Nationals vs. Braves Odds & Picks: How To Bet Washington’s Delayed Season Opener

Nationals vs. Braves Odds & Picks: How To Bet Washington’s Delayed Season Opener article feature image
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Greg Fiume/Getty Images. Pictured: Max Scherzer and Dave Martinez.

  • The Nationals open their 2021 campaign a few days later than anticipated against the Braves on Tuesday.
  • COVID-19 caused Washington's opening series to be postponed, so it'll start the season against the reigning NL East champions.
  • MLB betting analyst Collin Whitchurch breaks down why he sees betting value on the total at Nationals Park.

Nationals vs. Braves Odds

Braves Odds +115
Nationals Odds -125
Over/Under 8 (-110 / -110)
Time 4:05 p.m. ET
TV MLB.TV
Odds as of Monday afternoon and via William Hill.

The Washington Nationals’ 2021 season will finally get underway on Tuesday afternoon when they host the Atlanta Braves.

While the Nationals will have ace Max Scherzer on the mound, what the rest of the lineup will look like is tough to figure at the time of publication. What we do know is that projected starters Josh Harrison and Kyle Schwarber are expected to be unavailable, as is backup catcher Alex Avila. Jon Lester, who is a member of the starting rotation who wouldn’t be used on Tuesday, is also expected out.

As we’ve unfortunately come to grow familiar with over the last year, this game brings with it a lot of unknown given the COVID issues within the Nationals’ organization. So which side, if any, should you bet?

Atlanta Braves

The start of the season has probably been more miserable than even the most pessimistic Braves supporter could’ve imagined. Atlanta was swept in three games by the Phillies, scoring a grand total of three runs in those games.

It’s a long season, as they say, and the sample size is going to be too small to draw any meaningful conclusions for some time yet, but it was certainly frustrating to see Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman & Co. fail to do any damage against a Philadelphia bullpen that was the worst in baseball a year ago. It’s one thing to get shut down by Aaron Nola.  It’s another when you can’t get anything going against Connor Brogdon.

The questions if you’re looking to back the Braves are twofold: 1) When will the offense break out of its season-opening funk? 2) What can they expect to get out of starting pitcher Drew Smyly.

Both are tough to answer. For the first point, you have to look at the pitcher they’ll be facing on Tuesday: some guy named Max Scherzer. The veteran right-hander showed signs of decline in 2020, and while looking at his career numbers against the Braves isn’t particularly helpful in predicting future success, it’s worth noting that he gave up six runs (with 10 strikeouts) in 5 2/3 innings against them in his one start a year ago.

The second point depends on how much you believe in what happened in 2020. Smyly has rarely been both healthy and good since debuting in 2012, but last season became a changed pitcher.

His fastball velocity increased more than two mph, he started spamming curveballs at a career-high rate (35.8% usage) and turned into a strikeout maven. In just seven appearances (oh, he got hurt) Smyly posted a strikeout percentage of an absurd 37.8%. His career-best before last year was 28% in 2015 with Tampa.

It was a small sample size, but if Smyly’s short-term success translates over a full season — and he stays healthy, a big IF — it will be a big boost to Atlanta’s odds going forward.

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Washington Nationals

The uncertainty over COVID-19 absences notwithstanding, this is still a team that will send Scherzer to the mound and bat Juan Soto at the top of its lineup. No two players alone turn a team into an instant-contender, but that duo comes pretty danged close.

The 2020 season was the first since 2012 that Max Scherzer did not finish in the top five in Cy Young voting. Not only did he not finish in the top five, he didn’t garner a single vote.

The good news for Scherzer and Nats backers is that there doesn’t seem to be anything overly concerning about his down year even as he reaches the age of 37 this summer. His velocity was virtually unchanged, his usage patterns remained steady, and he was still missing bats at an elite rate. It was just that his K% was in the low-30s instead of the mid-30s, and the BB% crept up a few points.

That illustrates a pitcher who may no longer be the fire-breathing dragon capable of striking out 20 on any given night, but is still a very good frontline starter. Father Time comes for us all, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that he’s on Scherzer’s doorstep just yet.

Where the Nationals are especially vulnerable is in their starting lineup. Soto is one of the best players in baseball, but things thin out behind him pretty quickly. The Nationals only have three other regulars who are projected to be above-average hitters by DRC+, and one of the (Schwarber) is out. The other two are Trea Turner and Josh Bell, the latter of whom is a bad-bodied first baseman who’s been pretty significantly below-average at the plate save for a hot first half in 2019.

Another concern for Washington is its bullpen. The Nats replaced Sean Doolittle with Brad Hand at the backend, but the lefty (3.94) is the only significant bullpen piece with a projected DRA below 4.00. Relief has been a bugaboo for the Nationals for too long now — they miraculously won a World Series in spite of it two years ago — and it could be their downfall once again this season.

Braves-Nationals Pick

The Nationals’ COVID issues coupled with the presence of Scherzer on the mound has this total sitting a bit lower than it should. While Smyly looked improved in 2019, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll give up a few runs to Soto & Co.

Likewise, the Braves’ lineup is due to break out, and even if it doesn’t against Scherzer, the Nats’ shaky bullpen should provide ample opportunities once he exits. We project between 8.5 and 9 runs to be scored in this game, so there’s value on over 8 at -110 as my top pick for the Nats’ season opener against the Braves.

Pick: Over 8 (-110), would play to -115

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