MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Washington Nationals at Pittsburgh Pirates

Date/Time: July 24, 7:05 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Max Scherzer (10-8, 2.09) vs. Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.01)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Washington -125

Total: 6.5

Is it a trap? That’s the first question you should ask yourself about the overnight line for Friday’s game between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Max Scherzer would seem to be a huge mismatch against Jeff Locke, but as you will read, the Nationals have all sorts of problems right now. This is the second of a four-game weekend set between two projected playoff teams. The Nationals lead the NL East and the Pirates have a comfortable cushion for the top wild card spot in the NL.

Why is Max Scherzer such a small favorite? Because offense may be hard to come by, no matter who is on the mound for the Nationals. Among those banged up are Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Yunel Escobar, Jayson Werth, and Bryce Harper, which means that basically six of the eight regular hitters in the Nationals lineup are either on the disabled list or are playing through some discomfort. It’s hard for any team to withstand a swarm of injury bugs like that, but the Nationals continue to persevere.

Max Scherzer continues to deal, even though the Nationals haven’t given him a whole lot of help. When Cy Young voting comes around, Scherzer will test the number of voters that do not consider W-L record in the process. Scherzer is 10-8, with a 2.09 ERA, a 2.13 FIP, a 2.84 xFIP, and one of the best K/BB ratios in recent memory. Scherzer has 158 strikeouts in 138 innings against just 15 walks. Since the start of June, Scherzer has 73 strikeouts and five walks, so this has been a consistent thing for the right-hander.

The Nationals have scored 3.38 runs per game for Scherzer and they have only scored 60 runs in 19 starts when he has been in the game. In Scherzer’s eight losses, he has a 3.21 ERA and has held the opposition to a .235/.270/.373 slash. The Nationals are 16th in wOBA against left-handed pitchers this season, so Scherzer probably won’t get a whole lot of support in this game. That explains the line and also the very low total.

Jeff Locke gets a bit of a raw deal because he doesn’t pass the eye test and has suspect control. He manages to get outs, so he has that going for him, which is nice. Locke has a 4.01 ERA with a 3.68 FIP and a 3.85 xFIP on the season. A small boost in strikeouts has partially offset a bump in walks. The big difference for Locke this season has been keeping the ball in the park. In 131.1 innings last season, Locke allowed 16 dongs. In 103.1 innings this season, opposing batters have only rounded the bags seven times. Opposing batters do have a .317 BABIP against Locke, however, which has led to the high ERA.

I try not to cite home/road splits too often because they can be skewed by a bad start or two, but Locke’s home/road splits are worthy of notice. He has a 2.58 ERA with a .244/.315/.316 slash against at home, but a 6.57 with a .305/.382/.450 on the road. PNC Park is slanted towards pitchers, so it’s not surprising that Locke feels more comfortable there. There is some recency bias in this line because Locke has allowed just 13 earned runs over his last 47.2 innings. Keep in mind, however, that Locke has also allowed five unearned runs in that span.

MLB Prediction: Washington Nationals

Shorthanded on offense or not, this line is just silly for a pitcher of Max Scherzer’s caliber. Jeff Locke is a replacement-level type of pitcher and it’s not like the pitchers are setting the world on fire offensively. In fact, they’re struggling a bit since the All-Star Break. The Pirates are ranked 22nd in wOBA against righties this season and Scherzer is definitely one the game’s elite righties.