For bettors, Nationals worth watching

July 14, 2019 01:06 AM

Should bettors take the Washington Nationals seriously as a profit center and playoff threat? 

Sunday afternoon provides a good opportunity to get caught up with news on the Nats while watching the national telecast of their series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies (TBS, 1:05 p.m. ET, note that TBS will air Sunday afternoon action for the rest of the season). 

You probably know that Washington surged back into the National League East race in days leading up to the All-Star break. That hot run actually dates back more than a month. Washington started the 2019 campaign 19-31, then finished the first half on a 28-11 tear. Records for all N.L. East teams in their last 39 games before the break: Washington 28-11, Atlanta 25-14, Miami 17-22, Philadelphia 17-22, New York Mets 15-24 (and, as VSiN has documented, the Phils have been awful when not playing the Mets…going 6-1 vs. New York during that span, 11-21 vs. everyone else). 

It sure seems like Washington is a juggernaut once again. With Max Scherzer back in Cy Young form, should the Atlanta Braves be shaking in their boots? Heck, should the Los Angeles Dodgers start worrying about the N.L. pennant?

Maybe. There’s a big “but” about Washington’s run. The Nationals have mostly been bullying MLB dregs. A seemingly tenacious 10-2 finish came against Miami (6-0), Detroit (2-1) and Kansas City (2-1). Earlier in the 28-11 tear, there were three wins in four games against the Chicago White Sox from the dreadful A.L. Central, and three more wins in four games against Miami.

There’s a very real possibility this “hot” run is a schedule illusion rather than playoff caliber performance. It’s not hard to look like a playoff team when you’re only facing opponents who don’t care about results. 

Even Scherzer’s stats are misleading in that context. Yes he’s great. But those well-publicized stats from his last nine starts (0.84 ERA, 94 strikeouts, only 9 walks) have come mostly against the bad teams we mentioned. His toughest opponents were Arizona and San Diego. Scherzer still hasn’t faced Atlanta this season. He’s made eight starts against Philadelphia, Miami, and New York (with his ninth scheduled for Sunday). 

Real litmus tests begin July 18. Washington will play Atlanta seven times in the final two weeks of the month, with a home series against the N.L. favorite Dodgers sandwiched in between.

So, the answers to today’s questions will probably come in that stretch. For now, bettors should seriously consider Washington when affordably priced against non-contenders (or disappointments like the Phils). But, investment against top competition shouldn’t be automatic unless the Nats impress against the Braves and Dodgers. 

Playoffs? Let’s say the market is at least paying attention. According to William Hill, the Nats have surged to 5/1 to win the N.L. East (risk $100 to win $500, or anything in that ratio), 12/1 to win the National League, and 30/1 to win the World Series. Nobody’s thinking this is a 19-31 caliber team any more. 

At the very least, watch Washington.

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