As we proceed with our final WagerWAR baseball plays of the year, this is perhaps one of the most daunting handicapping challenges of the season. We have a pitcher taking the mound for the Washington Nationals who was hurt to the point where he couldn’t even make his previously scheduled World Series start. And we aren’t exactly certain what we are going to get out of him tonight.
The thing of it is, his Houston Astros opponent in this all-or-nothing game is a fellow Cy Young winner, who hasn’t quite been himself in the post-season, so he brings with him some question marks as well.
It is Zack Greinke vs. Max Scherzer in the “brawl for it all” at Minute Maid Park.
Game time is about 8:07 PM ET. Fox Network televises it. And BetAnySports has a gateway to thrills during the game itself, through the mechanism known as Live Betting Ultra.
Scherzer’s situation was sudden and strange, as he woke up Sunday and found that he couldn’t move his arm. When you can’t move your arm, you can’t pitch. It was a trapezius problem. That’s the muscle behind his shoulder – in this case his right shoulder. And he had to scratch, although he took a cortisone shot so that he might be ready for Game 6 or Game 7. And so here he is.
The shot numbs the pain. So what kind of condition Scherzer’s really in is kind of murky. He gets to make a call on that one himself, to an extent I guess. And he wouldn’t miss this for the world, would he? This is an opportunity for a “Curt Schilling moment” for him.
Can he pitch through it? Well, this guy went out to the mound one night with a broken nose and induced more swinging strikes than he’d had for any start in the last four years. And he’s been dealing with injuries practically all season long, and still stayed in the running to win his fourth Cy Young award, all the way until the stretch anyway. So he can deal with pain. How far he can go, or how far would be satisfactory to manager Dave Martinez, is something we are not absolutely sure about. He has gone more than 100 pitches in each of his last three outings.
Of course, this whole series has been kind of weird. As you probably already know, the road team has won every time, and that hasn’t ever happened in a championship series in any of the major sports leagues, which also includes the NHL and NBA. Gerrit Cole was hit hard in Game 1. Justin Verlander has been beaten twice, bringing his World Series record to 0-6. The Nats suddenly went limp offensively, scoring a run apiece in each of their three home games. Yet they have been unusually potent at the Astros’ home park, where they won 60 of 81 games in the regular season.
This is the way the numbers at BetAnySports looked late this afternoon:
Houston Astros (Greinke) -133
Washington Nationals (Scherzer) +128
Under 7.5 Runs -110
Over 7.5 Runs +100
Astros -1.5 Runs +160
Nats +1.5 Runs -170
** And take note that it includes reduced juice, which you can get from them for this game, as well as football, basketball and hockey.
One of our problems with Scherzer going into his scheduled Sunday start was that for a guy who had a phenomenal rate of just 1.7 walks per nine innings in the regular season, he has been, by comparison, kind of wild in the post-season, with eleven bases on balls in his last 24 frames, which, with some quick math, we figure out to be 4.13 walks per nine. And that’s a red flag to us. If he is bothered in the least by his injury, will that figure go up?
But then we take a look at Greinke, whose control was even better than Scherzer’s, with only 1.3 walks per nine innings. However, if you look at these last two starts of his, against the Yankees and Nats, he has walked seven batters in nine innings of work. And then if you want to see something really unusual, in the two playoff starts prior to that, while he gave up only one base on balls in 9-2/3 innings, he surrendered five homers. So it’s like a “pick your poison” situation with him. If he’s around the plate, he gets hammered. And in this post-season, he has shown much less of an ability to get batters to swing at his stuff that is out of the zone.
So I guess what we’re saying is, if you were thinking you had value with Greinke as a guy starting at home in Game 7, you’d be backing a guy who definitely isn’t in form.
Of course, the bullpen is going to play a big role, because I have to imagine that if either of these starting pitchers was in real trouble, they could get the quick hook. It’s all hands on deck at this point.
Which is why it was such an admirable gamble on the part of Washington manager Martinez to do something managers are doing less and less of these days, which is to leave his starter in when he is doing well. When there is “no tomorrow,” maybe that is easier to do. But Stephen Strasburg was two outs short of a complete game, and he threw only 104 pitches. It was a winning gambit, because while Houston had to use three of its top relief arms for at least one inning, the Nationals only used Sean Doolittle for a short period, and have a whole bullpen of rested arms. This would include Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez, capable starters. So although we acknowledge that Houston has, on balance, the better bullpen, last night’s strategy helps Washington even things out a little more.
And Nat-urally, you can throw the home field advantage out the window.
It goes without saying that in a situation like this, everybody would theoretically be available to come in and pitch. Who knows if we could see Cole, Verlander or even Strasburg to pitch to a hitter or two. With this added uncertainty, you’re really not sure how to evaluate things, but since we would lean toward Washington, and have explained that they won’t be compromised in the least out of the ‘pen, their number may have value against Greinke.
We deal with the WagerWAR odds, powered by PPHVIP, and that affords us a +120 price with the Nats. We’ll go that way, although we are not as “all-in” as the pitching staffs will be. A five-inning prop might be worth looking at, since, if nothing else, it gives us the closest thing to being able to eliminate the uncertainty and isolate Greinke and Scherzer. And since you know our preference is Scherzer, we’ll be on board there, although we wish we could get a better price than even money (+100).
As for the total, I don’t know if I’m going to be involved there, since Greinke and Scherzer are not pitching as well as their regular season numbers indicate, but because there is going to be less patience with pitchers and more emphasis on what fits a given situation at a given time, we would probably lean “under” 7.5 runs.
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