MLB Odds, Picks & Predictions: How to Bet Yankees vs. Nationals on Opening Night
Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: Max Scherzer
- Updated betting odds for tonight's MLB Opening Day game between the Yankees and Nationals (7:08 p.m. ET) have the Yankees listed as -159 favorites, with the Nationals at +140.
- The over/under is set at 7.5, with slight juice (-112) favoring the under.
- Below you'll find Sean Zerillo's full breakdown of the game, including his take on the Juan Soto injury and how that should affect your betting picks.
New York Yankees at Washington Nationals Odds
Probable starters: Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer
|Yankees odds||-159 [BET NOW]|
|Nationals odds||+140 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||7.5 (-109/-112) [BET NOW]|
|Time||Thursday, 7:08 p.m. ET|
Odds updated as of Thursday PM after the news broke about Juan Soto’s absence.and via DraftKings. Get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today or see more offers and reviews for the best online sportsbooks.
Editor’s Note Juan Soto has been ruled out of tonight’s game. The analysis below was written before the news broke. Sean Zerillo has updated his projections to reflect the lineup change below:
Even though there hasn’t been an MLB game since last November – it feels like we were just here, with Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer facing off for an epic pitcher’s duel in a high-profile game.
It is not for Game 1 of the World Series – like their previous encounter – and Cole has found a new home with the Yankees – so Scherzer will be dealing with the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres, as opposed to Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer – but in a 60-game regular season, each game is worth 1.6% of your final record, a full percentage point higher than over a 162 game schedule – so this short series regular-season series is nevertheless crucial.
Scherzer and the Nationals defeated Cole and the Astros as a +175 underdog in Game 1 of the 2019 World Series. The Nationals have lost some of their supporting cast from that championship run, including Anthony Rendon, who signed with the Angels, and both Joe Ross and Ryan Zimmermann – who opted out of the 2020 season.
The Nationals opened as a +119 underdog for the regular-season opener, and even after winning their first World Series, the betting market is still apparently undervaluing the world champs.
Advanced Stats Glossary
FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if the pitcher experienced league-average defense and luck. xFIP is a regressed version of FIP that adjusts or “normalizes’ the home run component based on park factors.
wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created Plus takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for critical external factors — like ballpark or era. It’s adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average, and 150 would be 50 percent above league average.
wOBA or Weighted On-Base Average is a catch-all hitting metric with more predictive value than on-base percentage. An average MLB hitter can be expected to post a .320 wOBA. xwOBA is a regressed version of wOBA that accounts for variables like park factors.
Max Scherzer missed some time in July and August of 2019 with back and shoulder injuries, and he returned to post a 4.75 ERA (3.05 FIP) over his final seven starts.
He showed reduced pitch velocity (down about one mph) in August after returning from those injuries. Still, he saw an increase towards midseason levels in October before the injuries cropped up again in the World Series – and he only lasted five innings in each of his two starts.
Throughout a long season, I would be significantly more concerned about Scherzer – who is finally showing signs of wear and tear at the age of 35. But with an extended offseason to rest up and a shorter period of strenuous exertion on his body, I do expect him to last for 12 regular season starts.
Despite the injuries, 2019 was potentially Scherzer’s most efficient season ever, posting career-best marks in FIP, xFIP, K-BB%, and swinging-strike rate.
On a per-pitch basis, he had the sixth-best fastball and the best slider in MLB in 2019.
And unlike those matchups against the Astros, who offer some left-handed resistance, Scherzer matches up exceptionally well with the Yankees mostly right-handed lineup:
- 2019 wOBA vs. RHH: .223
- Career wOBA vs. RHH: .252
- 2019 wOBA vs. LHH: .321
- Career wOBA vs. LHH: .314
The slider is his weapon of choice-generating an actual .172 batting average and .205 slugging percentage in 2019 (.175 and .232 expected, with a 50.6% whiff rate when opponents offered.
