Somehow we’re now mercifully only a few weeks out from Opening Day. Spring Training games are in full swing, with veteran big leaguers beginning to make their spring debuts each day.
Not only will Spring Training be over before you know it, but so will futures betting season. At least, futures betting with no game action to go off that is. Now is the time to jump on any team you might feel good about, because they could be a .750 April away from having their odds skyrocket away from your favor.
So far I’ve written about potential opportunity with the Wins Over/Under for the Twins & Braves, laying out what you’re hoping happens in order to cash those bets. Today we’re focusing on a team that was a massive disappointment in 2018, the Washington Nationals.
All odds via Oddschecker, 2018 stats via Baseball-Reference
This isn’t really a play way out of left field; the Nats have the second-best odds to win the East, narrowly ahead of last year’s champion, Atlanta (+300) and behind the offseason champion, Philadelphia (+175).
However, if you’re betting on the Nats at +275, you feel how I feel: they’re winning the NL East and you better get +275 odds while they’re available. The Nats catastrophic 2018 should bare less weight than you actually think. There was just a bad combination of the injury bug, down years, and bad vibes all around. This is a team that could go from 82 wins to 92 wins and I don’t think anyone would be surprised.
The good news for the Nats is that despite a down year for the team, the offense still finished 3rd in the NL in runs last year and first in OBP. The squad did this despite only getting 95 games from Adam Eaton, 85 from Ryan Zimmerman, and essentially a lost season from top prospect Victor Robles. They also got only 116 from Teenage Phenom Juan Soto, who lit baseball on fire from the day he got called up.
While everyone I mentioned is currently healthy and on track to be in the Opening Day lineup, the bad news is that Bryce Harper (who had a “down” year by hitting 34 homers and getting on base at a .393 clip) will be suiting up for the Phillies this year, a double whammy for the Nats’ NL East hopes.
Don’t cancel that wager on the Nats to win the NL East just because of this fact though. If you’re hopping in this bandwagon, you’re betting on a lot of exciting youthful bats. Health and growth from Robles & Soto, along with the continued development of Trea Turner into an offensive force, makes the Nats as exciting an offensive team as there is in baseball really.
Lest I remind you that Anthony Rendon is still there to provide thump in the middle of the order, and while the Nats might not have brought back Harper, they did buy low on Brian Dozier and trade for Yan Gomes, both of which should be offensive & defensive upgrades at their respective spots. Anyone betting on the Nats is hoping they’re at least a comparable offensive team as the year before, even without Harper.
Where the heart of your wager really is, what you’re essentially betting on if you’re picking the Nats to win the East, is that their pitching will far surpass their barely less than league average output from a year ago. Max Scherzer was dominant, per usual, but the rest of the rotation failed to measure up. Stephen Strasburg threw well but failed to top 135 innings, while Jeremy Hellickson threw well but only threw 91.1 innings.
No other Nats starter from 2018 was worth writing home about, while their relievers not named Sean Doolittle failed to impress as well. If you take Nats +275 to win the East, you’re banking on a big jump on the mound.
They’re potentially bringing back the best potential top-3 of a rotation in the NL. You can count on Scherzer to be Scherzer, take that to the bank until he proves us wrong. Strasburg is elite when healthy (big when, if you take this Nats bet you’re crossing your fingers on his health), and they made the first big move of the MLB offseason early when they inked All-Star LHP Patrick Corbin.
To win your NL East bet, you need those three to throw like All-Stars, and get quality seasons from some combination of Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Anibal Sanchez, & whoever else ends up eating up innings in the nation’s capital.
As for the pen, Washington has an outside chance at an under-the-radar three headed monster lurking there. Doolittle was excellent last year, and provides an excellent left-handed pen arm. Trevor Rosenthal is working his way back from TJ, but isn’t that far removed from being an All-Star with a triple digit fastball. The third head of the bullpen monster, and the reason that if you’re going to jump on the Nats, you should do it now, is that the club makes a lot of sense as a landing spot for Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel may have looked a little lost in the postseason, but adding that kind of arm to the bullpen is never a bad thing. Between a pitching staff that looks to be on the rise & potentially elite, and an offense that might not lose the step that most think it will sans-Harper, the Nats represent a great buying opportunity to win the NL East.
By Kyle Bandujo