MLB: Stephen Strasburg era begins in Washington
The anticipation is nearly over. The 21-year-old with the fastball that reaches 100 mph and the curve that freezes batters is about to take the mound in the nation’s capital. Stephen Strasburg is set to make his Washington Nationals debut Tuesday night. Bettors have reacted, or should we say overreacted accordingly, betting the Nationals up to -210 after the line opened at -165 at Sportsbook.com.
Standing room only tickets went on sale Monday, all part of a rare Nationals Park sellout. The Internet is humming with offers for good seats. More than 200 requests for media credentials have been submitted, forcing officials to turn a dining area into a work space to accommodate all those reporters with laptops.
For the Nationals (27-31, +6.7 units), Strasburg’s major league debut is best summed up in one word.
No one’s seen anything like it. A No. 1 overall pick who gets sellout, rock-star, hire-extra-security treatment in minor league cities such as Harrisburg and Rochester. It’s the type of overexposure usually reserved for top picks in the NFL or NBA.
The Nationals are actually having a decent year following back-to-back 100-losses seasons but are coming off a pair of losses to Cincinnati. They are 18-11 after a loss this season. However, everything they’ve done has been overshadowed by talk about a player who didn’t have a locker in the clubhouse, whose debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates (23-34, +2) has been given its own baseball holiday nickname: “Strasmas.”
“I feel like I’ve been ready,” Strasburg said after his last minor league outing, five scoreless innings for Triple-A Syracuse at Buffalo last week. There’s not much argument there. It was almost cruel to watch Strasburg overwhelm hitters in Double-A and Triple-A. His combined stats: 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA with 65 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 55 1-3 innings.
But money trumped wins, at least this year. Having already invested heavily in the right-hander from San Diego State with a record $15.1 million contract over four years, the Nationals wanted to save some dough down the road by calling Strasburg up after June 1, thus delaying by one year the eventual date when he will be eligible for arbitration.
Strasburg is also looking forward to normalcy because he’s not a limelight guy. Still, the toned-down persona hasn’t stopped the hype machine. Want to bet on how Strasburg’s going to do Tuesday? There are odds on whether his first pitch will be a ball or strike, how many innings he’ll last and nearly everything else in between. Sports bettors have this as one-sided affair, as Washington opened as -165 money line favorites and they have been bet all the way up to -210.
Nationals Park has been sold out only once so far this season—on opening day—but the thought that Strasburg might pitch drew the season’s second biggest crowd Friday against Cincinnati. Strasburg’s thoughts about it all? Pretty straightforward.
“It’s my major league debut. What more can you say?” he said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about my entire life, and now it’s starting to become a reality.”
At least Strasburg won’t have to wait long for the next phenom to come along. Baseball’s draft was held Monday, and the Nationals again held the No. 1 overall pick. As expected, Washington selected Bryce Harper, a junior college slugger who’s had about as much hype as Strasburg.
The Nationals have a great deal of baggage to overcome, with a 15-25 record as a home favorite of -110 or higher and though the anticipation had one more day to build, Washington is 4-22 playing with a day off over the last two seasons.
Sportsbook.com has the total at Un8.5 and that’s a hard prediction given the circumstances, nevertheless the Nats are is 13-3 UNDER after two straight games with one or less extra base hits, while Pittsburgh is 36-21 OVER in road games after a loss by four runs or more. The Pirates offense continues to struggle and they are 12-42 away from home after batting .250 or worse over a 20-game span over the last two years.
The buzz in the ballyard will be fun in Washington for a change and Bucs starter Jeff Karstens (1-1, 4.50) has to keep his emotions in check to give his club a chance to win. MLB.TV will broadcast the game 7:05 Eastern and ESPN will be covering this event in the afternoon before the telecast as only they can.
The StatFox Power Line shows Washington -157
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