In many ways betting on the baseball playoffs is no different than betting on the regular season – after all, baseball is baseball. There are a few key ways, though, that the two portions of the season differ from each other. Winning bettors over the long term are those who can recognize those differences and effectively adjust to them. Here are eight ways that the playoffs are different for bettors from the 162 games that preceded them:
Rotations are shortened – Almost all teams will cut down there rotation as slim as it can be. That means that the weakest pitchers are in the bullpen at best. Teams that have made the playoffs likely have at least three good pitchers on their side. In the regular season bettors feast on pitching mismatches, but the shorter rotations mean that those mismatches are far less likely in the playoffs. Bettors who are still spotting a lot of mismatches in the playoffs might be over-thinking things.
Ballparks are full – Only the most jaded fans are going to stay away from a playoff game. That means that, in many cases, the stadiums are going to be fuller than they are a lot of the time – especially in Tampa Bay. Home field advantage is always a factor in baseball, and is usually a factor in playoffs of any sort, but it’s especially a factor in baseball’s second season.
More rest – During the regular season teams are used to playing almost every day. The playoffs allows teams to play a more stretched out schedule. TV schedules mean that there can be gaps between games – even when they are in the same city. Between series there can be extended breaks. It would be easy if we could assume that each team would react to these disruptions in the same way. They don’t, of course. That means that handicappers have to be sensitive to how each team will respond, and what that means for the games.
Injuries are less of a factor – By the end of a long baseball season you can assume that pretty much everyone is hurt to some extent. That can be a big factor in games down the stretch – especially once teams are in a comfortable position in terms of their playoff berth. Once the playoffs start, though, players are much more capable of playing through the pain – they have the incentive to be at their best. Injuries that were a concern in September, then, will often be far less of a concern in October.
Motivation issues are irrelevant – During the regular season the biggest job of handicappers is to play amateur psychologist. On a theoretical level every team should be trying to win every game. In reality, though, that’s obviously not the case. For any number of reasons even the best teams will go through periods of time – or even just single games – where they can’t be expected to perform at their best. Sometimes those games come as a surprise, but more often they can be spotted in advance by astute observers. In the playoffs you can be certain that every team will be trying their very best to win every game, so that tool is no longer in the bettor’s toolbox.
Experience is bigger factor – During the regular season if two teams are similarly talented then the one that is more experienced might reasonably have an edge. In the playoffs the more experienced team has a clear edge. Teams that have been in the playoffs recently know about the pressure they will face, how to turn that pressure into a positive, and what mistakes to avoid. New playoff teams don’t. That doesn’t mean that the more experienced team should be an automatic bet. It just means that experience needs to be a bigger element of your handicapping than it would be earlier in the year.
Lines are tighter – There are fewer games on any given day in the playoffs than the regular season, and more people are paying attention to them. That means that betting volumes are higher in the playoffs than in the regular season, and lines as a result are likely to be tighter than they would otherwise be. In the regular season a lot of successful bettors make their mark by spotting value in the lines. In the playoffs value is much harder to come by, so other approaches need to be emphasized.
Passing on games is even more important – There’s that old saying that the most important bets are the ones you don’t make. The ability to recognize when you don’t have an edge and when a bet isn’t justified as a result is key to being a successful bettor. In the playoffs the temptation can be high to bet every game because of the number of games and the excitement surrounding them. More than ever, though, the successful bettors will be the ones who can have the discipline to pass on a game when it doesn’t make sense – even when it’s the only game on a given day and the world will be watching it.