Cubs at Nationals Picks and MLB Betting Odds
by Alan Matthews - 5/11/2013
When Theo Epstein left the Boston Red Sox for the Chicago Cubs in October 2011, he knew he had a long rebuilding process in front of him on Chicago's North Side. The Cubs had lost 91 games in that '11 season, had a barren farm system and some very onerous contracts, specifically that belonging to Alfonso Soriano.
The Cubs lived down to Epstein's expectations in 2012, losing 101 games -- their most since 1966. But Epstein always had what amounted to a 4-5 year plan. Thus it was rather odd that he decided to give solid-but-journeyman pitcher Edwin Jackson a four-year, $52 million contract this offseason after Chicago missed out on Anibal Sanchez. Why pay a middling starter $13 million a year for the next few seasons when the Cubs are assured to be lousy? Why not save that money for free agents ahead of the 2015 season when the Cubs might be ready to contend? It doesn't look like a good investment thus far as Jackson has been one of the worst pitchers in the National League entering Saturday's start at Washington.
The Cubs are buried in the NL Central cellar. And now that Houston is gone, expect them to stay there through next season, after which Soriano's contract expires. The Cubs entered this series having lost five of seven. They have won two series all year: Opening Week against the Pirates and at the even worse Miami Marlins (technically the Cubs won two of three against Texas, but the third game was weeks later due to a rainout).
This is Chicago's lone visit of the season to Washington, with the Nationals visiting Wrigley for four after the all-star break. The Nats won six of seven meetings last year, including a four-game sweep in D.C. In the last game between the teams there were two bench-clearing incidents.
Cubs at Nationals Betting Story Lines
One huge bright spot for Chicago has been young first baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of Epstein's biggest trade acquisitions and a definite building block along with all-star shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney. Rizzo, acquired from San Diego for Andrew Cashner before last season, is hitting .269 with nine homers and 25 RBI entering this series, the latter two leading the team. He's also a plus defender. Castro is having a bit of a down year compared to his first three, hitting .269 with three homers and 15 RBI. He still makes too many mental blunders as well.
The Chicago starting rotation looked pretty weak entering the year with Matt Garza beginning on the disabled list (still there), but it's actually been good with a 3.43 ERA. The bullpen hasn't with a 4.57 ERA and nine blown saves. Manager Dale Sveum has been playing musical closers after Carlos Marmol imploded (again) at the start of the season, but the guy now is Kevin Gregg. He hasn't given up an earned run in nine appearances entering this series and is 5-for-5 in save opportunities. Frankly, any Cub veteran who performs well in the first half, like Gregg, is all but guaranteed to be traded at the deadline for prospects. Starter Scott Feldman also falls into that category, as will Garza if he comes back healthy and pitches well. Maybe some team even takes a chance on Soriano as the Cubs are prepared to eat most of his deal.
As for Jackson (0-5, 6.39), he has the third-worst ERA among qualifiers in the National League. He's had a few solid starts but has allowed 12 runs and 19 hits in 9.2 innings in his past two combined. Jackson was a member of the Nats a year ago, so obviously didn't face them. A few Washington players have seen him but none have homered. Denard Span is hitting .385 in 13 at-bats.
Perhaps the most surprising stat in the National League is that Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg, their starter Saturday, is just 1-4 this season with a 3.45 ERA when many people had penciled him in as the likely Cy Young winner in the spring. Strasburg's lone win came on Opening Day, and Washington had lost his past five starts before Strasburg allowed four runs and five hits in seven innings of a no-decision last time out at Pittsburgh (Washington would win). Strasburg has been way better at home in 2013 with a 1.35 ERA, albeit with a 1-2 mark. He started once against the Cubs last year and got a no-decision despite allowing only a run and five hits in seven innings. No Cub has more than six at-bats versus Strasburg, and that would be David DeJesus, who has three hits in those six.
Cubs at Nationals MLB Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline, the Nationals are -210, the Cubs +195 and the total at 7. All trends entering Friday: The Cubs are 14-20 “over/under” (4-12 on road) and 18-16 on the runline. The Nationals are 17-15-2 over/under (7-9-2 at home) and 16-18 on the runline.
The Cubs are 14-40 in their past 54 road games against right-handed starters. The Nats are 5-0 in their past five against right-handed starters. They are 6-1 in their past seven Saturday games. Washington is 1-4 in Strasburg's past five home starts against teams with a losing record. The over is 5-1 in the Cubs' past six overall and 4-1 in their past five against righty starters. The under is 5-2 in the Cubs' past seven road games against righty starters. The over is 9-1 in Washington's past 10 Saturday games. The under is 6-1 in Strasburg's past seven home starts. The over is 5-1 in the past six meetings in Washington.
Cubs at Nationals Picks and Betting Predictions
I can't come up with one reason to pick Chicago here as this looks like a layup, and it's the type of series the Nationals really should sweep. I expect Strasburg to dominate for his six innings, and, thus, would take the under. However, the Nats aren't a great offensive team -- bottom three in MLB in runs and average -- so I could certainly see this as a one-run game. So take the Cubs on the runline at -115.
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