NL East First-Half Betting Recap and Post-Break Outlook

Monday, July 16, 2018 2:24 PM UTC

Monday, Jul. 16, 2018 2:24 PM UTC

The race for the NL East title is inspiring worry in those who bet on favored Washington before the season. But with the first half of the year to evaluate, bettors can give NL East futures renewed consideration.

BetOnline Odds to win NL East
  • Philadelphia Phillies +150
  • Atlanta Braves +160
  • Washington Nationals +200

Last season, the Nationals won their division by the second-largest margin. Consequently, they were heavily favored to win the NL East again this year. A bit more than halfway through the season, Nationals backers are realizing that, at best, this year won’t be as easy for them. Washington is 48-48 and sits 5.5 games behind the first-place Phillies. The Nats have disappointed their backers on a game-to-game basis more than any other NL east team, yielding -17.9 units.

  • The Nats’ two biggest problems have been underachievement and injury. Their lineup has suffered numerous injuries, which affects its chemistry. The most notable pitching injury was to Stephen Strasburg’s shoulder. Strasburg hasn’t pitched since June 8, but is rehabbing and expected to rejoin the rotation shortly after the All-Star nreak. Strasburg wasn't performing as well as usual. His FIP (like ERA, but factors out luck) is 1.15 higher than it was last season. He’s allowing twice as many homers per nine innings and a higher rate of hard contact. But, there’s room for optimism because his career second-half FIP is .35 lower than his first-half FIP. He really turns it on in the last month of the season, when his career FIP is 1.89. Last season, he allowed five runs combined in August and September.

    So put Strasburg on your radar. Ace Max Scherzer should always be on your radar, but you should be careful with him because the juice that MLB bettors are required to lay on him makes him a barely profitable pitcher. Look to be creative, going with possibly a first-five "under." A fascinating trend is that the "under" is 6-0 in his starts against division rivals. Finally, Jeremy Hellickson has been a positive addition to Washington’s rotation. His numbers are way better from last season, and he is Washington’s most profitable starting pitcher.

    So when Strasburg returns, there will be some optimism for Washington’s starting rotation. But two factors make me want to refuse to lay chalk on this team: the lineup and the manager. Superstar Bryce Harper is batting .214, .105 lower than last season. Likewise, Daniel Murphy’s BA has dropped significantly. Howie Kendrick had been a positive addition, but will probably miss the rest of the season (DL). The lineup is in need of some inspiration, but it won’t come from manager Dave Martinez, who shockingly didn’t punish Harper recently for not running hard to first base on a groundout. I think this is a serious managerial mishap that raises questions to his ability to positively influence and motivate his players. Perhaps the lack of leadership has encouraged Washington’s poor run, going 15-24 since June.

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✅ 52 wins (10th-most since 1966)
✅ .533 winning % (best since 2013)
✅ Four All-Stars (most since 2012)#Braves enter All-Star break with plenty of positives, speculation as surprise contender

-- @coryjmccartney

— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) July 16, 2018

Two other teams that are easy to rule out are the Mets and Marlins. The Mets had an amazing start to the season, but are struggling for form. In any given week they are reliable to score fewer than two runs per game mostly because of how poor and injury-ridden their lineup has been. Evidence for how poor their lineup is consists in the fact that Jacob deGrom has an insane 1.68 ERA, but is only 5-4 in 19 starts. The Mets, like the Marlins, are 13.5 games back from first and show no hope.

The two candidates for a future bet must be Philadelphia and Atlanta. Both have been positive surprises, sitting among the top five most profitable teams and 11 games over .500. The Phillies have been an especially reliable home bet, where they are 30-16, yielding +11.6 units. Aaron Nola leads the rotation both in ERA and units yielded. His team is still undefeated (9-0) in his home starts. Newcomer Jake Arrieta had been struggling, but is rediscovering his form, yielding two runs or fewer in each of his last three starts. Moreover, Zach Eflin, though he is suffering from recurring blister issues, has brought his FIP down from 6.10 last season to 3.02.

I would be more hesitant to back this team because of its lineup, which lacks high quality and reliable hitters. Its BA leader is Odubel Herrera, who is only batting .275. Herrera is streaky and inconsistent. His BA in April was .367, but in May it was .283, .236 in June and, finally, .216 so far in July. The Phillies rank ninth-to-last in runs scored per game away from home. But, if they land superstar Manny Machado, their lineup will receive a major boost. If they don’t, it will still be a very young lineup that shows promise for future seasons.

Atlanta is led by its top three starting pitchers, Mike Foltynewicz, Anibal Sanchez, and Sean Newcomb. Folty boasts a 2.66 ERA, but I don’t trust him in the second half because of how fortunate he’s been in the first half. His FIP is 3.38. He is surviving because he is stranding runners at an unsustainably high rate and is benefiting from a fortunately low opposing BABIP (batting average of balls in play) despite allowing a higher rate of hard contact. The same holds true of Newcomb, whose FIP is 4.14. Sanchez’s ERA is 2.73. He has been a positive addition because he is able to keep the ball on the ground. He has starkly reduced his opposing home run rate from last season and is yielding more grounders. One trend to note is that the "under" is 8-0 when Sanchez is facing a right-handed starter.

The Braves rank seventh in runs per game and don’t suffer the same road troubles as Philadelphia. The lineup is led by two lefties, All-Stars Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, who are batting over .300. Switch-hitter Ozzie Albies is third with a .281 BA.

So while the Nats will garner some kind of chance at winning the division, their below-average bullpen (in terms of FIP) and lineup raise too many doubts to be worth the chalk. The Phillies and Braves are both interesting with decent bullpens by NL East standards, a group of three strong starting pitchers and high-potential lineups. Whereas Philly’s lineup carries a lot of youth that is waiting to blossom from more experience, the same can be said of Atlanta’s starting rotation. These teams stand neck-and-neck in the division standings and I would split a half unit on each team to cash in the big plus odds, so that you profit, if either team wins the division.

Free MLB Pick: Philadelphia & Atlanta (.5 unit each)Best Line Offered: Bovada
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