MLB LCS previews: Breaking down baseball’s final 4

MLB LCS previews: Breaking down baseball's final 4

And then there were four.

MLB’s divisional round of the playoffs is complete and there were no shortage of surprises. Top seeds in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles were swept, and a historically potent Atlanta Braves offense was completely shut down by the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a good reminder to expect the unexpected in the MLB postseason.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to the League Championship Series, which begin Sunday with the American League.

ALCS: Rangers (+120) vs. Astros (-140)

The market’s expecting a tight series between these state and AL West rivals. But the regular-season series wasn’t close.

There was one constant in the Astros‘ season full of injuries and ups and downs: beating up on the Rangers.

Houston went 9-4 against Texas, outscoring it 93-74. The Rangers simply couldn’t keep the Astros off the bases, allowing a .360 OBP in 13 games.

The Rangers’ pitching will need to be much better if they’re to compete in this series. The good news is reinforcements are on the way.

Rangers GM Chris Young expects at least one of Max Scherzer or Jon Gray to be available for the series; perhaps even both. Texas needs all the help it can get.

Houston’s offense came to life over the final chunk of the regular season. Led by Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, and veteran José Abreu, the Astros have looked dangerous in the playoffs.

I think this series ultimately comes down to pitching. The Astros have their alpha – who is also healthy – in Justin Verlander. If some of the experienced arms behind him (Cristian Javier, José Urquidy, etc.) can pick up the slack following disappointing regular seasons, the Astros should be in good shape.

That has to be the case for them to find success, though. The Rangers lineup is too deep – and too hot – for the Astros to get by if their pitchers aren’t on their game.

Houston’s right to be favored but I expect a close series.

NLCS: Diamondbacks (+155) vs. Phillies (-185)

They say your best players need to be your best players to win come playoff time. That’s been the case for the Phillies through the first two rounds.

Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have pitched like the ace-caliber pitchers they are, combining to allow only five runs over 25 innings while striking out 30. They’ll likely be a problem for a Diamondbacks offense that limped to the finish line (only eight teams scored fewer runs per game in September).

Offensively, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Nick Castellanos combined for nine homers through six games while also posting OBPs of .440 or better. Small sample size, sure, but the Phillies’ stars have come up big time and again.

It’ll be tough for the Diamondbacks to slow them down. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly give them a formidable 1-2 punch on the mound, but Arizona lacks Philadelphia’s firepower at the plate.

Only one Diamondback hit more than 25 homers (the Phillies had three), and they don’t measure up in game-changing power, despite some impressive totals against L.A.

That means they’ll likely have to string together hits to manufacture runs, which is very tough to do against this Phillies pitching staff.

Look for Philadelphia to end to the Diamondbacks’ storybook playoff run.

Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. Follow him on Twitter @ToddCordell.

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