Sunday Night Baseball gives us a heavyweight matchup between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, two of the preseason favorites in the National League. The teams split the first two games of the series, so Sunday’s game will serve as the rubber match. The Dodgers enter Sunday’s game as -170 favorites.
The Dodgers have only recently started to break out of their early-season slump. Los Angeles has won five of their last six games but is still a game under .500 and 4.5 games behind the Diamondbacks atop the NL West.
Washington is in the same boat. The Nationals are a game under .500 and 4.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East, although they also sit behind the Braves and Phillies early in the year. However, they’ve yet to sustain any kind of hot streak this season; instead, they’ve looked the part of a mediocre team.
Earning the Spot
The Nationals will send Jeremy Hellickson to the mound to face the Dodgers on Sunday. After Washington designated A.J. Cole for assignment earlier this week, Hellickson is in a position to lock down the final spot in the starting rotation full time. In his first start of the season, Hellickson allowed two runs on seven hits over 4.2 innings against the Mets, which was rather underwhelming. If he doesn’t improve upon that, the Nationals may look elsewhere for a fifth starter.
Unfortunately, Hellickson has not fared well in his career against several Dodgers hitters. Matt Kemp, who is off to a hot start, is 7 for 22 with an OPS of .924 against Hellickson. Meanwhile, Yasiel Puig, despite a rough April, is 4 for 5 with two doubles and a home run against Hellickson. Perhaps more importantly, the Dodgers are finally getting their altogether offensively, scoring at least seven runs in five of their last eight games.
Hoping to get his first win of the season on Sunday will be Los Angeles lefty Alex Wood. After a sensational 2017 season in which he went 16-3, Wood has had an uneven start to the 2018 season. He looked sharp against the Padres earlier in the week, but in his previous start he allowed seven runs against the A’s and got bounced in the fourth inning. The Dodgers are hoping he can regain the form he had last season when he was such a key part of their rotation.
Of course, getting on track may not be easy against the Nationals. Washington’s top right-handed hitters like Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, and Ryan Zimmerman all have good numbers against Wood. Specifically, Rendon is 12 for 19 while Taylor is 5 for 11. Wood may luck out and not have to face Rendon, who continues to be hampered by a bad toe. However, both Taylor and Zimmerman have started to get out after poor starts to the season. Of course, having Bryce Harper in the middle of the order is no easy task, even for a lefty like Wood.
If you’re going to be on one of these starting pitchers, bet on Wood. The Nationals managed just two hits over seven innings against fellow lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, which should give Wood a good idea of how to attack Washington’s hitters. Even if Wood doesn’t have a strong outing, Hellickson isn’t likely to have one either. On top of that, the Nationals have the worst bullpen in the National League right now. Bet on the Dodgers -170 to win Sunday night and take the rubber match from the Nationals.