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Nats over-hyped?

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Nationals Futures Backers Shouldn't Panic Yet

Last season through their first 21 games, the Giants were 11-10 before going on to win their second World Series title in three seasons. In 2010, San Francisco won 12 of its first 21 games. Two years ago, the champion Cardinals started 11-10 in their first 21. The 2009 champion Yankees also began 11-10. Ditto the 2008 Fall Classic-winning Phillies.

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This is mentioned because there is concern in D.C. over the Washington Nationals' 10-11 start. Last year's team won the most games in baseball. The Nats were clear National League favorites after acquiring outfielder and leadoff hitter Denard Span and closer Rafael Soriano while also re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche this offseason to go with the core group in place led by Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

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Expectations can weigh on a young team, and so far Washington doesn't look like the NL favorite with a 10-11 mark. Their only series win in the past four was against the terrible Marlins. The Nats were just swept at home by the Cardinals in an NLDS rematch and also recently were swept by NL East-leading Atlanta. Washington has three series wins all year and they are against teams well below .500: the Marlins twice and White Sox.

However, the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint as those past five World Series winners listed above can attest. Years ago, a slow start was cause for concern when the only avenue to the playoff was winning a division. Now there are two wild-card spots in each league, so winning the division is nice but not necessary.

Strasburg has lost four-straight starts, but Washington would gladly accept his current 3.16 ERA over a full season. It's the number at which he finished 2012. Strasburg has received a total of eight runs of support in 2013 while he is in the game.

Harper is raking (.315, seven HRs, 15 RBIs through Wednesday) but the Nationals are in the bottom half of the National League in runs and average. LaRoche has three homers but is hitting.169 with 23 strikeouts. Danny Espinosa is at .155 and battling a wrist injury. Washington is averaging 2.9 runs in the past 12 games and manager Davey Johnson says change is coming. Reserve Steve Lombardozzi is expected to now get regular time as he is hitting .345.

Help also could be on the way. Catcher Wilson Ramos was off to a good start (.300, two HRs, three RBIs) before landing on the disabled list. He could return by next Monday. Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.226, one HR, 11 RBIs) could be back the first week of May.

The schedule doesn't do the Nats any favors the next few weeks. They began a four-game series at home against NL Central favorite Cincinnati (-120 at Bovada to win division) on Thursday. Then Washington visits NL East favorite Atlanta (even) and Pittsburgh before facing AL favorite Detroit for two interleague games. Things ease up after that for a while.

The Nats are now +110 to win the NL East, 4/1 to win the NL pennant (both No. 2 behind Braves) and 8/1 to win the World Series, so clearly oddsmakers haven't lost faith.

Sunday Night Baseball

The lone Live Betting game this weekend at the book is Sunday's Braves at Tigers matchup, featuring the two World Series favorites. Atlanta (7/1 to win it) has a comfortable lead in the NL East thanks to early NL MVP favorite Justin Upton (.316, 11 HRs, 16 RBIs). The Braves also lead the majors in team ERA at 2.52.

Much like Washington, Detroit (15/2 to win WS) has underachieved so far, but the Tigers are among the top hitting teams in the majors with Torii Hunter and reigning Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera at the top of the AL batting race, and Prince Fielder among the RBI leaders. The Tigers' bullpen has been a question, but the team has re-installed Jose Valverde as the closer after only recently re-signing him to a minor-league contract when no one else wanted Papa Grande.

The Tigers are scheduled to start Doug Fister (3-0, 2.00) on Sunday against Atlanta's Mike Minor (3-1, 1.80) in what should be a pitching duel.

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