After a successful opening series sweep over the lowly Detroit Tigers, the Tampa Bay Rays will head on the road to take on another team projected to finish at the bottom of their division in the Washington Nationals. The Nats managed to avoid a sweep last yesterday, and we’ll preview the matchup today before going over why I’ll be targeting a run-line play in this one.
After allowing a combined 14 runs in the first two games of the season, the Nationals bounced back yesterday to beat the Atlanta Braves 4-1. Young left-hander MacKenzie Gore was able to strikeout six in 5 ⅓ innings, and even with four walks, he turned in the Nats' best pitching performance of the weekend. Offensively, Lane Thomas had the best series for the Nats, hitting .417 in 12 plate appearances while only striking out once.
Today, Washington will hand the ball to Trevor Williams to make his first start in a Nationals uniform. Williams had a few roles last year for the Mets but ended the season with a 3.21 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 89.7 innings. The veteran righty was able to stay below league average in hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity last season, which Washington could use against a Rays team that scored 21 total runs in their opening weekend.
The Rays started the season by dominating all aspects of the game. Young phenom Wander Franco had seven hits in 11 plate appearances while recording four RBIs as well. As a team, they hit .278, which is the 8th-best team batting average in the league so far.
On the pitching side of things, they only allowed just three runs in the entire series, with only one of those runs being allowed by a starting pitcher. Yesterday, Jeffrey Springs threw six no-hit innings with 12 strikeouts, which helped give the Rays the best team ERA in the league. Tonight they will look to Drew Rasmussen to continue their dominance on the mound. Rasmussen started 28 games for the Rays last season and recorded a 2.84 ERA with 125 strikeouts as well.
The Tampa Bay Rays run-line of -1.5 is currently priced at (+100), and I’ll be taking that as my play in this one. Tampa went 3-0 in terms of the run-line in their opening series, and I think they can continue to capitalize on their weaker schedule to start the season. Drew Rasmussen poses as a tough matchup for a Nationals lineup that hit .211 in the opening series with just one home run.
Only two hitters in the Nats lineup have recorded an at-bat against the Rays right-hander, and his above-average stuff makes him a tough pitcher to face for the first time. Last season, Rasmussen was in the 90th percentile in chase rate and fastball spin while being in the 78th percentile for curveball spin and 63rd percentile for barrel percentage. Additionally, if the Rays build a lead, I trust their bullpen to protect it.
Tampa Bay’s lineup has also gotten off to a strong start and showed they can get production from top to bottom, with eight guys picking up an RBI in the opening series. Trevor Williams was in just the 41st percentile in terms of barrel rate last season, and this Rays lineup has produced a lot of hard contact so far.
Tampa Bay Rays -1.5 (+100)