Nationals-Cubs Sunday Night Baseball Betting Preview: Scherzer Returns to Wrigley
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Max Scherzer pitching in Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS at Wrigley Field
Betting Odds: Washington Nationals at Chicago Cubs
- Washington Nationals Moneyline: -141
- Chicago Cubs Moneyline: +131
- Over/Under: 7.5
- First pitch: 8:05 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
The last time Max Scherzer pitched against the Cubs, he took the loss in Game 5 of the NLDS, which ended the Nationals’ 2017 season. Scherzer didn’t start that game, but he entered the fifth inning in relief with Washington leading 4-3. While not all Scherzer’s fault, the Cubs would score four runs in a wild, error-filled inning to take the lead for good.
And the last time Scherzer pitched in Wrigley? Game 3 of that same series. He spun a gem, allowing just one run on one hit in 6.1 innings in a game the Nationals lost 2-1. That means the Cubs advanced by winning two games that Mad Max threw in. You know that the three-time CY Young Award winner is itching for redemption.
Scherzer is having another dominant year, and he’s been even better in four starts since the break (3-0, 1.67 ERA). He’s also pitched outstandingly on the road, compiling an 8-3 record with a 2.00 ERA and a shiny 0.93 WHIP. I could wax poetic about more of his numbers, but I won’t bore you. I expect an exceptionally strong start in a game he has to have circled.
Let’s take a closer look at the matchup before finishing with a few bets I’m eyeing.
By Evan Abrams
The Cubs are listed as home underdogs on Sunday Night Baseball for the first time since a 2014 loss against the Cardinals. Chicago has actually lost six straight as a home dog in the primetime slot.
This will mark only the 20th time under Joe Maddon that the Cubs will close as a home underdog at Wrigley Field (12-7, +6.2 units). During that span (since 2015), only the Dodgers have been listed as a home underdog fewer times (15 times, 8-7, +1.8 units).
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By Matt LaMarca
Cole Hamels: Hamels has dominated in two starts as a member of the Cubs, posting an average Plus/Minus of +6.64 on DraftKings. While his 0.82 ERA is obviously unsustainable, there are reasons to be optimistic now that he’s escaped the awful pitching conditions in Arlington.
Hamels has a 6.41 ERA over 59.0 innings at Global Life Park, but an impressive 2.58 ERA outside of Arlington. He’s also generated significantly more swings and misses on the road, increasing his K/9 from 7.41 to 9.22, while his HR/FB rate has fallen from a ridiculous 23.9% to a much more reasonable 14.0%.
Considering the Nationals have been mediocre against left-handed pitching this season, ranking just 17th in wRC+, Hamels could have another strong outing.
Bryce Harper: Harper has been red-hot since the All-Star break, hitting .338 with five home runs through his first 65 at-bats. That said, some of his advanced numbers suggest his production has been a bit fluky.
Harper is actually making more soft contact and less hard contact than he did during the first half of the season, when he batted just .214. He’s benefited from an extremely high batting average on balls in play of .436 — more than 100 percentage points higher than his career .316 average.
Even if his recent average is unsustainable, his recent power numbers look legit: He’s hitting fewer ground balls and converting a greater percentage of fly balls into home runs since the break. If he maintains those splits — and Matt Carpenter becomes human again — Harper could realistically lead the National League in homers by the end of the season.
By John Ewing
Chicago lost 9-4 to Washington on Saturday. After a loss under Joe Maddon, the Cubs are 95-61-1 (61%) when playing the same team. The Cubbies look primed to bounce back on the surface, but they have not enjoyed the same success as an underdog (which they are tonight) under Maddon.
By Evan Abrams
When Kyle Hendricks and Jeremy Hellickson faced off at Wrigley on Friday afternoon, the wind was blowing directly in from the outfield. The teams only combined to score five runs, easily staying under 8.5 total runs.
The weather forecast calls for similar conditions Sunday night, which means runs may be at a premium once again. Since 2007, the under is 84-52-7 (61.8%) for +26.4 units when the wind is blowing directly in at Wrigley Field — including 11-3-1 this season.
Side: I generally don’t bet many MLB favorites, but my numbers show value with the Nationals moneyline at -141. As Matt alluded to earlier, Washington has struggled against lefties this season — but not lately. Their lineup is now relatively healthy and leads all of baseball in OPS against southpaws since the All-Star Break.
Total: With that said, I don’t think Hamels gets completely bombed. He is a second-half pitcher and clearly loves pitching at Wrigley Field, where he owns a 3-1 record with a minuscule 1.76 ERA in six career starts. (Remember, he threw a no-hitter in Chicago as a member of the Phillies back in 2015.)
I also don’t see a Cubs lineup that hasn’t been hitting lately doing much damage against Scherzer, so I’d look at both the full-game and first-five-innings under from an over/under perspective.
Prop: Keep your eye out for Ryan Zimmerman, who might have triggered one of his patented hot streaks after his six-RBI performance on Saturday. The Nationals righty batter is also very familiar with Hamels (22-84 with three homers) from his days in Philly.
Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writer and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights