The Washington Nationals don’t have a good track record of maximizing their assets. Max Scherzer could be too chalky on the MLB odds board for Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jason's 2015 moneyline record as of Apr. 22: 5-5, minus-0.49 units
If this is the year the Washington Nationals are supposed to reach the Promised Land, we haven’t seen it yet. They’ve improved dramatically since Mike Rizzo was named GM in 2009, reaching the playoffs twice in the last three seasons. As we went to press, the Nats were 7-2 favorites to win the National League pennant this year, and 15-2 co-favorites on the World Series futures market at Bovada.
Yeah, about that: Washington is 7-8 and 3.02 units in the red to start the 2015 campaign. True, they won five of their previous six games going into Wednesday’s action, but the Nationals fell back under .500 with a 7-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (–110 away). These same two teams will meet Thursday at 4:05 p.m. Eastern, with Max Scherzer scheduled to take the mound for Washington against Michael Wacha. The Nats are –140 favorites on the MLB odds board at press time.
It’s almost not fair that a pitcher as good as Scherzer gets to come over from the American League and ply his trade on the senior circuit. He won the 2013 AL Cy Young with the Detroit Tigers, posting a 2.74 FIP and finishing second on the MLB money list with 13.50 units in earnings on a team record of 25-7. Last year was nearly as good: fifth in Cy Young voting, a 2.85 FIP, and plus-11.93 units on a record of 24-9.
Predictably, Scherzer is doing even better in the NL. He’s allowed just two earned runs in 21.2 innings over his first three starts, with a tiny 1.32 FIP. But the Nationals only won two of those three starts, and because their baseball odds were so chalky with Scherzer on the mound, they only have 0.33 units to show for it.
Three games is a small sample size, so perhaps this is just a blip on the radar, but the Nationals have a history of not getting the most out of their top pitcher. Here’s how Washington supporters have done with Stephen Strasburg on the mound over the past three years:
2012 (2.82 FIP): 19-9, plus-3.50 units
2013 (3.21 FIP): 14-16, minus-8.53 units
2014 (2.94 FIP): 19-15, minus-4.41 units
That is a distressingly poor return on one of the finest pitchers we’ve ever seen. Strasburg has yet to win a Cy Young like Scherzer, but he's been coated in chalk his entire career, and the Nationals haven’t given Strasburg enough support from the batting order and the bullpen to make him profitable. The same could easily happen to Scherzer.
Then again, it’s not like the Cardinals (9-4, plus-4.21 units) have gotten the most out of Wacha. The All-American from Texas A&M put up a 2.92 FIP for St. Louis as a fresh-faced rookie in 2013, but in his nine starts, the Cardinals went 3-6 and lost 6.80 units. Then they lost another 4.60 units last year on a record of 9-10, despite Wacha’s 3.17 FIP.
And it’s not like Wacha is in quite the same league as Scherzer. The most obvious difference for our purposes is their pitch count: Wacha rarely gets beyond the sixth inning, while Scherzer usually gives you at least seven innings about half the time. That means more work for the Cardinals relievers, who have been rather mediocre the past couple of years.
This is not one of those years. Again, small sample size alert, but the St. Louis bullpen is second in the majors with a collective 1.78 ERA. And Wacha is 2.12 betting units to the good after winning his first two starts this year, giving up one earned run in each game. Okay, his 4.57 FIP and .186 BABIP are a concern, but we’ll buy that for a dollar anyway, so add St. Louis to your MLB picks.
Free MLB Pick: Take the Cardinals at BookMaker