After four months of offseason, four months of pandemic-related shutdown, an ugly back-and-forth labor dispute, and one of the biggest cheating scandals of recent memory. Baseball enthusiasts can finally rejoice: MLB is back! It may not be accompanied by full schedules or fans in the stands, but American sports are returning–and America’s Pastime is leading the charge.
In the opening game of the season, we are treated to a matchup between the most frequent and the most recent World Series winners. It’s the New York Yankees at the Washington Nationals.
While we still have a long way to go, both teams undoubtedly realize the importance of getting off to a fast start in the shortened schedule. Therefore, we expect things to be hotly contested from the get-go.
NY Yankees at WSH Nationals
Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. – 7:08 PM EST
NY Yankees: Gerrit Cole – R (Last Season: 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP) WSH Nationals: Max Scherzer – R (Last Season: 11-7, 2.92 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)
Odds and Betting Lines
Moneyline: Yankees -139/Nationals +125
Run Spread: Yankees -1.5 (+130), Nationals +1.5 (-139)
Over/Under: 7.5 runs, -110 over, -110 under
In his career, Max Scherzer has a sterling FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, an estimator of ERA) of 2.50 against righties but just an adequate 3.72 against lefties. In 2019, the splits were just as extreme, with marks of 1.96 vs RHB and 3.22 vs LHB. Meanwhile, the Yankees are expected to only use two lefties in their lineup (Brett Gardner and switch-hitter Aaron Hicks), leaving room for Scherzer to dominate.
Across his career, Gerrit Cole’s FIP has improved from a pretty good 3.33 in the first half of the season to an elite 2.73 in the second half. In 2019, that split was 3.02 and 2.18, respectively. Although Cole is a good pitcher no matter the time of year. It seems that he often takes a month or two to truly hit his stride. It may not be a coincidence that in both 2018 and 2019, his fastball gained 0.5 mph from the first half to the second.
According to the Action Network, the public hasn’t been this down on Max Scherzer since the last election!
Washington Nationals: 3 Or Fewer Runs Conceded After 6 Innings -240 (William Hill)
Given Max Scherzer’s prowess against right-handed hitters, the makeshift Summer Camp/Spring Training 2.0, and the Nationals’ home-field advantage (which will still exist this season due to the home team having a more familiar and comfortable routine), the Yankees could easily be kept in check before they reach the Nationals bullpen in the later innings. Plus, the Yankees’ homer-or-bust strategy (which makes middling run totals such as 3, 4, and 5 less likely and extreme totals such as 1 and 7 runs more likely) provides us extra volatility to stay below 4 runs.
In most cases, pitchers just aren’t comfortable in the 1st inning. On average, you can expect a starting pitcher to allow 10% more runs in the 1st inning than he would throughout the rest of the game. Max Scherzer, on the other hand, is not most pitchers.
While Gerrit Cole’s wOBA (which is another metric which captures his run-preventing abilities) has been .238–the best in baseball, and equivalent to a 2.47 ERA–the past two years, it dropped to .282 in 1st innings, which is on-par with an ERA of about 3.50. At the same time, Scherzer’s baseline wOBA improved from .252 overall to .249 in the 1st inning! Although the Yankees may be the better bet for the rest of the game, it is the Nationals who are better suited for the best start.
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