Mets, Nationals may be manager shopping

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There has yet to be a managerial change in the Majors this season but one might be brewing as Washington and the New York Mets began a four-game series in New York this past Monday.

Washington has played poorly all season and has been one of baseball’s most disappointing and underachieving franchises for the past half decade with repeated playoffs failures despite winning between 95 and 98 regular season games four times between 2012 and 2017.

Following a 97-65 season in 2017 the Nationals fired manager Dusty Baker and replaced him with Dave Martinez. With one of baseball’s best starting rotations and an offense that featured Bryce Harper Washington dropped to 82-80 in Martinez’ debut season. The Nationals entered this week’s series with the Mets at 19-27.

Last season, the Mets got off to a torrid 11-1 start that fueled false optimism for the team’s fans. It was all downhill from there in Mickey Callaway’s first season as manager as the Mets finished 77-85. 

The Mets started this season winning five of their first six games and were 9-4 as mid-April approached. But since then the Mets have gone 12-21, including Monday night’s win over the Nationals in the series opener. That win ended a five-game losing streak, the last two of which were shutouts in Miami. The three losses to the Marlins improved Miami’s MLB worst record to 13-31.

Both managers are considered to in danger of losing their jobs if things do not improve in the near future. This is especially true in New York where the Mets hired a new general manager following last season.

It was an unusual hire as Brodie van Wagenen was a former agent whose clients included current Mets ace Jacob deGrom as well as other current Mets Yoenis Cespedes and Robinson Cano. 

Callaway was hired as manager under the prior Mets regime and did receive the dreaded “vote of confidence” from van Wegenen prior to the start of the Washington series Monday.

Both the Mets and Nationals were expected to contend with Atlanta and Philadelphia in the NL East. Entering play Tuesday the Mets were in third place, 6.5 games behind the first-place Phillies and Washington sat fourth, nine games out of first. Barring a split in this four-game series and continued improved play afterwards we could see one or both managers out by the middle of June, if not sooner. 

With teams having yet to play 50 games, three of baseball’s six divisions have first-place teams with leads of at least 5.5 games over their second place rivals. 

More on this subject next week as baseball reaches the first major milepost of the season, Memorial Day. Here are thoughts on three series this weekend.

Phillies at Brewers: Through Monday the Phillies had a 2.5 game lead in the NL East and Milwaukee was second in the NL Central, trailing the Chicago Cubs by one game. Both teams were expected to be contenders in what were considered competitive divisions. 

These teams met just a week ago in Philadelphia with the Phillies winning the series opener before the Brewers won the next three games. Each game was decided by three or more runs and the series was evenly split with two games going over the total and two staying under. 

Milwaukee’s best starter has been Zach Davies with Chase Anderson and recently signed Gio Gonzalez both pitching well in their limited number of starts. Phillies ace Aaron Nola struggled early but has been very sharp in four of his last five starts. Unfortunately the lone exception was his start against the Brewers. 

Veteran Jake Arrieta has also struggled this season and was hit hard in his start against Milwaukee. Zach Eflin has been a bright spot with some very solid starts among his nine starts including a pair of complete games among his last four starts. But he also had trouble with the Brewers, allowing four runs and lasting just five innings. 

My preference will be to play over totals of 8.5 or less in games started by other than Davies (who is now 8-1 to the under with the lone over produced in his start against the Phillies in an 11-3 win). I will also look to back the Brewers in any game in which they are favored by -125 or less (or as underdogs). I would look to back the Phillies only at prices of +140 or more.

Rays at Indians: This four-game series begins Thursday. If we concede that both Boston and New York will make the playoffs from the AL East, one as Division champion and the other as a Wild Card, this series could give either Cleveland or Tampa Bay a leg up on the second Wild Card. 

Minnesota has played much better than Cleveland and is the pick of many to win the AL Central. 

Both teams are similar in that each relies more on pitching than hitting for success. Tampa allows an MLB low of 3.2 runs per game and the Tribe allows the fourth fewest of 3.7 rpg. Both offenses are below the MLB average of 4.6 rpg.

The teams are meeting for the first time this season. The Indians have the more accomplished and formidable starting rotation although two of their top starters – Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger – are sidelined with injuries. Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco have each been solid the past few seasons and 23-year-old Shane Bieber is quickly developing. In his start this past Sunday he pitched a complete game five-hitter, striking out 15 Orioles while not issuing any walks. 

Tampa Bay started the trend of using an opening pitcher for an inning or two last season and it proved successful. They’ve continued that strategy this season but ace Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, acquired in the offseason, do fill the role of traditional starters as does the currently injured Tyler Glasnow. 

This handicaps as a low-scoring series with the preferred plays on under totals of 7.5 or higher. Low-scoring games between teams with below average offenses also lend themselves to plays on underdogs so for side plays look to play either team if getting +125 or more. If Snell or Morton start for the Rays also consider a First Five Innings play under a total of 3.5 or less.

Padres at Blue Jays: Neither team is expected to contend this season but both are poised to show improvement as the season progresses with some young, developing talent including a pair of sons of former MLB stars who are in their rookie seasons. 

San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr was off to a solid start with a .300 batting average and six home runs through 27 games before injuring his hamstring at the end of April. His return from the IL is still uncertain. Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr missed the first month of the season but since his debut on April 26 has flashed the form that had him recognized as one of baseball’s top prospects over the past few seasons. 

San Diego has played the better baseball of the two teams and following Monday’s win over Arizona was 24-24 more that a quarter of the way into the season. The Padres have gotten the better starting pitching with a pair of youngsters – Chris Paddack and Matt Strahm – posting the best stats on any starters on either rosters. Especially impressive are that both are sporting strikeout-to-walk ratios of 5-1. 

San Diego will be the preferred play in this three-game series, especially in starts by Paddack or Strahm, either of whom can be backed as favorites of -120 or less. Neither team is potent at the plate but the Padres have been more effective on the road at home, averaging 4.2 rpg away from Petco Park vs. just 3.4 rpg at home. Toronto averages just 3.1 rpg at home vs. 4.1 rpg on the road. 

No starter on either team averages 6.0 innings per start or more which brings the bullpens into play and the Padres rate the edge in that category. The low-scoring nature of both offenses would make under plays more attractive than over plays with Paddack’s starts resulting in seven unders and two overs while for Toronto Marcus Stroman’s starts have resulted in seven unders and three overs. 

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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