Opening Day for the abbreviated 2020 MLB season has finally arrived, as the New York Yankees visit the Washington Nationals on Thursday to kick off baseball's 60-game schedule.
Due to an extraordinary, rather ominous year amid the backdrop of a global pandemic, this MLB campaign is more of a sprint than the typical 162-game marathon. Despite fans not attending, every regular-season contest has elevated stakes, which could make for all kinds of unpredictable outcomes.
As baseball returns to some kind of normalcy at Nationals Park, check out our betting preview, where we cover the best odds available and provide wagers analysis so you can sort through the chaos and make the most informed bets on this exciting showdown.
Date: Thursday, July 23
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Yankees 56%; Nationals 45%
Spread: NYY -1.5 (+125); WSH +1.5 (-143)
Moneyline: NYY -128; WSH +123
The probable pitchers create plenty of intrigue on their own. Gerrit Cole is making his Yankees debut, and three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is his counterpart.
"Mr. National" Ryan Zimmerman opted not to play this year due to family concerns about COVID-19. Even if Zimmerman isn't quite the player he was in his prime, he's still a big clubhouse presence and leader for the reigning champions.
Another key Nationals loss came when third baseman Anthony Rendon sign with the Angels in free agency. Washington instead invested a big contract in World Series MVP pitcher Stephen Strasberg. All this puts more of an onus on 21-year-old phenom Juan Soto to take charge as the face of the Nats offense when he returns from a positive COVID test.
Perhaps most exciting for the Yankees is the fact that superstar sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who both missed extended time last season, are healthy. Despite their prolonged absences, New York still had one of the most explosive lineups in baseball en route to an ALCS appearance.
306 vs. 231: These stats represent the home runs the Yankees and Nationals hit in 2019. Considering Judge missed 60 games and Stanton appeared in only 18, the mythology behind the Bronx Bombers moniker may be lifted to greater heights this year.
13.82 vs. 12.69: What these respective figures reveal is Cole's and Scherzer's rate of strikeouts per nine innings from this past season. They ranked first and second in baseball in that category.
4.08 vs. 5.68: Finally, these dual numbers illustrate the significant upper hand the visiting Yankees had last year over the Nats when it came to relief pitching ERA.
Baseball purists would be hard-pressed to find a more electrifying pitching matchup to begin the year. Both Cole and Scherzer have dynamic three-quarter deliveries and devastating fastballs. They'll face plenty of capable hitters, but should send their share of dangerous hitters back to the dugout without getting the ball in play.
Washington was actually the last team Cole pitched against, as a member of the Astros the last World Series. Cole lost his first start in the Fall Classic — Scherzer got the winning decision — but won his second against the Nats, so he knows how to attack the majority of this lineup.
Bullpen is obviously a huge question mark for the hosts, but Washington did some of its own mining from Houston's loading pitching roster by acquiring reliever Will Harris this offseason. Harris figures to provide a solid veteran presence in the pen after posting a sterling 1.50 ERA in 68 appearances a season ago.
It's going to probably take an absolute gem from Scherzer to keep the Yankees' power-laden batting order in check. Beyond Harris, the Nationals don't have much to speak of in terms of bullpen improvement, so the deeper Scherzer can go, the better chance Washington has to pull out the "W."
Cole is a little more susceptible to yielding the occasional dinger (1.23 per nine innings last year, compared to 0.93 for Scherzer), although the absence of fans won't make this a typical, adverse road game atmosphere.
If the visitors' newly acquired, $324 million ace can keep things close before exiting, the Yankees have the means to supply added run support in the later innings.
When it comes to baseball, things can change quickly. A single explosive inning can all of a sudden cause the Over to soar and the spread to skew to one club in an extreme way.
These are two of the best teams in the game, though — with elite dealers on the mound to boot — so it should be close. If anything, home-field advantage should give more spread action to the Nationals (+1.5).
However, the Yankees (-128) are deserving road favorites. Due to closer Aroldis Chapman's knack for slamming the door in the ninth inning and Washington's suspect relievers, look for New York's moneyline to be the side bettors favor.
With this epic pitching duel set to take place between Cole and Scherzer, wagers are almost certain to favor the Under 7.5. A prop for the under in the first five innings isn't the worst idea given the pitchers in action. FanDuel offers that bet at 4.5 as of this writing.
Note: Odds current as of 12:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, July 23.
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