A Soft schedule has Nationals looking to close the gap in National League East.

Authored by Major League Baseball Expert Analyst Charlie Red McDougall.

MLB Betting Predictions are winning at a remarkable rate and will continue through the 2018 World Series. Expectations in the Nation’s Capital have been high for a half decade, and 2018 is no exception. Management understands there are decisions to make with Bryce Harper, a free agent at season’s end. After taking three of four from Miami over the weekend, they finish out the first half away from home. Washington (45-45), third-place in their division play’s the (41-48) Pittsburgh Pirates, 4th NL Central on Monday, July 9, 2018. Right-hander Ian Nova will take the pitcher’s mound 4-6 with a 4.48 earn run average. Game time is at 7:05 PM EST at PNC Park on the banks of three rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Local Television Networks are broadcasting. The Opening Betting Line has Washington as a -115 road favorite. The betting odds total is Nine Runs for Monday’s contest.

Washington looks to extend their 2018 three-game winning streak over Pittsburgh; the Nationals hosted Pittsburgh in early May. The Nationals lost five in a row from the end of July until their recent homestand against Miami and rumblings are beginning in the Beltway. However, there is a bright spot in the midst of their poor performance at National Park, where they are two-games below .500. Washington is 7-0 vs. NL Central opponents this season, and they should be able to take advantage with four-games in New York looming before the break. Manager Dave Martinez understands fans frustration, but they would rather have them peaking in September rather than July, they have enough talent to turn it on at any time. Closing a five and a half game lead by first-place Philadelphia would make satisfy the staff. Having Max Scherzer and Harper would put any coaching staff at ease for a moment. Bovada.Lv, list the Washington Nationals at +1,500 to win the 2018 NL World Series.

The Pittsburgh Pirates no longer have the services of Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen or Pitcher Gerrit Cole and find themselves twelve and a half out of first-place in their division. Pittsburgh will host Milwaukee who holds the top spot in the NL Central for five games before the All-Star break on July, 15th. Outfielders Corey Dickerson and Gregory Polanco are swinging a hot bat for Pittsburgh with Starling Marte also being solid as usual hitting the ball. Second baseman Josh Harrison returned from the disabled list late last month, his services will be a need in the second half of 2018 if Pittsburgh is to make a run at the Cubs, Cardinals, and Milwaukee. Although the Pirates are above .500 at home, they are 1-7 their last eight and have lost seven of ten overall. Bovada. Lv, list the Pittsburgh Pirates at +8,000 to win the 2018 NL Central Crown.

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Should Bryce Harper lead off for the Washington Nationals? That’s a clown question, Bruh

Should Bryce Harper lead off for the Washington Nationals? That’s a clown question, Bruh

What does Bryce Harper have in common with Alex Ovechkin, Karl Malone, and Andy Reid? He’s perennially attached to a team, teams for Malone and Reid, that are excellent in the regular season but never make it in the playoffs. They could start a support group for stars who never won the big prize. Who knows? Maybe it already exists. I wonder if they would let Glenn Close and Amy Adams attend? The actresses have been nominated for an Oscar six and five times respectively without giving an acceptance speech. Hillary Clinton could moderate the meetings.

Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning would have left the group in 2007, Andy Murray in 2012, Sergio Garcia in 2017. Ovechkin’s Capitals are 3-2 up on the defending Stanley Cup Champions going into tonight’s Game 6 but they’ve blown similar opportunities more than once against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Forgive me if I don’t revoke his membership card just yet.

MLB Betting Picks are again winning at a remarkable rate and will continue through the 2018 World Series.

Harper has felt similar pain in the playoffs. Since 2012, his rookie campaign, the Nats have made the Major League Baseball playoffs four times, missing only in 2013 and 2015. In each case, they crashed out in the National League Division Series. Worse, each series went the maximum five games, save for 2014 against the eventual World Series Champion Giants. In 2012, the Cardinals sent Washington packing. In 2015, it was the Dodgers. Last season it was the defending World Series champion Cubs.

The brash outfielder began this campaign hitting cleanup for his fourth manager. Dave Martinez took over for Dusty Baker in the offseason, coming from the Cubs, where he had been on Joe Maddon’s staff. If you can’t beat ’em, steal their coaches.

As managers go, Maddon has a reputation for being relaxed in the clubhouse and tactically flexible in the dugout. Martinez emulates the latter trait.

Washington was mediocre in April, playing sub-.500 baseball in the moribund National League East. With a rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Steven Strasbourg, and Gio Gonzalez, you would expect better. Then again, it’s early and Martinez is just finding out what he has.

One problem he encountered in the season’s second week was opponents pitching around Harper. Slugging third baseman Anthony Rendon had fouled a ball off his toe and needed three weeks to recover. He is just now back in the lineup, trying to rediscover his timing. Without Rendon’s protection, pitchers could walk Harper in any dangerous situation and frequently did. As a result, he is not hitting for average but has an excellent on-base percentage.

Bryce Harper line as of May 6th, 2018. Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper’s line as of May 6th, 2018.

Conveniently, the right fielder’s 34 starts project easily to his career high in appearances: 153. If he holds his current pace, he would hit 54 home runs, knock in 126 runs, score 130, and steal 18 bases from the cleanup spot even while being walked regularly.

But other Nats weren’t providing much support. Washington was struggling to score. Martinez adapted by slotting his most dangerous hitter in the leadoff position. Now, rather than trying to drive people in, Harper’s responsibility is to get on base. Walk him all you like.

Martinez made the shift on May 1st. The team responded by winning 5 and losing one. That 3-1 defeat to the Phillies was the only time the team failed to score at least three runs in the six games. They rang up 24 against the Pirates, then 13 against the Phillies, including the loss when they only scored once.

If Martinez decides to bat Harper in the one-hole all season, his RBI numbers may suffer. Then again, maybe not. Opponents will have less reason to pitch around him. Last season, Yankee slugger Aaron Judge hit 13 of his 52 HRs (25%) in 28 of his 155 appearances (18%).

It goes against conventional wisdom to lead off with your most powerful hitter, but if Harper is also their best hitter, why not? The Nats 5-1 record to open May lifted them a game over .500. They remain in fourth but are only two games behind division leaders Philadelphia.

So far so good for new Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez's Bryce Harper leadoff experiment.

So far so good for Dave Martinez’s Bryce Harper leadoff experiment.

Of course, the six games came at the end of a homestand. The next trick will be to see whether they can maintain their momentum on the road. Stephen Strasbourg opened a series at Petco Park against San Diego last night. He was coming off a seven-inning win over the Pirates in which he struck out 11. The Padres, anchoring the National League West following a 13-22 start, countered with Tyler Ross.

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Strasburg went seven innings again, striking out five. Harper had an off night, going 0/4 with a walk but the middle of the order picked up the slack, especially in the four-run sixth. Rendon, Matt Adams, and Howie Kendrick all had two-hit games. First baseman Adams drove in five. The 8-5 win suggests Martinez made the right adjustment.

The series continues tonight and tomorrow. Gametimes are 10:10 and 9:10 Eastern respectively.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.