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NL Central Odds: Cubs are Slight Favorites to Win Third Title in Four Years

NL Central Betting Odds - March 4

It took a season-ending eight-game winning streak, including a tiebreaker win in Game 163, for the Milwaukee Brewers to sneak past the Chicago Cubs to claim their first NL Central crown since 2011, thwarting Chicago’s attempt at a three-peat. It is a true three-horse race in the NL Central with Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis that could once again come down to a tiebreaker game.

Bovada has Chicago as the favorite at +210 followed by St. Louis at +215, Milwaukee at +245, Cincinnati at +750 and Pittsburgh at +800 to round out the NL Central Division.

Chicago Cubs (+210)

Chicago has a very similar look this season from last as it returns its entire starting lineup and its starting rotation. One of the biggest question marks for the pitching staff is Yu Darvish. The Japanese pitcher was a big signing by the Cubs ahead of the 2018 season but made only eight starts as he was riddled with injuries. In those starts, Darvish had a career-high 4.95 ERA and a career-high 1.425 WHIP.

The Cubs had 95 wins last year and finished second in the National League in run differential, so not seeing them make many changes in the offseason and essentially returning the same lineup is not a surprise. Barring injuries, Chicago will be in the hunt once again to grab the NL Central title, and if Darvish can return to form, the Cubs could be a World Series contender.

St. Louis Cardinals (+215)

St. Louis made a big splash in the offseason, trading for six-time all-star Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is a great addition to that lineup that scored the second-most runs in the NL Central last season, just two fewer than the Cubs’ 761. Pitching was a bit of an issue last year, though, as the Cards allowed the third-most runs in the division and gave up just two fewer than fourth-place Pittsburgh.

I expect that pitching takes a step forward this year with another year under the belt for 23-year-old Jack Flaherty and 25-year-old Austin Gomber. I think the addition of Goldy and the development of the younger players will tighten the gap from last year.

Milwaukee Brewers (+245)

Although the deal likely didn’t turn a lot of heads, it’s one that I thought was a good move by Milwaukee and that was the signing of former Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal. Although catcher Manny Pina has a slightly better batting average, Grandal is younger and has a lot more pop in his bat and I think that really rounds out the Brewers’ lineup.

Similar to Chicago, Milwaukee will get a good boost in the rotation, not via free agency or trade, but rather from a return from injury as Jimmy Nelson missed the entire 2018 season with a shoulder injury. In 2017, Nelson was 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 175.1 innings. As well, the Brewers return the bulk of their bullpen that was very impressive down the stretch.

Cincinnati Reds (+750)

Cincinnati did a lot of retooling in the offseason, bringing in three new starting pitchers, all via trades, and also acquired Yasiel Puig from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pitchers brought in were Sonny Gray from the Yankees, Alex Wood from the Dodgers and Tanner Roark from the Nationals.

The Reds had to make a big swing after finishing 28.5 games back of Milwaukee and 15.5 games back of fourth-place Pittsburgh. Cincinnati allowed the most runs in the National League, 10 more than second-worst Miami. Although the Reds have retooled, I think they are still a mile behind the big three in the NL Central, but with Hunter Greene making his way through the minors, I don’t think we are far from seeing the Big Red Machine again.

Pittsburgh Pirates (+800)

Another team that didn’t do a lot of retooling in the offseason, although I look forward to seeing how Chris Archer performs in a full season with his new club after being traded from Tampa Bay at the deadline last year.

I think the other teams in the division have improved or were at a spot where retooling wasn’t a necessity, while I think Pittsburgh took a step backward. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Pirates, and the Reds might even challenge them for fourth in the division.

My Best Bet for the NL Central

St. Louis +215

I think the addition of Paul Goldschmidt really puts the Cardinals over the top offensively. I also expect Flaherty to be the lockdown ace of the rotation with Miles Mikolas being a close second in the pitching staff. Additionally, they bolstered their bullpen with the addition of Andrew Miller as a true setup man and I think the Cardinals will win the NL Central Division.

Odds to win the 2018 National League Central
Chicago Cubs+210
St. Louis Cardinals+215
Milwaukee Brewers+245
Cincinnati Reds+750
Pittsburgh Pirates+800

Odds as of March 26 at Bovada