The COVID-riddled Washington Nationals will be the final team to take the field in this Major League Baseball regular season as they host the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, but the Nats will be severely short-handed due to COVID protocols with the team reportedly missing shortstop Trea Turner, first baseman Josh Bell, left fielder Kyle Schwarber, second baseman Josh Harrison, No. 1 catcher Yan Gomes (and backup Alex Avila) as well as closer Brad Hand and a few others. Yet the Nationals are -121 favorites on the William Hill Sportsbook MLB odds behind ace Max Scherzer.
Needless to say, the Nationals will be calling up guys from their alternate site to fill out the roster and it's expected all the guys mentioned above – plus starting pitchers Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester along with utility player Jordy Mercer – will miss the entire Braves series. The Nats haven't officially revealed which four players tested positive for COVID-19 and are still in isolation or which seven players and two staff members remain in quarantine as close contacts.
Turner is the best player out of that group, hitting .335 with 12 homers, 41 RBIs and 12 steals in 59 games in the shortened 2020 season. He led the National League with 78 hits and finished seventh in the NL MVP voting.
Bell (from Pirates) and Schwarber (from Cubs) were offseason additions. Harrison hit .278 with three homers and 14 RBIs last year in 33 games for Washington. Gomes and Avila essentially split duty. That may mean either Tres Barrera or Raudy Read will start Tuesday, and they have combined for only 24 big-league plate appearances. It's possible recently-signed veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy could be cleared from protocols in time to play Tuesday.
Hand, a three-time All-Star closer, signed a one-year deal this offseason. He had a 2.05 ERA with a 34% strikeout rate and an MLB-best 16 saves last year for Cleveland. Washington relievers had a 4.68 ERA in 2020, the eighth-highest in the majors.
Scherzer may have to pitch a shutout to win this game with that watered-down lineup. The three-time Cy Young winner was a mortal 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts last year – it was the first season that Scherzer did not finish in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting since 2012. He allowed six runs in 5.1 innings in his lone 2020 start vs. Atlanta.
The Braves counter with offseason addition and lefty Drew Smyly, who was 0-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 26.1 innings last year with the Giants. He has pitched eight career innings vs. Washington, allowing two runs and five hits.
Because of all those Nationals missing from the lineup, this writer picked Under the total of 8 runs (has since dropped to 7.5) Tuesday.
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