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The World Baseball Classic has started, Spring Training is going on, and we need to preview what I think will happen this year in Major League Baseball. I’ve already discussed the outlook on the NL East, now I look in my own backyard and examine what will happen in the NL Central. Let’s take a look at how to bet a division that isn’t as deep as the East, but still has some potential.
I started my article about the East by discussing two teams that had no shot to win the division: the Marlins and Nationals. I’m going to start this Central piece with the exact same analysis about the Pirates and the Reds. I’d only mention that the Pirates could potentially improve from last year. For whatever reason, I think the Pirates can actually be a decent enough team to win some games this year. I don’t think they will win the division or anything, and I’m not advising a sprinkle, but they aren’t quite as bad as last year either. I also don’t really expect them to sell off pieces in the middle of the season. The Reds, on the other hand, are terrible. I’m expecting that they will trade away Wil Myers and Jonathan India if they both are having a good enough season. They don’t have anything important to talk about outside of Joey Votto, who may be too good of a dude to leave Cincinnati.
So who does have a chance in this division? I’ll tell you this, I don’t think anyone outside of the Cardinals. I personally think the Brewers window has closed. Their pitching is great, but… well… we will get to them in a minute. Let’s focus on the Cardinals. I like their rotation, but do have concerns of health. I’m a big fan of Miles Mikolas and he could be great after being a part of the World Baseball Classic, or he could be in bad form to start the season. As long as Jack Flaherty stays healthy, I like this rotation. I think they also have a really great bullpen. To me though, they have the best lineup in the division. Willson Contreras was added behind the plate and he’s one of the best-hitting catchers in all of baseball. I also think he is better defensively than he gets credit for (most of the knock on him is his pitch framing). They still have MVP Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado as well. There is a lot of potential here and they should repeat as division winners. At -120, I think that is very reasonable to play and I don’t see much happening for them to be overtaken this year.
Back to the Brewers – their pitching is very good. They have guys in their rotation that most wouldn’t recognize if they walked passed you on the street, but they have been turning in very good performances for a couple of years now. Is that enough though? I don’t think so. It certainly wasn’t last year. The rest of their lineup isn’t very good. Christian Yelich was outstanding in 2018 and 2019 and seems to have forgotten how to hit since then. His average hasn’t come close to .300 since then and his power numbers have dropped significantly. In 2018 he had 36 home runs. Over the last three seasons combined, he has 35 homers. The bad news is, there really isn’t anyone else in this lineup that strikes fear into you. I’m not saying they have nothing else, I’m just saying they don’t have enough to win this division. I think they’d need to be at least 10:1 for me to bet on them. At +160 I think there is no value whatsoever.
The Cubs are trying to be relevant again. They finally spent some money in the offseason and went 74-88 last year. I am a Cubs fan so it is nice to see that they actually picked up some players. Their rotation should be better with Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon, and Kyle Hendricks. They still will have backend rotation questions, but it should be more consistent than what we’ve seen the past two years. I mentioned that Contreras is gone, so their offense took a hit. I like the addition of Trey Mancini and even Eric Hosmer could help. The big addition here is Dansby Swanson. The Cubs should have a better defense, about the same hitting – though there is potential, and a better pitching staff. I think it is wise to take a sprinkle on the Cubs at +650. I think they finish second in the division, but if things shake out the right way, they could be battling for the division in September.
My best recommendation is to take the Cardinals for some serious money. The Cubs would be worthy of a sprinkle though.
For more sports betting information and plays, follow David on Twitter: @futureprez2024