MLB Picks: Nationals vs. Pirates Game 3

Darin Zank

Saturday, May 24, 2014 1:24 PM GMT

MLB handicappers are searching for that edge against the betting odds to see if Washington or Pittsburgh will finally catch fire. Thus far, the Pirates have been stronger winning the first two games at home. Who will you pick?

Washington Needs to Help Itself
The Nationals every day lineup is missing important bats, namely Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman. This has to affect the Nationals offense, yet it is made worse when other individuals like Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond (to name a few) are barely holding their own, let alone, stepping up their game to help the team. 

Another factor those checking out the MLB odds notice is Washington’s atrocious fielding, having the worst percentage in the NL at .976. When Tampa Bay arrived as a force in 2008, their athleticism in the field helped changed the understanding of fielding and since, numerous metrics have been designed. 

Not only do the Nationals make too many errors, they also are horrific is the angles they take to balls, which end up as hits on balls that can be handled. Where we find this is the Nats eighth in total chances, and this number is held back to a point, since the pitching staff ranks third in strikeouts. Compare that to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are the second-worst fielding team, yet they their pitchers have the most punch-outs. and their fielders have the most total chances. 

Washington has to be more alert, if they want to catch Atlanta in their division. 


Pittsburgh Searching for Stability 
As any sports team knows, it is great to climb the mountain to earn respect, but it is quite another thing to stay at the summit once you reached it. After two decades of losing baseball, the Pirates won 94 games in 2013, but it has been tough treading in 2014 at 21-26, -6.8 units. 

For bettors wagering on or against Pittsburgh with their sports picks, the difference between last season and this year is like finding Beyonce in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Last year the Bucs were +0.3 runs in run differential (+57). Thus far Pitt is -0.5, which equates to -21, which is easily found with a 3-7 record in contests determined by four or more runs. 

For Pittsburgh to climb the NL Central ladder, they need to start scoring more runs and allowing fewer, pretty simple stuff. 


Pitching Matchup for Saturday 
This is a real good pitching matchup of two young studs in the NL. Stephen Strasburg (3-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) has not been the flame-thrower with upper 90’s fastball when he first joined Washington. Whether it’s by design or through injury, his heater is now in the mid-90’s and he registers many of his strikeouts with his tightly spun curveball that falls of the proverbial table. Normally, Strasburg is well below hits to innings pitched, but not this season, with opponents batting .264 against him. 

Like many young pitchers, Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.84, 1.33) pitches better at home than on the road, and he’s 10-5 in his career at PNC Park, which includes 2-0 this season in four starts (Pirates 3-1). The right-hander has been a little more erratic to this point, with his walks up almost 10 percent from last year and he’s already been taken yard seven times, the same as all of 2013. 


Bullpen View
Those making MLB picks are pretty confident with Washington having a lead in the later innings. The Nationals have the top ERA in the NL (2.13) and are third in on-base percentage allowed (.294). Despite these numbers, they only have a 71% save percentage (10 of 14), having the second-fewest opportunities in the senior circuit. 

After a very slow start, the Pittsburgh pen has been rounding into form, now up to fifth in ERA, and has stopped conceding home runs. In particular, Tony Watson has been a superior set-up man (11 holds, 1.21 ERA) and Mark Melancon has seven holds and eight saves since taking over as closer. 


Head to Head Combat and Betting Odds
In the past three years, Pitt holds a 5-3 lead in the Steel City, with the total 3-3-2. The Pirates were initially established as +101 underdogs, and they went to +110 before falling back to a pick at -105 according to sportsbooks. The total is at 6.5. 

The Winner Is….
I’m going to roll with Washington for this evening because its one of the NL road teams with a money line of -100 to -150, averaging 4.1 or fewer runs a game, against a team with a solid bullpen ERA of 3.33 or less, after scoring three runs or less in two straight contests are 32-8 since 2010.  

MLB Free Picks: Washington wins