The Washington Nationals have endured a rough season in looking for a new identity while Bryce Harper is hitting bombs in Philadelphia.
Through May, the Nationals were 24-33 and in fourth place in the National League East, nine games back of the then-division-leading Philadelphia Phillies. They also had a run differential of -26 at the time.
But since June, and heading into Tuesday’s two-game set with the Baltimore Orioles, the Nationals are 49-24 and have outscored the competition by whopping 133 runs. In August alone, Washington is 16-6 and has outscored its opponents by 60 runs.
After Monday’s games, all six division leaders ranked in the top nine in runs scored this month. And tied for first with the Houston Astros was the Nationals, who have tallied 158 runs in August. Washington was also hitting a league-best .296 this month.
Don’t look now, but veterans Howie Kendrick, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and young phenom Juan Soto have the Nationals chasing their third division title in four seasons. After winning back-to-back N.L. East titles in 2016 and 17, the Nationals gave way to Atlanta last season, which is added motivation for Washington.
The Nationals are in a good position to build momentum this week, as the series with the Orioles opened an eight-game homestand before they endure a critical four-game series in Atlanta Sept. 5-8. After the Orioles, the Miami Marlins and New York Mets will be in D.C., where the Nationals were 36-26 heading into Tuesday night’s contest with Baltimore, which they split two games with back in mid-July. The good news for them is they’re 10-3 against Miami this season
And while the three-game series against New York figures to be its toughest one, it’s conceivable Washington could be riding a 10-game win streak into that showdown with the Mets. And the Nationals will need all the momentum they can gather, as they’re just 6-10 against New York this season.
This is an important week for the Nationals, and it will be very telling, so keep an eye out for value in their lines when hosting the Mets.
Now, on to my picks this week, after going 1-2 last week.
Rays at Astros: We’re likely looking at a big price, and I don’t mind laying the run line with the Astros. Especially with Zack Greinke on the hill. The veteran right-hander, who is 14-4 with a 2.83 ERA this season, is a perfect 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts since being traded to the Astros on July 31.
Greinke became the third pitcher in franchise history to win each of his first four starts, joining Roger Clemens (7-0 in 2004) and Justin Verlander (6-0 in 2017-18). With everything clicking on offense, and Greinke pitching his best baseball right now, I’ll play Houston big here. ASTROS RUN LINE
Cubs at Mets: Let’s play the Mets here, as Jacob deGrom has been performing like a Cy Young candidate of late, while doing a good job in keeping New York relevant in the playoff race. deGrom, who has a 2.56 ERA this season, is a stunning 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA since the All-Star break.
On the other hand, Chicago lefty Jon Lester has gone 1-3 with an 8.51 ERA in five August starts, and now has to face a Mets team was hitting .280 this month as it opened this series on Tuesday. Look for the home team to wrap up this three-game set with a victory. METS
Mariners at Rangers: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the oddsmakers slip a bit here, since the Mariners are handing the ball to veteran right-hander Felix Hernandez, who returned from a three-month stint on the injured list by giving up a mere two runs in 5 2/3 innings against Toronto last Saturday.
When you add in the fact Rangers right-hander Lance Lynn is 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA in his last four starts, it could make for a cheap price. I’ll take Texas here, as Lynn is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts against the M’s this season, while King Felix is just 7-12 with a 4.53 ERA in 27 career starts in Texas. Lay the home chalk here. RANGERS
Last week: 1-2