The Washington Nationals are seeing their chances of defending their World Series title in the postseason slip away entering Monday's clash with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Hosting Tampa isn't going to inspire much optimism in the Nats clubhouse, as they sit with a 14-25 record and rank last in the NL East. Meanwhile, the Rays (28-13) are leading the AL pennant chase.
Continue reading abe Insights' betting preview for analysis of the major lines and how they should trend, the best odds available at publication, advanced stats and more salient information.
Date: Monday, September 7
Time: 6:05 p.m. ET
TV: MLB Network
Implied Probabilities: Rays 48%; Nationals 54%
Spread: TB +1.5 (-185); WSH -1.5 (+175)
Moneyline: TB +108; WSH -118
Max Scherzer is the one beacon of hope Washington can cling to tonight, as he prepares to take the bump against Rays starter Charlie Morton. Even that optimism is a little shaky, though, because Scherzer has struggled throughout 2020.
Already missing Steven Strasburg for the year, Scherzer has been dinged up on the mound more than he's accustomed to. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is 3-2 with a 3.95 ERA in eight starts. Morton has a 4.82 ERA in five appearances following three stellar seasons in his own right.
.266 vs. .241: It may surprise some to learn that the Nationals have far and away a better team batting average than the Rays. While Washington is in MLB's top five in this basic but telling category, Tampa Bay ranks only 18th.
4.84 vs. 3.80: These digits show the Expected Fielding Independent Pitching numbers for the Nats and Rays starters respectively. Washington's higher total is seventh-worst, and even with Morton not meeting his high standards, Tampa Bay's staff ranks third.
-9.6 vs. 5.8: One persistent problem plaguing the Nats is defense, as they've recorded MLB's lowest Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games. The Rays are pretty sound in this area, ranking seventh out of 30 teams.
Addressing the typically strong pitchers' issues wound up dominating the personnel discussion, but Washington has another problem at play. Exacerbating the Nats' issues is the fact that Juan Soto has missed the past three contests with elbow soreness.
Soto's return to the lineup after he missed the beginning of the season due to a positive COVID-19 test was a big spark for the Nationals offense. If he can't go Monday, though, at least stud shortstop Trea Turner is still leading the batting order's charge. Turner would be the sport's hitting champion if the season ended today, boasting a .365 batting average — with elite speed to boot.
One aspect that makes the Rays so difficult to beat is how patient they are at the plate. What they lack in hitting proficiency, they make up for by drawing MLB's highest percentage of walks (11.3%). Scherzer is on track for a career-high 1.38 WHIP, as his typically elite command is lacking a bit, despite his ranking ninth with 61 strikeouts.
Morton's arduous 2020 is almost as notable as that of Scherzer's. The Tampa Bay veteran averaged 15 wins per season in the past three, with the latter two campaigns seeing Morton log an ERA in the low 3's. Opposing batters have a barrel percentage of 10.5% versus Morton this season, which is more than double any of the prior few years.
One weakness to keep an eye on is the Rays' bullpen, which ranks 24th in ERA at 3.75. If the Nats can jump on Morton early, they have a chance to add insurance late, but of course it'll take a stellar effort from Scherzer as well.
Scherzer's presence alone accounts for why Washington is favored. The Nats have a horrid 7-14 home record in 2020, and Tampa Bay is 14-7 on the road, totals that are more or less accurate with some make-up doubleheaders thrown in. In any event, look for bettors to go with Washington's spread and moneyline for the majority of wagers.
As for the run total, the betting public is bound to err on the Under just because of the caliber of pitchers in play.
Note: Odds current as of 1:15 p.m. ET on Monday, September 7.
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