May 27, 2015 (Posted at 5:00 PM ET)
Take Chicago Cubs (+112) as underdogs on the Money Line against Washington Nationals risking 3%.
(Lester and Scherzer must start for wager to have action)
For years the Chicago Cubs have been perceived as a poor team and have had a long string of disappointing seasons. It's easy for people to overlook and under-value the Cubs and that is precisely what we feel is happening here. Over the past few seasons, Chicago has made some major moves, not only to their roster but to their management as well. This is a team that has a lot of young up and coming talent that has been on the cusp of breaking out for some time and we believe this season they are well on their way. In the offseason they had added a key piece to their team in veteran manager Joe Maddon. He was the coach tha brought a very young Tampa team to prominence and has had a huge influence on some of the bigger stars in the league. Maddon has a distinct coaching style in which he allows his players to play without fear of making a mistake. He allows them to somewhat go against normal practices at the plate and encourages them to trust their instincts and play their game. This allows young players to gain confidence and reach their potential quicker and that is what we are seeing with the Cubs at this moment. Maddon has already had an impact on their and we don't feel that the market has quite bought into or caught up to that yet.
Chicago is 25-20 on the season and are looking to make a statement to show that they are not the same team as in years past. They have young players like Anthony Rizzo who is starting to come into his own and establish himself as a leader on this team and also have a highly touted up and coming (potential) superstar in Kris Bryant who is just starting to make an impact on this team. Last night this team took another step in changing the perception of this franchise as Addison Russell came away with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 9th to give the Cubs the 3-2 win over the Nationals. The manner in which they won that game will not only give this team momentum but will also give this team confidence that they can compete with the best teams in the league and come up with that critical play when needed. The Cubs had lost 4 of their last five games that were decided by a single run and have found themselves in many tight games this season. They are 13-10 overall in such games this season so to win yesterday’s game in this fashion was important for this team mentally as they move forward in the season.
Tonight’s matchup on the mound should be an entertaining one as it pits two biggest pitching free-agents of last winter in Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. Scherzer has no doubt been impressive this season as he's 5-3 with a stellar 1.67 ERA through 9 starts which is a big reason why so many of the public is eager to back him at such a short line. That's where we believe there is an issue. The betting public no doubt sees Scherzer's low ERA and naturally assumes that he will continue pitching at this rate moving forward; they do not anticipate him to struggle with what is still perceived as a poor team by some. We believe this is something of a slight "false favorite" situation. Given Scherzer's impressive record and low ERA, the oddsmakers were forced to install Washington has the favorites in this contest. They ultimately had no choice. As it is, 80% of the public is backing Washington and had they set these odds lower, which we believe they should have been, they would have had 90% or more of the action go on the Nats but that would leave them too vulnerable. Vegas has no doubt a vested interest in Chicago winning this game; as do we since it's very rare to see Max Scherzer and the Nats priced this "cheap".
While Jon Lester doesn't have the standout record or ERA that Scherzer does, he is still an incredibly talented and tough pitcher to face. Each time he steps on the mound you can see his confidence grow as he gets more comfortable in a Cubs uniform. He's given up only 10 earned runs in his last 40 innings of work (6 starts) which gives him a 2.25 ERA! Lester is also a solid 2-0 in his career when starting against Nationals with an ERA of 3.32 and a WHIP of 1.105. While it's tough to go against Scherzer, Lester has the potential to not only keep pace, but outduel him on the mound tonight.
As we stated previously, the Cubs has a lot of talent on their roster and in their lineup as they have a good combination of both speed and power. They are also second in the league in stolen bases with 42 on the season. Their ability to advance runners without having to string together consecutive hits has been a big reason why they have 25 wins already this season. We're not taking anything away from Scherzer, he is a quality pitcher, however with the Cubs ability to steal as well as they do, they are not going to need each and every batter to make contact with the ball. As long as they can get the timely hits when needed, they should have a chance to put runs on the board and in what should likely be a lower scoring game with two quality pitchers on the mound, a couple of timely hits may be all that's needed.
The Nationals are no doubt the bigger named and more established team in this contest and they have a superstar who has been tearing up opposing pitcher in lefty Bryce Harper, however Harper is just one player and is now facing a veteran left hander in Lester. If Lester can successfully navigate and limit the damage caused by Harper, that will give the Cubs a real shot in pulling off the victory. Washington also has injuries to both Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon which hurts the power in their lineup. Also, the Nationals haven't been nearly as good on the road (13-12) as they have been in DC this season.
With a win tonight the Cubs will find themselves just one game back of the Nationals in the standings. For them to be able to take 2 of 3 games from such an established team would make a real statement and only add to the confidence that they seem to be displaying at the moment. This is a chance for them to prove that they are not the same team as in years past and that the Joe Maddon era will be a prominent one for years to come. Even if Jon Lester doesn't physically outduel Scherzer on the mound tonight the Cubs bullpen has been solid at home, while the Nationals have been mediocre on the road this season and only have a 61.5 save percentage this season. The Cubs have a day off tomorrow which means that winning this series tonight will be their sole focus. We expect the young Cubs to edge this one and make a statement while burning the public in the process.
Other notable facts to consider:
- Cubs have won 7 of their last 9 home games.
- Cubs are 17-9 overall in night games this season.
- Cubs are 13-6 when the total is 7 or less runs under their new manager!
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