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NL Central Preview
For the first time since this division was created in 1994, theoretically the teams in the NL Central have a 1-in-5 shot of claiming the crown. That is because the lowly Houston Astros shuffled off to the American League West this season; giving this division only five teams for the first time in its existence. Although the 1-in-5 odds appear to be an improvement on the surface, it will really only be a two-horse race at best.

NL Central Odds

Chicago Cubs (+2000) and Pittsburgh Pirates (+1000)

These are the two long shots of the division and we can begin by completely writing off the Cubs. Chicago is in Year 2 of their massive rebuilding project and as the young guys they have throughout their roster continue to get big league experience, challenging for a division crown is at the bottom of their list of goals. They should be an improved team this year (61-101 last year) but as you can see by that record, improving by the 30-odd wins they would need to win the division is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Pittsburgh is a bit tougher to write off after becoming the darlings of the league during the first half of the schedule last year. But they collapsed down the stretch and are still a young team that needs to learn to win on the road (34-47). They have a good young core of guys with McCutchen and more but they are still a year or two away from being considered a legitimate contender. Think of them as further along in their rebuilding program than the Cubs.

Milwaukee Brewers (+650)

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The Brewers could ruffle some feathers in the NL Central this year but they aren't a team that's built to win 90+ games and surpass the Cardinals and Reds. A lack of depth has been this team's problem for years and if they were to lose Ryan Braun or Aramis Ramirez to injury for a significant time, they will be all but done.

Milwaukee should be a team that finishes just above .500 on the year but they will miss all those "gift" wins from the Astros and with an identical road record to Pittsburgh's last year (34-47), getting W's away from home will end up knocking the Brewers out of contention.

St Louis Cardinals (+250) and Cincinnati Reds (-130)

The NL Central will come down to these two teams again in 2013 and although I love to find value in underdogs, that won't be the case here.

St Louis is still a very good team that is coming off an 88-win campaign and loss in the NLCS. The experience level on this team can't be overlooked but that also means that winning the division may not be a be all-end all for this team. They have a great mix of speed and power offensively but they are also relying too much on some older, injury-prone guys like Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. If one or both of those guys were to go down the Cardinals will still be alright, but I don't believe they will have enough fire power to catch the Reds. St Louis still posted a losing road record last year (38-43) and even with their 88 wins they finished the season nine games behind Cincinnati.

Cincinnati was the only NL Central team to post a winning road record a season ago and they were 13 games over .500 away from home. They finished the year with a 97-65 record and after getting bounced from the playoffs the way they did (losing three straight at home after going up 2-0) is the all the extra motivation this team needs heading into 2013. The Reds also have won of the best bullpens in the league and their starting staff is among the tops themselves. When you add in one of the best hitters in the game in Joey Votto and the addition of a great on-base guy like Shin-Soo Choo, the 2013 Reds should have little problem slugging there way to another division crown.

Take the Reds (-130) to win the NL Central

  
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