The Braves opened as -135 favorites on MLB odds for Saturday's Game 2 against the Nationals in Atlanta with a total of 7 runs for sports bettors.
Injuries Are Part Of
Washington looked like it might dominate the division race this spring when Atlanta lost arguably its top two pitchers, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, to season-ending Tommy John surgeries. The Nationals, meanwhile, had perhaps the majors' best top four in a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and new addition Doug Fister.
Things can change quickly in baseball, however. Atlanta was able to lure Ervin Santana late in the spring on a one-year deal when it appeared he was signed, sealed and delivered to Toronto. Santana looked brilliant in his season debut Wednesday against the Mets, shutting them out on three hits over eight innings. Mike Minor also is perhaps less than two weeks from returning from his DL stint for the Braves. As it is the Braves' starters lead the majors in ERA entering the weekend.
On the flip side, the Nationals still aren't clear when Fister might make his debut with the team. He strained a lat in a March 27 minor-league game and is still rehabbing. Fister might be able to return at the start of May, but that presumed Washington rotation dominance over Atlanta has evaporated for now. The Nats' rotation has the No. 11 ERA. Good but not quite what was expected.
Also of concern for Washington is the sore right shoulder of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He has had to lower his throwing motion to make the necessary throws from third base but it's pretty clear Zimmerman is going to have to move to first full time at some point. If it's this season, that would displace Adam LaRoche, who is off to a great start (.344, two HRs, nine RBIs entering Friday). The Nationals also remain without their excellent offensive catcher, Wilson Ramos, for another month at least after he broke his hand on Opening Day. The current primary catcher, Jose Lobaton, has been an offensive black hole thus far (.167).
Washington is -200 at sportsbooks to win the NL East with Atlanta at +210.
The Nationals are scheduled to start young right-hander Taylor Jordan (0-0, 1.42) on Saturday. He's only in the rotation because of Fister's injury as Jordan lost out to Tanner Roark for the No. 5 spot. Jordan looked good in his first start and it was against these Braves last Sunday. He held Atlanta to one run on six hits over 6.1 innings in a no-decision. Last year as a rookie he faced Atlanta once as well, allowing two unearned runs over six innings in another no-decision. That was in Turner Field. Justin Upton is 2-for-4 with two walks career off Jordan. Chris Johnson is 2-for-5 with a double and a walk. Freddie Freeman is 1-for-5.
Atlanta's B.J. Upton is 0-for-3 in his career off Jordan and it doesn't appear Upton can hit anyone these days. He was arguably the worst regular in the majors a season ago in the first year of a $75 million deal, hitting .184 with 151 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. Upton hasn't been any better this year. He is batting .152 (confident I could better that average simply bunting on every at-bat) entering Friday with 14 strikeouts in 33 at-bats. Upton is totally overmatched against right-handers so when will the Braves finally decide to platoon him full time with lefty-hitting Jordan Schafer?
Atlanta will start young lefty Alex Wood (1-1, 1.93). He pitched opposite Jordan on April 6 in D.C., allowing two runs and four hits over seven innings. Ian Desmond hit a solo homer off him. He is the only National with a career dinger off Wood. Bryce Harper is 2-for-4 with a double. Jayson Werth is 4-for-8 off Wood, and Werth is raking right now. In the three-game sweep of the Marlins to open this week, Werth was 4-for-11 with two home runs, seven RBIs and five runs scored. Perhaps the Nats bench the lefty-hitting LaRoche for this game and move Zimmerman to first. LaRoche is 1-for-8 with three strikeouts in his career off Wood. This will be Wood's first home start of 2014, and he was 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA at Turner Field a season ago.
MLB Free Picks: Braves -135 and the under 7 runs (+105) on MLB odds. Washington is 1-4 in Jordan's past five road starts. Atlanta has won six straight Game 2s of a series. The under has hit in eight of Wood's past 10 starts overall. The under is 4-1 in Jordan's past five road starts.