by Michael Stewart
Though the odds have been slightly adjusted lately, the World Series futures at the onset of the season pegged the Washington National and Toronto Blue Jays as equal +800 favorites. For either team to come through on their odds, they'll need their All-Star caliber pitchers to play at the highest level possible. Having an elite slinger at the stripe is imperative for any team, but their are tons of questions circulating aces Steven Strasburg in the nation's capital and 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey of the hopeful Jays.
Strasburg was reminiscent of his all-world form in his debut against the Miami Marlins, silencing them in 7.0 innings while allowing just 3.0 hits and no runs. And it only took him 80 pitches to get there. It has to be a relief to see Strasburg playing at his best after recovering from Tommy John surgery all the way through last season. Nationals fans were heartbroken, and unjustifiably outraged, last season when their 93-win season came to a crashing end as Strasburg's pitches were limited until he was ultimately shut down right before the playoffs. Seeing him return to form is a sight for sore eyes as the Nationals still lay claim to the best World Series odds of any National League team in the MLB Futures market.
No baseball team boils down to the performance of one player, but Strasburg is the key factor for Washington. They need an ace that can eviscerate opponents in the post season and you can bet that that Strasburg is keen for the task. At just 24 years of age, Strasburg has nowhere to go but up and while the team monitors his previously injured elbow, fans are just delighted to see him pitching at his true form again.
The Nationals are hard pressed in the World Series futures by National League contenders like the Cincinnati Reds (+1200), Atlanta Braves (+1500), San Francisco Giants (+1000) and L.A. Dodgers (+1000). This team will go as far as Strasburg can, and while Monday night's performance was just one of many to come, Washington has plenty of reason to remain positive and optimistic that this is the year for them.
The Toronto Blue Jays had similar aspirations after making explosive moves in free agency and through trades in the off-season. The biggest prize they landed was knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who departed the Mets after winning the NL Cy Young Award. Dickey's first appearance for the Jays would be forgettable if it wasn't so atrocious. Dickey lasted just 6.0 innings while giving up 5 hits and 4 runs against Cleveland in the opener. His pitch count ramped up to an absurd 104, and he was literally all over the map.
Catcher J.P Arencibia collected three errors while he struggled to get a feel for Dickey's incredibly erratic pitches. The Jays may love Arencibia's bat in the lineup, but they also need to consider promoting Henry Blanco who is a more astute knuckleball catcher that also played with Dickey in New York. Blanco isn't the threat in the lineup that Arencibia is, but the Jays have a stacked order.
At least they hope they do. The Jays were a mess at the plate, stranding several players in scoring position early in the game without building any real momentum. They're paying their roster a ton of money, and when Brett Lawrie returns from the DL this lineup will be even more opposing pitchers. It's too early in the season to say that the Jays are a bust, but they have obviously built a roster that relies on Dickey being one of the faces of the franchise. His first appearance in a blue and white uniform was uninspiring to say the least, and it's hurt the Jays in the MLB Futures market.
Toronto is a +1000 hopeful to claim their first World Series in over twenty years. They are right behind the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels, who share +800 odds as the leading representatives for the American League in World Series odds. It's obviously too early to discount Toronto because Dickey should settle down (hopefully) and Toronto's offense is as competitive as anyone's else on paper.
The difference between Washington and Toronto is that the former has a returning core that is familiar and proven. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, are carrying an entirely new roster. Both teams still deserve consideration in the World Series futures markets in our sportsbook, but one team is already playing at their potential while the other still has to find its rythme.
It's the first week of the season, so knee jerk reactions won't carry that much weight during a 162 game marathon. Toronto has a rocky road ahead of them as they try to bring their world beating roster together, building chemistry and brotherhood throughout the season. The Washington Nationals have an altogether different task as they march forward off the momentum built from last year's incredible run, which seems altogether possible considering their roster remains basically identical. With one game in the bag for both teams, it's apparent that Washington is a convincing long term investment while Toronto still has a lot of wrinkles to iron out.
With a knuckleball specialist as the lynchpin of their World Series hopes, the sailing is not going to be smooth as Toronto's fans hoped but this is the risk the Jays took. Just like the sword, they'll live and die by the knuckleball.