Washington was supposed to be the best team in baseball this season and Philadelphia the worst. It's early, but only the Phillies are near expectations. The Nats opened as big -241 favorites on MLB odds for Friday night's Game 2 of the series in D.C.
Not A Super Team After All?
At least one team winning 100 games used to be an afterthought in baseball. Not any longer, perhaps thanks to revenue sharing that has slightly harmed the spending ability of the big-market clubs. Since 2005, just three teams have won 100 games in a season: the 2008 Angels, 2009 Yankees and the 2011 Phillies (all big-market clubs by the way). The Nationals, many thought, would reach the century mark this season after adding Max Scherzer in free agency to create perhaps the best rotation in the majors since the 1972 Orioles had four 20-game winners.
Entering Thursday's series opener against these Phillies, the Nats were just 3-6. The pitching staff had a disappointing 4.21 ERA and the team's batting average of .212 was one of the worst in baseball. Shortstop Ian Desmond, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Jayson Werth are all around or well below the Mendoza Line. Desmond also has been terrible on defense with six errors -- maybe he should have taken that $100 million-plus extension the Nationals offered him this offseason. Instead, Desmond will test free agency and history says he will start hitting as will Zimmerman and Werth, although those guys have been injury prone of late (Werth started the season on the DL).
Some offensive help could be on the way as early as Friday but by early next week at the latest. That would be center fielder and leadoff hitter Denard Span. He hard right core surgery in March and is rehabbing in the minors. He was to play nine innings with Single-A Hagerstown on Thursday and if all went well could be called up. Nationals manager Matt Williams said how Span feels will determine whether or not he needs to be tested with back-to-back days of nine innings in the minor leagues before being recalled. Span hit .302 with 94 runs scored and 31 steals last season so he's clearly missed. As is third baseman Anthony Rendon, who is still likely a couple of weeks away with a knee injury. There's now talk Rendon might go back to second base because Yunel Escobar has played well at third. Originally Escobar was to play second.
Sportsbooks haven't panicked yet on the Nats as they remain +750 World Series favorites on Bovada's MLB odds. These Phillies are +15000 long shots as most expect them to finish with the league's worst record. They are on the right track for that.
This looks like a major mismatch -- hence the huge spread. Scherzer makes his third start of the season and he has been worth his $215 million contract so far if someone can be worth that much. He was a hard-luck loser in his season debut against the Mets despite not allowing an earned run in 7.2 innings. Scherzer followed that up with six innings of one-run, six-hit ball at Philadelphia on Sunday. He struck out eight and walked two for the second game in a row. Scherzer still is looking for his first win as he took a no-decision there (Washington was -187 at sportsbooks). The Nats won in extra innings, their only victory in that three-game series. Few Phillies have had much career success off him. Ben Revere is 6-for-17 with a double and walk. Jeff Francoeur has a homer and two doubles in 33 at-bats. Grady Sizemore is 1-for-14 career off Scherzer. No player has gone deep off Scherzer yet this season.
For Philly, it's Sean O'Sullivan, who is supposed to be a place-holder in the rotation. However, the journeyman pitched well in his season debut opposite Scherzer on Sunday, allowing two runs and five hits over six innings, striking out five and walking one. He was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley before the game to make a spot start. He earned another. Bryce Harper is 1-for-3 career off O'Sullivan with a solo homer. Zimmerman is 1-for-2 with a walk.
MLB Free Picks: Too easy to take the Nationals straight on the moneyline as that's not good value. Go Washington at -120 on the runline and 'under' the 7 runs at -125 for your MLB picks.