With stories swirling that he might be sent down to the minors following a rough first couple of months with the Atlanta Braves, BJ Upton delivered on Saturday to help even the weekend series with the Washington Nationals.
The NL East rivals now square off in Sunday's rubber match, and Atlanta hopes their big money free agent can build on his Saturday effort to help the club build on its division lead. The Braves send Paul Maholm to the hill at Turner Field as the pronounced favorite with Atlanta lined as -190 chalk, a number that was bet up from the original -175 price on the MLB odds board.
Washington counters with rookie Nate Karns and bettors are faced with an 8 run total.
Atlanta dropped the Nats back to an even .500 record with a 10-inning, 2-1 victory in Game 2. BJ Upton, who entered the contest hitting just .145 after signing a 5-year, $75 million deal in the winter, delivered a couple of singles, the second of which plated the winning run in walk-off fashion.
Called up this past week to take over for Ross Detwiler (strained oblique), Karns is making his second start for Washington following his MLB debut last Tuesday. The righthander labored into the fifth inning before being yanked having allowed three runs and a couple of homers to the Orioles among his 85 pitches.
Karns was rated sixth on the Nationals prospect chart when the season began, and was at Double-A Harrisburg when he was called up. Drafted in 2009 out of Texas Tech, Karns can reach the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball and has a great curve as well.
Atlanta has won Maholm's last three starts, though it took some offense to get it done last Tuesday in Toronto where the southpaw surrendered five runs on 10 hits in six frames. He blanked the Nationals for 7.2 innings in Washington on April 14, a 9-0 win for the Braves. In their seven wins with Maholm pitching, the Braves have averaged over seven runs per game; in the four losses, they've scored just two runs total.
The 1:35 PM (ET) start looks fine in Atlanta, but from that point on the chance for rain increases to 60% or higher by mid-to-late afternoon.
These two clubs have now played three consecutive UNDERS and I'm going to run with that streak continuing for my pick in Sunday's tilt. The Braves will next begin a home set with the Pirates on Monday, and I'll be following that series with analysis and free plays.
My pick: Nationals-Braves Under 8 (-110) at Bet365
Saturday Game 2
By: Willie Bee
Washington climbed back over the .500 mark Friday night when the Nationals picked up their third consecutive win over the Atlanta Braves. But the victory might have come with a steep price after staff ace Stephen Strasburg suffered a strained oblique.
Saturday night's contest, part of the regional broadcast schedule for FOX, is a rematch on the mound from late-April as Tim Hudson meets Gio Gonzalez. Hudson is aiming for his third win over the Nats this year while Gonzalez hopes to avoid his third loss to the Braves, and the MLB odds don't look good for Gio.
Atlanta went out as -145 chalk for the contest, and the moneyline has been reduced by a few pennies at most outlets listed on SBR's live odds. The original 7 run total was priced $1.25 on the OVER, but Saturday morning finds most shops offering 7.5 and juicing it to the low side.
Strasburg was only able to pitch two innings in Friday's 3-2 victory, and it is very likely the Nats' ace will be placed on the 15-day DL before his next start which is currently listed as June 6 vs. the New York Mets. Washington's rotation is already without Ross Detwiler, who suffered a similar injury last weekend, and also minus Bryce Harper (knee) in the lineup.
This is one of those pitching matchups that if you just look at each hurler's career numbers in this series, everything is in Hudson's favor though the Atlanta veteran is going through a rough patch lately. Everything definitely went Hudson's way when he faced off against Gonzalez on this diamond about a month ago. Hudson smacked a home run and a double while holding Washington's lineup to three hits over seven inning in that game, his 200th career victory. Sixteen of those 200 have come against the Nats.
Hudson isn't the only Atlanta hitter to give Gonzalez trouble this season; the southpaw has worked nine innings in two starts vs. the Braves, allowing 14 hits (3 HR), eight walks and 12 runs along the way. Washington lost both games by a combined 17-1 count.
Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson are both 4-for-9 vs. Gonzalez, with Simmons taking his deep twice. As far as Washington's lineup goes, Ian Desmond has the best track record against Hudson unless Jayson Worth (.385, 3 HR) makes a miraculous recovery from his hamstring injury and is activated before the game.
There is a slight chance of rain in Atlanta this afternoon, but the game should come off without a hitch. Larry Vanover is in line to call the balls and strikes, and brings a 4-4 O/U mark into the contest.
Neither lineup made much noise in Friday's match, but I'm expecting that to change this evening when I'll play the high side of the total.
My pick: Nationals-Braves Over 7.5 (+100)
Friday Game 1
By: Willie Bee
The Washington Nationals turned around their recent fortunes against the Braves the last time they made a trip into Atlanta. Can the Nats now reverse their recent slide to .500 with this weekend's series at Turner Field.
Atlanta and Washington collide for the third time this year, and just like the last two series, the clubs enter the set ranked 1-2 in the NL East. Igniting the series is a mound duel on Friday between Stephen Strasburg and Julio Teheran with the morning MLB odds very close to a pick 'em. Scoreboard bettors are deciding which side of a 7 run total to get on.
The Braves begin the set with a comfortable 5.5-game lead over their division rivals after splitting four games with the Blue Jays earlier this week. Atlanta is 15-12 in May, and 7.3 units in the black for the year.
Washington dropped its last two games in Baltimore to slip to a level 27-27 record. The Nats are just 7-12 since they reached a season-high five games over .500 on May 10, and have found road life distasteful with just four wins away from home in their last 12 tries.
Strasburg, Teheran Meet Again In Series Opener
Friday's clash on the mound is the same matchup we saw at the end of April when the Nationals were in Atlanta to begin a 4-game series. Neither Strasburg nor Teheran figured into the decision, which went to the Braves by a 3-2 score.
That setback left Washington just 1-3 in Strasburg's four starts at Turner Field where he sports a bloated 5.31 ERA. The young right hander does have 25 K's in 20.1 innings on this mound, but that masks some control issues Strasburg has had in Atlanta with 14 free passes issued along the way.
A lack of support as well as some defensive lapses play into the fact the Nats are just 4-7 in his 11 assignments despite a solid 2.49 ERA. Strasburg is coming off arguably his best outing of the season this past Sunday vs. Philadelphia, striking out nine and limiting the Phils to just one run and five hits.
Teheran is also coming off a good outing, though the Mets rallied for a 4-2 win in New York on Sunday. The young Colombian has five quality efforts in his last six trips to the mound, and though he lacks a decision in two starts vs. the Nationals, the Braves are 2-0 in those games and bettors are 7-2 (+5.3 units) backing Teheran.
Bum Knee Could Sideline Harper For Weekend
Bursitis in his left knee kept Washington OF Bryce Harper out of the home-&-home matchups vs. the Orioles this week. He says he could be ready to go Friday night, but manager Davey Johnson isn't counting on his young star for Game 1, or perhaps the entire weekend. Washington is also without OF Jayson Werth (hamstring) who isn't expected to rejoin the team until next week.
Atlanta's middle and setup relievers have been decimated by injuries this year, the only good news being closer Craig Kimbrel remaining healthy and among the NL saves leaders. The Braves did get Jordan Walden back this week, and other relievers like Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro have risen to the occasion.
The Braves are in the process of releasing or trying to deal 3B Juan Francisco after designating him for assignment on Thursday, and that leaves Atlanta with just one pure infielder on the bench now.
A 20% shot of rain is in the Hotlanta forecast for Friday, but all signs point to it just being a warm, muggy night at Turner Field. Game time temps should be in the low-to-mid 80s with a light 8-10 mph breeze out of the southeast (1B across to 3B).
Strasburg is pitching well enough for me to think his earlier struggles are behind him, and definitely well enough for me to back him for my MLB picks at this price on Friday.
My pick: Nationals -106 at Bet365