, holding 10 of his first 12 opponents to one earned run or fewer and finishing with 20 quality starts in 33 tries. Logan Webb has been nearly unhittable at home (1.96), where he'll get the call for Game 1. Ten Giants finished the year with 10 or more home runs, and six relievers threw at least 50 innings with an ERA below 3.00.

San Francisco isn't as top-heavy as Los Angeles, especially not after Brandon Belt's injury, but it boasts the depth to withstand the rigors of a five-game series. Given the Dodgers' injuries as of late, it wouldn't be crazy to consider this a coin-flip series, making the Giants an easy play at plus-money.

Pick: Giants +130

No. 2 Brewers (-155) vs. No. 3 Braves (+125)

Milwaukee Brewers 95-67 45-36 50-31 3-3 4-6 +115
Atlanta Braves 88-73 42-38 46-35 3-3 8-2 +134

Just how far can elite pitching carry a team in this postseason? That's the question hanging over the Brewers, who ranked third in ERA (3.50) and 12th in runs scored per game (4.6) during the regular season, although that probably overstates how productive this lineup actually was.

Make no mistake, Milwaukee's ability to win this series (and possibly win it all) rests on its pitching staff, which is built perfectly for this postseason moment. The Brewers finished a combined 53-32 (.624) when one of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, or Freddy Peralta took the mound despite plating just 4.3 runs on average in those 85 games.

The gem is Burnes, who leads all starters with a 2.43 ERA, 1.63 FIP, 12.6 K/9, and 0.4 HR/9, among other stats. The Cy Young favorite allowed 16 runs across 61 innings in his final 10 starts and coaxed at least 15 swinging strikes in eight of them. Milwaukee will be clear favorites anytime he's on the mound, as the team is in Game 1 (-150).

That's to take nothing away from Woodruff (2.56 ERA) and Peralta (2.81), who are both strikeout machines and should have the advantage against an undisciplined Atlanta lineup. The Braves swung at 49.6% of the pitches they faced with a 27.1% whiff rate, both ranking among the worst in MLB, though their barrel rate (9.8%) ranked third in the majors.

The pressure will be on the Brewers' top three starters to pitch deep into games to spare their bullpen, which is headlined by star closer Josh Hader but will be without the injured Devin Williams for at least this series. Milwaukee's relievers led baseball in K/9 (10.9) during the year but were susceptible to the long ball, which is a potential recipe for disaster against the Braves.

This series may ultimately come down to whether the Brewers' lineup can muster life against the Braves' talented but shaky rotation. Charlie Morton (3.34 ERA) has a strong postseason resume and is a safe if unspectacular front-line ace, but Max Fried (3.04) was roughed up last postseason and Ian Anderson (3.58) struggled down the stretch of this campaign.

Those three should still have the advantage against the Brewers' bats, who ranked 20th in OPS (.713) thanks in part to Christian Yelich's lackluster 2021. Still, Milwaukee's lineup posted top-10 numbers over the back half of the season behind the likes of Willy Adames and Luis Urias, who both rank as top-60 hitters since the All-Star break.

Atlanta has three hitters - Austin Riley, Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies - who finished with an above-average OPS in the regular season, though all of them hit 30 home runs. If those guys get hot in the later innings, the Brewers likely don't have the juice to claw their way back. That said, it's hard to imagine Milwaukee's star trio faltering enough to flip this series in the Braves' favor.

Pick: Brewers -155

NLDS preview, best bets: Which Cy Young candidates will shine brightest?
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