Just a few years ago, the Washington Nationals won the franchise’s first World Series title. However, times have changed and now the team is projected to finish near the bottom of the league.
As a result, sports bettors in Old Dominion are stuck with long odds if they want to make a futures wager on the team for the 2022 season.
They are in a similar situation to their AL neighbors to the north, the Baltimore Orioles. However, there are some key differences in the betting market that make the Nats much less attractive in my opinion.
Of course, my opinion isn’t gospel. I’m not a professional sports bettor and you shouldn’t treat this article as if I am. If you decide to bet with one of Virginia’s several online sportsbooks or at the recently-opened BetMGM sportsbook inside Nationals Park, gamble responsibly and do your own research.
Furthermore, make sure you consider the impact of the current lockout. The labor dispute between the players union and the owners could affect the 2022 schedule length. Subsequently, an alteration to the schedule may affect the validity of your wagers.
But back to my main point. It feels like the betting market already bottomed on the Orioles, to steal a term from the financial markets.
If the Orioles are like buying equities shortly after the COVID-induced stock market crash of March 2020, then the Nationals would be like buying in the middle of the drop.
Sure, there’s some upside in it. But is the downside over? Or will 2022 be the year the team bottoms out and the 2023 futures market provide max opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle?
Either way, let’s dig into the numbers.
Washington Nationals win total: Over/under 68.5
The over/under on Washington’s win total perfectly encapsulates what I was trying to say in the paragraphs above.
Winning 69 games shouldn’t be too hard for almost any Major League Baseball franchise. Only six teams in the league didn’t meet that benchmark during the 2021 season.
The problem is that the Nationals were one of those teams. With a 65-97 record, they finished dead last in the division and only had a better record than the Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles.
Subsequently, the question becomes whether the roster got better or worse heading into 2022.
The franchise lost its best starting pitcher and starting shortstop last season when management traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers. On the other hand, the team still has NL MVP favorite Juan Soto and a couple of established arms with Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.
Soto is as close to a lock as it gets to guaranteeing elite production. But Strasburg, the first overall pick in the 2009 MLB draft, was riddled with injuries over the past two seasons. In addition, Corbin posted the worst season of his career in 2021.
Is Strasburg healthy? Will Corbin bounce back or is he starting his decline? If those two guys pitch well, the team will easily win 69 games.
If not, it’ll be a historically awful year for baseball fans in the nation’s capital. There are just too many question marks for me to want to bet this over/under.
If you absolutely made me pick a side, I guess I’d take the under.
Odds for the Washington Nationals to win the NL East: +2,000
Outside of the over/under win total, I try and look at betting the futures market as a math problem. I look at the price I’m being laid and do my best guesswork to deduce if it’s profitable over the long run.
In this case, the sportsbook is laying you 20-to-1 on the Nationals winning the division. This means I’m asking myself “If the 2022 season was played 20 times, do the Nationals win the NL East once?”
I ask myself this question and my instinctive response is “I have no clue.”
It’s almost like the people setting the lines do it for a living. Because if the price was slightly worse, I’d say “no.” And if it were slightly better, I’d think “of course.”
Here’s a look at last year’s standings for reference on how much they need to improve:
- Atlanta Braves: 88-73
- Philadelphia Phillies: 82-80
- New York Mets: 77-85
- Miami Marlins: 67-95
- Washington Nationals: 65-97
On the surface, I’d want to say “Yeah, they could win the division one in 20 times. None of those teams look that dominating.”
But the Braves have nearly the entire roster returning from last year. And that roster was good enough to win the 2021 World Series.
Remember the Scherzer trade I mentioned earlier? After he finished his season in Los Angeles, he signed with the Mets during the offseason.
More importantly, it means that Washington’s best pitcher over the last several years is now going to be pitching against them.
In addition, Scherzer might not even be the best pitcher on his new team. He’ll likely slide into the second spot in the rotation behind two-time Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom.
The more I write about this division, the more I want to avoid this bet.
Odds to win the NL pennant: +5,000, Odds on a World Series title: +10,000
I felt I should lump these two bets together because you essentially end up asking yourself the same question.
Do the Nationals have any chance at making the playoffs?
If the Nationals end up making the playoffs, they would certainly win the World Series once in 100 times or the pennant one in 50. No team that makes the postseason could possibly be that big of an underdog in a 10-team tournament format.
Let’s look at a best-case scenario for Washington in 2022. Strasburg is dominant, Corbin returns to form and Soto wins the MVP.
If all that happens, they’ll be in the playoff race. Simply being in the race for October should force management to make moves in the trade market to improve the team.
If you are a die-hard fan and simply need a small sweat on the season, I wouldn’t hate these lines. Although I wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to make the bets in the first place.