There are a lot of highlights of Scherzer embarrassing world-class athletes with this pitch:
Gerrit Cole led MLB with a 2.48 xFIP in 2019 while Scherzer led the NL (and was the only starter below 3.00) at 2.88.
He accomplished the following things in Houston, after eliminating his sinker usage and relying more on his four-seam fastball – which was the most valuable pitch of the 2019 season:
- Led the American League in FIP (2.68), xFIP (2.48), WAR (7.4) and strikeouts (326) in 2019
- Led all MLB starters in 2019 with a 16.8% swinging-strike rate and a 49.1% contact rate on pitches outside of the zone.
It’s not hard to see the cumulative effect that the Astros’ adjustments had on Cole’s overall profile, turning him into arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season:
Like Scherzer, Cole relies heavily upon his fastball/slider combination, but he leans to a curveball over a changeup as his tertiary offering:
The Yankees have gained a reputation (mostly bad) in recent years for trying to tweak pitchers who are newcomers to the organization. But if nothing is broken with Gerrit Cole, why try to fix him?
In 2019, the Yankees’ bullpen ranked 9th in FIP (4.15), 4th in xFIP (4.15), and 6th in K-BB% (17%). By the same metrics, the Nationals ranked 26th, 29th, and 23rd.
The Nationals bullpen had both the worst regular-season ERA (5.68) and most losses (33) of any postseason team ever – but they improved by leaps and bounds late in the year – and Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, and Tanner Rainey were instrumental in the postseason.
The Nationals signed Will Harris (3.91 xFIP in 2019) from the Astros and traded for Ryne Harper (4.18 xFIP) from the Twins to help upgrade their bullpen this offseason.
Harris shows reverse splits, with a better wOBA against lefties (.247) than righties (.283) throughout his career:
His presence allows the Nationals to use Sean Doolittle more creatively since Harris can handle the other team’s best left-handed hitters.
Data via FantasyLabs
Stadium, Umpire and Weather Report
Nationals Park is quietly one of the better hitter’s parks in baseball, with a run environment between 8-9% higher than the MLB average over the past four seasons.
Since this is the first game of a series, no umpire information is available as of writing.
As my colleague PJ Walsh highlighted, the weather forecast for Thursday night isn’t promising.
Trends to Know
In the past two years, Overs are 85-69-6 (55.2%) at Nationals Park, covering by an average margin of 1.23 runs, and a consistent $100 bettor would be up $1,163 with a 7.3% ROI.
The Over has won 53% of the time in Washington D.C. since 2012 (3.3% ROI). The park’s three best seasons for unders (2005, 2007, 2009) are in the rearview mirror.
For his career, Max Scherzer is 29-34 (46%) as an underdog, including the postseason – but he has a 16-12 record (57.1%) since 2012 – when he morphed into a top of the rotation pitcher.
This is only his fourth start over that span as a home underdog – and his first since 2016.
Based on my projections, there are three bets that I see some value in for the Yankees-Nationals opener.
I projected the Yankees as a -108 favorite (implied 51.9%) in this game, and I set the total at 8.95 runs. Therefore, I see actionable value on the Nationals moneyline and the Over.
At listed odds of +125 (implied 44.4%), I see a 3.67% gap in expected value from my projection at +117 (implied 48.1%).
I would play the Nationals down to +122 (implied 45.1%), a three percent gap in expected value, and I put a half-unit on the Nationals moneyline.
Additionally, I would bet the Over up to 7.5 (-120) or 8 (-106), either one of which represents a 4% edge compared to my projection.
The most significant edge is on the Over 3.5 in the first five innings, which I bet at a 9% edge at -120, and would play up to Over 4 (-113), a 5% edge.
I split one unit between the two over wagers.
I’m not particularly enamored with any one of these three bets, but I also don’t see any reason to go against the model projection.
Yankees vs. Nationals Bets
- Nationals +129 (0.5 units)
- Over 7.5 (-110, 0.5 units)
- First Five Innings, Over 3.5 (-120, 0.5 units)