The MLB playoffs will have a new look for 2020, with 16 teams making the postseason, eight in each league. The league announced on Monday that the final three rounds will be held in their own version of a bubble and may or may not include fans.
The first round is a best-of-three series and will be played in empty home parks from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 with no off-days in the series since there will be no travel.
Factors for Betting
The playoffs will be unique in a variety of ways, and that means we can’t take a traditional approach to betting any of the rounds. The series prices are likely to reflect the fact that there will be no fans at the game, and there will be no travel between games.
Also, keep in mind that Major League Baseball is making even the home team stay in a hotel and not at their homes for quarantine purposes to hopefully avoid a COVID-19 outbreak and a series stoppage.
We’ve seen a lot of upsets in the NBA and NHL playoff bubbles thus far, with only one of the top four seeds in the NBA making the conference finals. The NHL saw five upsets in the play-in round, four upsets in the next two rounds, and neither top seed made the Stanley Cup Final. Will we see similar upsets in baseball?
What to Look For
Typically in the playoffs, you can look at weather differences between the cities, fan and stadium factors, and travel. None of those will have an impact this season. So what can you look for when making a few bets?
Pitching: The playoffs still come down to pitchers, who historically control playoff series. Look for the team with the better starting pitching and the better relievers.
One difference this year is that with a best-of-three series and no off-days instead of a best-of-five series with two off-days, pitchers won’t start twice in the opening series.
Could we see a Game 1 starter come back and close Game 3? Sure, that’s doable, but the first round of Clayton Kershaw, Gerrit Cole or Yu Darvish making multiple starts in three days is extremely unlikely.
Home Field: While ultimately, home field shouldn’t matter without fans, don’t completely discount it. For example, the Minnesota Twins ended play on Sept. 16 with a 21-5 home record and a 9-15 road record, and the New York Yankees are 20-7 at home and 8-14 on the road.
Those numbers will likely impact their first-round series odds and are something you can take advantage of.
Odds: Make sure to keep an eye on “road” dogs who have better pitching. A team like the Cleveland Indians, with likely AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and closer Brad Hand, could have great value as an underdog.
Likewise, if the Cincinnati Reds make the NL field, a rotation of Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and, if healthy, Sonny Gray is very formidable despite their team hitting weakness.
Value: As with anything else, look for value and be wary of laying high odds. Experience may not matter in this best-of-three setup since it is new to everyone.
But will young teams like San Diego, Miami, Toronto and the Chicago White Sox have first-game jitters? One game could change the entire series, and while the format is new, players on the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals, Cubs, Rays, Indians, Braves and A’s have all been through the playoffs a few times.
This opening playoff round is likely to be wild, so be flexible in your betting, and don’t be afraid to try things you normally wouldn’t do.