Nationals vs Cubs Picks and Predictions: Lester Back in Windy City

May 17, 2021 |
By: Chris Toman
Nationals vs Cubs Picks and Predictions: Lester Back in Windy City
Jon Lester will make his return to Wrigley Field for the first time after spending six seasons with the Cubs. The lefty has put up a 2.25 ERA with the Nationals over three starts.
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports
Jon Lester will make his return to Wrigley Field for the first time after spending six seasons with the Cubs. The lefty has put up a 2.25 ERA with the Nationals over three starts.
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

Jon Lester makes his return to Wrigley Field for Monday's series opener between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs. 

Lester, who spent six seasons with Chicago and won a World Series, will be opposed by Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay to begin the four-game set. 

Check out our best free MLB betting picks and predictions for Nationals vs. Cubs on May 17 at 7:40 p.m. ET.

Nationals vs Cubs game info

Location: Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL
Date: Monday, May 17, 2021
Time: 7:40 p.m. ET
TV: Marquee Sports

Nationals vs Cubs odds

Odds via the Covers Line, an average comprised of odds from multiple sportsbooks.

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MLB Sharp Money and Line Movement Report

By Patrick Everson

As of 4:30 p.m. ET, Chicago is out to a -155 favorite at TwinSpires Sportsbook, after opening -130. The Nationals are taking 54 percent of moneyline bets, but the Cubs are landing 72 percent of moneyline cash. The total dipped from 8.5 to 8, with the Under drawing 58 percent of bets/55 percent of money.

Check out the full line movement for this game

Nationals vs Cubs betting preview

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester (0-1, 2.25 ERA): The veteran lefty is still getting it done at 37 years old. While the rest of his numbers aren't as shiny as his 2.25 ERA, Lester has allowed zero, three, and one run over his three starts and is coming off a season-high six-inning performance in a no-decision against the Phillies. He missed the start of the season due to COVID protocols but worked his arm up to 97 pitches in that outing versus Philadelphia and should have no pitch-count restrictions going forward.

Adbert Alzolay (1-3, 4.50 ERA): Alzolay is an example of a pitcher who has thrown much better than what his 4.50 ERA would indicate. He's allowed three runs or fewer in all but one start and has struck out six-plus in five consecutive outings. The fastball-slider pitcher is getting whiffs on both his two-seamer and breaking ball, and the slider has been close to an unhittable pitch. He punched out six while issuing no walks and matching a season-high six innings pitched his last time out.

Weather

Be sure to monitor the gametime conditions with our MLB weather info.

Key injuries

Nationals: None.
Cubs: Alec Mills RP (Out), Jake Marisnick OF (Out), Rowan Wick RP (Out).
Find our latest MLB injury reports.

Betting trend to know

The Nationals are 4-1 in the last five head-to-head meetings. Find more MLB betting trends for Nationals vs. Cubs.

Moneyline pick

Neither team is enjoying a strong start to the season, as the Nationals are dead last in the NL East while the Cubs are ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Central. But the Nats have won three of their last four and are finally showing signs of offensive life now that superstar Juan Soto is back in the lineup. 

Washington has flashed very little power outside of shortstop Trea Turner, but over the last seven days (which coincides with Soto's full-time return to the lineup), the Nats rank third in the majors in average, fourth in slugging, and fourth in OPS. Soto hasn't torn the cover off the ball, but he's getting on base as he always does, putting up a .410 OBP over his last eight games to bump his mark up to .393 on the season. 

Two of the team's highest-scoring games this year have come since Soto returned from his shoulder injury last week, including Friday's 17-run outburst in a series-opening victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

Washington will try to stay hot against the 26-year-old Alzolay, who has thrown the ball well, striking out an impressive 29.3 percent of the batters he has faced to go along with a 5.7 percent walk rate. His K-BB% of 23.6 is a Top-20 mark in baseball, among pitchers who have thrown a minimum of 30 innings, but he'll have a difficult time racking up the punchouts against a Nats team that has the fourth-lowest K rate in MLB.

The Nats don't swing and miss a lot and make contact as well as nearly any team in the NL, so a lot of pressure will be put on a Cubs defense that advanced metrics paint as one of baseball's worst.

With the Nats on the brink of turning a corner and with Lester surprisingly putting in three solid starts in a row, getting Washington as an underdog at plus money is a more enticing play than the Cubs at -145. 

PREDICTION: Nationals (+130)

Over/Under pick

The Nats have been better with Soto and he certainly makes for a dangerous duo with Turner, but they still rank 25th in baseball in runs scored. They've averaged only 3.97 runs per game, and Alzolay plus the Cubs bullpen won't be an easy assignment. 

Chicago relievers have the third-lowest ERA in the NL and are striking out the most batters per nine innings in the majors at 11.17. The walks have been high, but they aren't giving up homers, leading to a Top-10 FIP. Craig Kimbrel and Rex Brothers, two of the Cubs' Top 4 most-used relievers, have both struck out more than 40 percent of the batters they've faced.

Lester is due for a blowup but until he does you have to tip your cap to how well the 16-year veteran has thrown during his first season with the Nats. The southpaw has allowed a total of four runs over his three starts and worked five-plus innings in each of them. The Cubs have the seventh-best home-run-to-fly-ball rate in baseball, but Lester is surrendering his fewest amount of fly balls since 2012 and hasn't allowed a homer this season. That's very likely to be the difference in the straight-up winner and total of this game.

While the Nats' offense is trending in the right direction, Washington is cashing Unders at the highest rate in baseball and the Cubs are 17-20-2 O/U on the season. Both pitchers have been throwing well and it's enough for us to side with the Under in this one. 

PREDICTION: Under 8 (-104)

Nationals vs Cubs betting card

  • Nationals (+130)
  • Under 8 (-104)

Picks made on 5/16/2021 at 8:45 p.m. ET

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