When this season began, Washington wasn’t the biggest division favorite but it was awfully close. In a division with three young teams and the Mets, the Nationals were supposed to cruise with a proven and experienced starting rotation and a lineup that seemingly had it all, when healthy.
But injuries crippled the lineup early on; then Bryce Harper went into a long slump; then some of that starting pitching started to fall apart too; all the while, the bullpen has been a terrible weakness, exposed. The Nationals are nearly as close to last place (7.5 games) as they are to first (7.0).
On the surface, it may look like those last-place Marlins coming to DC will be a good thing for the Nats, who have lost five in a row, eight out of nine and 10 out of 12. Washington swept Miami in their only series so far this season back in May and Jeremy Hellickson will make his second start back since missing nearly a month with an injury. His team is a large favorite at home.
There will be some pressure on Hellickson to get fairly deep into this game due to the state of Washington’s bullpen. For one, it isn’t very good. Roberto Martinez proved he believes as much when he left Tanner Roark in Saturday’s game for seven innings, despite getting lit up for 10 hits and nine runs. On Sunday, Erick Fedde left the game in the second inning and it took five guys to complete the game after Mark Grace did a great job in the four innings he completed in emergency relief.
Now Miami comes to town for this game the very next day with its sneaky-good offense. Five regular position players have an OPS+ over 105 and the first four are over 115. JT Realmuto, the team leader with an OPS+ of 150 got the day off on Sunday so he’ll have a spring in his step when he’s back in the lineup behind the plate on Sunday. Justin Bour has hit 12 of his team-leading 13 home runs off right-handed pitchers.
Meanwhile, Pablo Lopez opposes Hellickson in his second career start. He went six innings five days ago in his Major League debut to beat the Mets, giving up just two runs and striking out five. And after shutting out the Rays on Sunday, Miami’s bullpen is fairly well rested. Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley are all ready to go.
Washington is going to break out of this slump eventually. I’m not fading the Nats because of the slump but the Marlins are better prepared for this game, even after traveling. We can get the Marlins on the runline for just -125 and I’m going to sprinkle some on the moneyline, too.
Free Pick: Miami +1.5