At long last, Major League Baseball is back. Opening Day is taking place four months later than originally scheduled, but I think I speak for baseball fans everywhere when I say it’s better late than never. We’ve got two games to whet our appetite tonight before all 30 teams kick things into high gear on Friday.
The first game of the night is a potential World Series preview. The reigning champion Washington Nationals will play host to the mighty New York Yankees at a virtually empty Nationals Park. We also have a pitching matchup for the ages, with Gerrit Cole set to make his Yankees debut against Max Scherzer.
Cole’s Great Expectations
Cole obviously comes with no shortage of expectations. The Yankees broke the bank for the former Astro this winter, signing Cole to a record-breaking nine-year contract worth $324 million. The deal shattered the old record for the most lucrative deal ever given to a starting pitcher, and Cole will find himself in the real spotlight for the first time in his career.
He has dealt with the expectations of being a No. 1 overall pick and a core piece on a World Series contender, but those likely pale in comparison to the scrutiny he’ll face as the new centerpiece of the most famous franchise in the league.
Watch out for Gerrit Cole's velocity as he squares off vs Washington tonight on ESPN.
He averaged 97.1 MPH with his 4-seamer in 2019, 2nd-highest among qualified pitchers behind Noah Syndergaard (97.8).
Last year, Cole went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA across 33 starts as a member of the Astros. He also posted a 39.9 percent strikeout rate, which was the highest in history for a full-time starting pitcher. Cole absolutely dominated the Yankees in the ALCS, so it’s no surprise that the Yanks were impressed enough by what they saw to make him the most well-compensated pitcher of all-time.
He’s not in a great spot tonight, however. While the Nats’ lineup did lose Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, this is still a group that doesn’t swing-and-miss all that often. The Washington projected lineup had a collective strikeout rate of 18.8 percent last season, which means they put the bat on the ball with decent regularity.
Don’t Overlook Mad Max
On the other side, we have Scherzer, who just seems to keep getting better with age. Mad Max went 11-7 in 27 starts last year, but his 35.1 strikeout rate was the best mark of his career. Scherzer’s K-rate has actually increased every year since 2014, which is incredibly impressive for a guy that will turn 36 years old later this month.
We know the Yankees’ lineup has plenty of thunder, but they also include plenty of strikeouts. Aaron Judge (34.6 percent), Giancarlo Stanton (29.1 percent), Aaron Hicks (27.5 percent), Gary Sanchez (25.4 percent), and Luke Voit (28.5 percent) all struck out their fair share against right-handed pitching a season ago. Scherzer is a bit homer-prone, so one of these guys taking him deep wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Still, this righty-heavy lineup profiles pretty favorably for a guy like Scherzer that whiffed nearly 39 percent of RHBs he faced in 2019.
Public Heavily Backing New York
As one of baseball’s marquee franchises, the Yankees are always an incredibly popular betting option. Tonight’s game seems to be no exception. In fact, New York is getting more attention than usual.
The Yankees are currently a -130 moneyline favorite, with the Nationals at +125. 65 percent of all bets placed on the moneyline have come in on the Yankees, with a whopping 92 percent of the money on New York’s side, as well.
The Yankees have a stacked team on paper, I get it. Cole is amazing. That said, are we forgetting that they’re going on the road to face Max Scherzer? When is the last time Scherzer was a +125 underdog at home?
This looks like a classic case of the betting public getting overzealous and driving a betting line further than it should go. Oddsmakers have to adjust to account for the liability, of course, but this presents a golden opportunity to go in the other direction. And it’s not just being contrarian to be contrarian.
Cole did serve up 29 home runs last season, and Washington’s lineup still has a number of quality hitters around whom he’ll have to work. Baseball is inherently unpredictable, anyway, so I don’t see a whole lot of merit to going with the public and backing the Yankees as sizable road favorites in this one.
How often are you going to be able to back Scherzer at plus-money odds like this? Bet the Nationals to get the job done tonight as home ‘dogs in the 2020 season opener.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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