As we enter the weekend, the Washington Nationals are in first place in the National League East. That's no easy task considering they have been playing without their top slugger, Michael Morse; their closer, Drew Storen; and their catcher, Wilson Ramos.

That the Nationals are winning without some of their key players has not gone unnoticed by the folks in Las Vegas, where "moneyball" has a whole new meaning. There is respect for Washington. The oddsmakers at Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas were kind enough to provide the Nationals' odds to win the division at the start of the season and the latest odds as of Thursday.

At the start of the season, the Nationals had 6-1 odds to win the NL East, which put them behind the Marlins at 5-1 and the Phillies at 3-1.

Well, things have changed dramatically. Now the Nationals are the division co-favorites with the Braves at 8-5.

Looking at the rest of the East, the Nationals and Braves are followed closely by the Phillies at 2-1. The Marlins are at 4-1, and the Mets are bringing up the rear at 9-1. So the dynamics of the division have changed.

Why have the odds moved in the Nationals' favor?

Well, one reason is Bryce Harper. His presence has moved money on the betting line in the direction of the Nationals. In a way, it is fitting that the kid from Las Vegas has driven the odds in the Nats' favor.

Seeing Harper on "SportsCenter" each night and Washington on national television more often has revamped the team's image.

Add to that the consistently strong starting pitching of the Nationals. Oddsmakers and bettors know that the Nationals will be in every game because of their rotation.

The Nationals have played 19 one-run games, and they are 11-8 in those games. Oddsmakers and gamblers must feel that two things will happen once the team gets Morse back -- that could happen as soon as Friday -- as well as Storen.

First, the Nationals' offense will improve, meaning it won't play as many one-run games. Second, there will be fewer blown saves with Storen in the closer's role.

There is no sure thing in gambling, but it sure is nice to see the Nationals in the role of favorites.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Check out his blog, Watch this!, on