In a possible NL playoff preview the NL East-leading Nats & wild-card leading Pirates open a four-game series in Pittsburgh tonight. We believe the betting value resides with the dog in this spot.
Nats-Bucs Betting Odds
In the early betting the best line available on Pittsburgh with Francisco Liriano was the -167 offered at BetOnline, while Washington and Doug Fister were getting +164 at Heritage. And every book on our MLB odds board was listing a total of seven runs on tonight's game.
Pittsburgh just dropped two of three games at Kansas City, losing Wednesday's series rubber match 5-1. So the Pirates are now just 1-5 since the All-Star break.
Washington, meanwhile, just took two of three games from the Mets, rallying for three runs in the bottom of the eighth for a 4-3 victory Wednesday. So the Nats are 3-3 since the break.
At 51-42 Washington leads the NL East by three games over the second-place Mets.
This is the second meeting between these teams this season; back in June the Nats swept three games from the Pirates in DC, outscoring them 19-3. Two of those games played UNDER.
Thursday's Pitching Match-Up
Liriano (5-6, 2.98) was scratched from his last scheduled start due to a sore neck, but apparently will go today. On the season he's 14-for-18 on quality starts, working on a string of four in a row. Eleven days ago he held St. Louis to two runs through 6 1/3 innings, and over his last four starts he's limited foes to six runs through 26 1/3 innings. On the season Liriano has allowed just 79 hits through 115 innings, walked 39 and whiffed 125. Somehow, Pittsburgh is only 8-10 in Liriano's starts, with the totals going 8-7.
Over the last season-plus Liriano has started twice against Washington, giving up nine runs through 10 2/3 innings; Pittsburgh lost both those games.
Fister (3-5, 4.30) is five-for-12 on quality starts, missing time earlier this season with a forearm injury, and only one for his last three. Last Saturday he gave up four runs in five innings against the Dodgers, and over his last three starts he's allowed ten runs – nine earned – through 17 innings. On the season Fister has allowed more hits, 83, than innings pitched, 69, walked just 16 but struck out just 32. The Nats are 4-8 in Fister's starts, with the totals splitting 6-6.
Fister started twice against Pittsburgh last year, giving up just three runs – one earned – through 12 1/3 innings; Washington won both those games.
Thursday's Batting Splits
Washington ranks 14th in the Majors this season against left-handed pitching with a .250 team batting average, and 15th with a .315 team on-base percentage.
Pittsburgh ranks 13th against right-handed pitching this season with a .256 average and 14th with a .317 team OBP.
Ballpark Totals Factor
UNDERS are 24-21 in games played at PNC Park this season, which are averaging 7.0 runs per, fourth-fewest among all ML ballparks.
Washington is playing without lead-off man Denard Span, OF Jayson Werth and IFs Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, who are all on the DL. And 3B Yunel Escobar, who's hitting .321 on the season, left Wednesday's game with an apparent wrist injury, and is questionable for Thursday.
On the other side of the scorecard Pittsburgh is without IFs Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, who are also both on the DL.
Nats-Bucs Free Picks
We give Liriano the check mark in the pitching match-up, but when it comes to recent track record against today's opponents Fister owns the edge. And the line on tonight's game seems a bit steep. So we believe the betting value for this MLB pick resides with Washington. Also, our guess is runs might be rare tonight, so we're thinking UNDER.