It was extremely tough to pick which series to preview this weekend. Look at the schedule and you can see potential playoff implications (even if it’s for postseason seeding purposes) for at least one team in every series other than Marlins-Mets and Indians-Royals. That is the beauty of MLB adding that second wild-card spot and this is playing out exactly as Bud Selig had hoped. With just under two weeks left, only 12 of the 30 teams are essentially eliminated.
I chose Brewers-Nationals because Milwaukee is making an incredibly unlikely wild-card surge much like Tampa Bay and Atlanta did last season. Entering Thursday’s series finale against Pittsburgh, the Brew Crew have won 22 of their past 28 games to climb to within 2.5 games of St. Louis, which holds down the second wild-card spot in the NL (Atlanta is all but a lock to take the No. 1 wild card). The Brewers were 12.5 games out of the second wild card as recently as Aug. 19. Remember, too, the Brewers were thought to have thrown in the towel on the season when they traded Zack Greinke to the Angels at the deadline.
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Milwaukee’s surge has MVP voters wondering whether they would cast a ballot for Ryan Braun. The reining NL MVP tested positive last October for a banned substance and was suspended 50 games, but that ruling was shockingly overturned on appeal this winter. Braun has never denied using the substance, he only questioned the testing process. Entering Thursday, Braun is hitting .313 with 40 homers (career high) and 104 RBI. The latter two lead the NL, but Braun won’t win a Triple Crown because the Giants’ Melky Cabrera leads the league in hitting at .346 and is suspended the rest of the year. He is one at-bat shy of qualifying for the batting title, but by rule one hitless at-bat can be added to Cabrera’s total and his average would be official. That Braun is doing this with no Prince Fielder hitting in the lineup behind him is astounding. Milwaukee will easily surpass last year’s homer total, also unthinkable with Fielder now in Detroit. The Brewers lead the NL in long balls, slugging percentage and runs.
Washington is battling Cincinnati for the NL’s top seed and potentially best record in baseball (the Rangers are close behind that duo). The top seed is even more important this year because said team will get the winner of the one-game wild-card playoff in the division series. Presumably, those two wild-card teams will have to use their best pitcher just to advance – plus, the winning team’s bullpen could be overtaxed as well.
The Nats took three of four in Milwaukee from July 26-29 when the Brewers almost were at rock bottom – they were 45-56 after that series If Milwaukee can fare well in this series and then early next week at Cincinnati, it could close strong with six home games vs. non-playoff teams Houston, the worst team in baseball, and San Diego.
Brewers at Nationals Probable Starting Pitchers
Friday: Brewers RHP Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.91) vs. Nationals RHP Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.89) – Since returning from more than two months on the DL, Marcum hasn’t been very good in allowing 19 earned runs over 23.2 innings. He hasn’t won any of those five starts, although Milwaukee did take two of them. Marcum hasn’t faced the Nats. Jackson had one of his best starts of the season July 26 at Milwaukee, blanking the Brewers over seven innings. But in his past three starts, Jackson has a 7.47 ERA.
Saturday: Brewers RHP Wily Peralta (2-0, 2.14) vs. Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (19-8, 2.95) – The Brewers have won all of the rookie’s three starts and Peralta blanked the Mets on two hits over eight innings last time out. Gonzalez is probably going to be your NL Cy Young winner and can become MLB’s first 20-game winner this season. The lefty has allowed just three combined earned runs in his past four starts. He got a no-decision on July 29 at Milwaukee, allowing five runs in six innings.
Sunday: Brewers RHP Yovani Gallardo (16-8, 3.59) vs. Nationals RHP Craig Stammen (6-1, 2.39) -- Gallardo has been magnificent since Greinke was traded by going 8-0 with a 2.69 ERA in his past 10 starts. Throw out a seven-run clunker vs. Pittsburgh early this month, and he has allowed more than two earned runs just once in his past 10. Gallardo was rocked July 26 vs. Washington (right before this 10-start streak), allowing seven runs and seven hits in five innings. As of this writing, Stammen hasn’t officially been named the starter. Washington’s rotation was jostled a bit with Wednesday’s doubleheader. Manager Davey Johnson said he wanted a righty starter vs. Milwaukee here and, thus, it was likely down to Stammen and Chien-Ming Wang, but Wang pitched 2.1 innings Wednesday. Stammen hasn’t started a game this season but has pitched 3.2 innings in relief vs. the Brewers over two games, allowing two runs. Expect Washington to use its bullpen big-time in this game as Stammen is unlikely to last more than four innings, although he was a starter before this season.
Brewers at Nationals Betting Odds and Trends
For the series, the Nationals should be around -160 with Milwaukee at approximately +140. For Game 1, the Nats are -130 with the total at 8.5. “Over/under” records (all trends entering Thursday): MIL 38-32-3 on road, WSH 38-31-4 at home.
Milwaukee is 15-2 in its past 17 games vs. teams with a winning record. It has won 13 of its past 16 vs. right-handed starters and eight of its past 10 series openers. The Brewers are 2-8 in Marcum’s past 10 road starts. Washington has won 10 of its past 14 series openers. The over is 14-3 in Milwaukee’s past 17 series openers. The over is 6-1-1 in Washington’s past eight home games. The Brewers are 1-5 in their past six at Washington.
MLB Picks: Brewers at Nationals Betting Predictions
Washington has one of the majors’ best home records, while the Brewers are an ugly 30-43 away from home (entering Thursday) but have been much better of late. That the Nats are facing all right-handers is a good thing considering they lead baseball in wins vs. righties. Washington also has dominated the NL Central, going 26-9.
You have to expect Gonzalez wins his matchup Saturday, so to bet on the Brewers to win this series obviously they would need to win the opener and finale. I definitely think Gallardo is up to it. Can Marcum get things right and beat a struggling Jackson? Just on value alone, I would roll the dice there – plus the Brew Crew have much more urgency. So take Milwaukee to take the opener (over) and two of three in the series.
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