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Cole, Yankees Open as -125 Road Favorites Over Scherzer, Nationals on Opening Day; Total Set at 7 O/U

Max Scherzer warming up.
Max Scherzer is likely to get the Opening Day start for the Washington Nationals against Gerrit Cole and the NY Yankees. Photo by Keith Allison {flickr).
  • Opening Day of the 2020 season is scheduled for July 23rd
  • The schedule is highlighted by Max Scherzer and the defending champion Nationals hosting Gerrit Cole and the Yankees
  • The early odds slightly favor the visitors while the run total is a miniscule 7.0 O/U

Baring further setbacks, Opening Day of the 2020 MLB season will finally arrive on Thursday, July 23rd. The first set of series includes a heavyweight tilt between the American League favorite New York Yankees and reigning World Series champion Washington Nationals.

Assuming both teams trot out their ace on Opening Day, fans will be treated to one of the best pitching matchups baseball has to offer: Gerrit Cole vs Max Scherzer.

The opening odds give the Pinstripes a slight edge. Looking at the 2020 lineups and both pitchers’ early-season history, there is a wager that stands out.

Yankees vs Nationals Opening Day Odds

Team Moneyline Runline Run Total
New York Yankees -125 -1.5 (+138) O 7.0 (-110)
Washington Nationals +105 +1.5 (-158 U 7.0 (-110)

Odds as of July 1st.

Note that Major League Baseball has released the 2020 schedule yet. This matchup is still a rumor, though a credible one.

Projected Lineups

The Yankees are “optimistic” that they will have their full complement of stars on July 23rd. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks all would have missed the original Opening Day.

Remember that, in Nationals Park, they will be playing by NL rules (no DH).

Yankees vs Nationals Batting Order

Yankees Lineup Off. WAR 2019 Off. WAR 2019 Nationals Lineup
DJ LeMahieu (2B) 5.2 3.6 Trea Turner (SS)
Aaron Judge (RF) 3.4 1.9 Adam Eaton (RF)
Aaron Hicks (CF) 4.9* 3.0 Howie Kendrick (2B)
Giancarlo Stanton (LF) 3.7* 4.8 Juan Soto (LF)
Gleyber Torres (SS) 4.2 1.6 Eric Thames (1B)
Gary Sanchez (C) 2.9 0.5 Yan Gomes (C)
Luke Voit (1B) 2.4 -0.3** Carter Kieboom (3B)
Gio Urshela (3B) 3.7 1.8 Victor Robles (CF)
Gerrit Cole (P) -0.1 0.0 Max Scherzer (P)
Total Off. War 21.7 17.2 Total Off. War

*Off. WAR in 2018. **Appeared in only 21 games.

It’s possible that newly acquired Starlin Castro could start at 2B for Washington over Howie Kendrick, but With Cole being a righty, Kendrick slots in for now. Same goes for Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate.

Despite a seemingly endless string of injuries, the 2019 Yankees led the majors in runs scored (943). The Nationals finished second in the National League (873), though they lose MVP-contender Anthony Rendon to the Angels. The third baseman led Washington with an Off. War of 6.4 last season.

Cole vs Scherzer: Opening Starts

Cole is coming off the better season, but only slightly. He led the American League in numerous pitching categories, including ERA (2.50), xFIP (2.48), strikeouts (326), and K/9 (13.8).

Scherzer was fantastic in his own right, posting a 2.92 ERA (6th in NL), 2.88 xFIP (1st), 243 strikeouts (3rd), and 12.69 K/9 (1st).

Looking at their performances in their first starts of the year, both have done well out of the gate in the last two years. Expanding the scope to the last five years, Scherzer’s numbers remain immaculate, while Cole’s drop off considerably when adding in his time as a Pittsburgh Pirate (2013-2017).

Max Scherzer’s First Starts of the Season

Year IP Hits ER Ks Walks Pitches Opponent (Record)
2019 7.2 2 2 12 3 109 NYM (86-76)
2018 6.0 5 0 10 1 100 CIN (67-95)
2017 6.2 4 2 7 2 98 PHI (66-96)
2016 7.0 3 2 7 2 104 ATL (68-93)
2015 7.2 4 0 8 2 97 NYM (90-72)
5-Year Avg. 7.0 3.6 1.54 ERA 8.8 2.0 101.6 75.5-86.5

Gerrit Cole’s First Starts of the Season

Year IP Hits ER Ks Walks Pitches Opponent (Record)
2019 6.0 5 1 10 0 101 TB (96-66)
2018 7.0 2 1 11 3 102 TEX (67-95)
2017 5.0 7 5 2 1 76 BOS (93-69)
2016 4.2 5 3 4 3 100 CIN (68-94)
2015 5.0 5 3 6 2 93 CIN (64-98)
5-Year Avg. 27.2 4.8 4.23 ERA 6.6 1.8 94.4 77.6-84.4

How much stock should bettors put into Cole’s numbers with the Pirates? Little. Myriad aspects of his game changed once he started working with Houston’s analytics-driven pitching coaches.

As was noted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Cole transformed into perhaps the best pitcher in the major leagues [in Houston], increasing the usage of his four-seam fastball and curveball, pretty much dropping his two-seam sinker and attacking the top of the strike zone far more frequently.”

Basically, the Astros unlocked the first-overall potential of 2011’s #1 draft pick.

Both pitchers have been slightly better on the road than at home over their careers: Scherzer 3.22 home ERA vs 3.17road ERA; Cole 3.29 home ERA vs 3.14 road ERA.

The Bet

Betting against Max Scherzer on Opening Day has not been a profitable endeavor. That said, he has tended to face cupcake opponents in his openers and has trended down slightly as he’s aged. (He will turn 36 in July.)

Against arguably the more formidable lineup in baseball, I am not confident Scherzer tosses another gem, especially after such a strange offseason. Indeed, the early, sharp money in the NL Cy Young futures have been fading Scherzer and backing younger arms.

I am more confident in the 29-year-old Cole to pick up where he left off in Houston.

Pick: Yankees (-125)

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