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Nationals on the rise

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Editor's Note: Follow Stephen Nover throughout the pro baseball season by getting his winning picks here.

Did you happen to notice oddsmakers opened the Washington Nationals a favorite on Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates?

That takes some courage on the part of linesmakers.

Washington has the worst record in baseball at 11-25. The Nationals could be the shoddiest fielding team, own the worst bullpen and have injuries with outfielders Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes and first baseman Dmitri Young all sidelined.

The Nationals are on pace to break the National League record for giving up the most runs in a season.

But is Washington really this putrid?

No, the Nationals aren’t. Look at their offense. Christian Guzman is leading the National League in batting. Nick Johnson is healthy and averaging .333. It’s not a fluke. The guy could always hit.

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are on course to knock in more than 130 runs apiece. Dukes is on pace to drive in more than 100 runs. You would be hard-pressed to name another team whose No. 3-4-5 hitters are on pace to combine for more than 300 RBI’s.

They’ve helped Washington rank third in batting, third in slugging percentage and fourth in runs scored in the National League.

The Nationals have scored at least five runs in 10 of their last 11 games heading into this week. The over has cashed in seven of their past eight games going into Monday.

Sure you can point to dreadful pitching. You’re asking for serious trouble when the key setup men and closers are chosen from a group of Ron Villone, Julian Tavarez, Joe Beimel, Jesus Colome and Kip Wells.

Yet three-fifths of the Nationals’ starting staff is good. Rookies Jordan Zimmerman and Shairon Martis show a lot of promise. So does John Lannan. Zimmerman could be a future star, while Martis may be their top pitcher right now.

The Nationals really could get good if they draft and sign Stephen Strasburg, perhaps the most heralded college pitching prospect ever. Washington owns the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Besides their gas can carrying bullpen, Washington’s major problem is its other two starting pitchers – Daniel Cabrera and Scott Olsen. These two have combined to allow 75 runs in 80 1/3 innings with a combined ERA of 6.61.

Not surprisingly, Washington is 1-14 in Cabrera and Olsen’s starts this season. The Nationals would be just one game under .500 if you didn’t count Cabrera and Olsen’s starts.

Olsen has yet to regain his lost fastball and may never get it back. He just went on the DL with shoulder stiffness. Cabrera flat out needs to be released.

If the Nationals replace these two guys, get a serviceable closer and maintain their hitting, they could be a ‘dog worth backing.

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