The baseball world has noticed the ascent of the Washington Nationals, awarding them the luxuries that come with an increasingly popular team: games on national television, four all-stars, plenty of national coverage. They own the best record in the National League at the halfway point of the season.
And, oddsmakers and Las Vegas have also noticed. The Nationals have a high chance of making the playoffs, according to prognosticators, and are among the top handful of teams expected to win the World Series based on sport betting odds. (Yes, this is completely unscientific but food for thought.)
The New York Yankees are favorites to win it all at 9-2, according to sports betting site Bovoda.com, followed by the Texas Rangers (10.5-2). The Nationals are next at 11-1, tied with the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim. At MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, the Nationals are in the same placement, at 6-1 along with the Giants and Angels — but behind the Rangers (3-1) and Yankees (4-1).
It’s a completely new place for the Nationals. They began the season at 60-1, the same line as the Kansas City Royals. And last year, they were likely around 600-1, said Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports at MGM Resorts.
“They have been the bottom team listed over these last two years,” Rood said. “They were battling back and forth with the bottom teams down there, being the O’s, the Astros and Royals and stuff. Until [Stephen] Strasburg came on and this season, [Bryce] Harper and they started making some serious moves for batters and their supporting cast. They’re steadily climbing.”
And now, Rood said: “People have been betting on them quite a bit.”
The Nationals are favorites to win the National League Championship Series at 5-2, with the Giants close behind at 5-1, according to the MGM Resorts lines. Bovoda has the Nationals at 9-2 to win the NL pennant along with the Giants. The Nationals are big favorites to win the NL East at 5-8 with the Atlanta Braves at 5-2 and New York Mets at 15-2, according to Bovoda.
(For our Orioles fans: the O’s started the season at 150-1 to win the World Series, just above the Houston Astros, and have jumped up to 25-1. And for those Philadelphia fans, that’s exactly where the Phillies are at now after beginning the season as 7-2 favorites.)
How much people know and recognize a team is also a factor in sports betting. The Boston Red Sox were among the early favorites to win the World Series on the opening line, going off at 8-1 — good for fourth behind the Phillies, Yankees and Rangers. Realistically, Rood said, the Red Sox would have been lower. But because they’re a known commodity, they will attract a lot of bets. And the casino, in order to minimize its risk if the team does end up winning, starts or keeps the team high.
And even though the Nationals swept the Giants last week, it doesn’t really make a dent.
“The Giants are a team that tends to attract a bit of money too,” Rood said. “A couple of series isn’t going to really affect them too much. If the Giants do a couple of series of [with a] 1-9 [record] or 2-8, then we’ll tend to drop them.”
And in a way, there’s even a Harper effect to sports gambling. Some people bet on what they know, and in Las Vegas that’s a 19-year-old from there. That could be helping drive the Nationals’ odds up at some casinos.
“I’m sure there’s a factor at some of the more local places, at casinos that are not on the Strip, that might affect them a little bit more than it does us,” Rood said.
According to Baseball Prospectus playoff odds calculator as of Wednesday night, the Nationals make the playoffs 76 percent of the times in the Web site’s simulated season. The Braves make the playoffs 65.4 percent of the time, and the Mets advance to the postseason 29.5 percent of the time.
The Nationals are projected to win roughly 90 games, according the average calculated in Baseball Prospectus’ simulated seasons. That’s the highest projected total in the National League, along with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Web site, coolstandings.com, has the odds a little higher. The site simulates the rest of the season a million times and takes into account the winning percentages of the teams left on the schedule, where the games are played and the team’s current streaks.
The Nationals are expected to finish the season with about 94 wins and make the playoffs 78.2 percent of the time, with the highest odds to win the division (56.8 percent). The Braves make the playoffs 53.3 percent of the time and the Mets’ odds are at 41.2 percent. After the season’s first series, the Nationals’ odds of making the playoffs stood at around 27 percent.
Based on their winning percentage alone, the Nationals are on a 96-win pace. They sport the best record in the NL and third-best in baseball. They hold a four-game lead in the NL East and have been in first place for 93 days. They boast the best pitching staff in the sport. These are all possible signs of a continued run towards the franchise’s first playoff appearance since the Montreal Expos reached the postseason in 1981,
“If they hold this year, [the Nationals] could be among the favorites next season, maybe top ten, I would imagine,” Rood said.
FROM TODAY’S POST
The Nationals may be the freshest pitchers in the major leagues, Thomas Boswell writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse was off.
Harrisburg was off.
Wilmington 6, Potomac 2: Catcher David Freitas went 3 for 4 with a double and two runs batted in. He is hitting .286/.393/.427.
Hagerstown 4, Greensboro 3: Third baseman Justin Miller went 1 for 2 and drove in two runs. Catcher Sam Palace and shortstop Bryce Ortega each added an RBI each.
Auburn 9, Aberdeen 5: Right fielder Jordan Poole went 3 for 5 and drove in two runs, first baseman Shawn Pleffner and left fielder Estarlin Martinez each added two hits apiece.