Mar. 18, 2021
NL Central Betting Odds & Forecast
2021 NL Central Division Odds
For the second time in three years the St. Louis Cardinals went shopping for roster upgrades in the NL West and came back with a superstar. It was 1B Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona a couple of years ago, and this winter it was 3B Nolan Arenado from Colorado.
That addition is a big part in the given edge to the Cardinals on paper in this marketplace, as the margins for error in the NL Central is going to be razor thin for everyone. Unless you're the Pirates. Expect plenty of errors from Pittsburgh this year.
But for as deep and balanced as the Cardinals appear to be, I'm not sure the rest of the division is as far behind St. Louis as these prices (and the season win totals) seem to suggest.
Milwaukee adding Jackie Bradley, Jr. is no small thing for them even if the bigger payoff is in defensive runs saved with him, and the Reds did lose Trevor Bauer and his Cy Young winning effort, but they were everyone's preseason darling in that 60-game season for more reasons than just having Bauer and Cincinnati probably underperformed; especially early on.
The Cubs actually won the NL Central in 2020, and when you can have a lineup like they can with Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Heyward, Pederson, and others like Chicago can, 4-1 on Chicago to repeat can appear a little disrespectful.
Whether or not the Kris Bryant free agency after this year ends up becoming a biggest distraction than it should is always a concern with the Cubs, as is the idea that they had been sliding south before last year's division crown in the sprint of a season. For how good Chicago's lineup appears to look, they are priced as the worst of the bunch for other reasons.
So I believe any division breakdown here has to start with two questions. The first being whether or not a bettor sides with the idea that the Cardinals are the clear cut favorite in this division. If you do, it's pretty straight forward how to react, but if you don't selecting between the other three probably comes down to such a slim margin in the end that any argument for any of those three teams can be viable at this point.
2021 National League Pennant Odds
Same conceptual idea generally exists here on whether or not a bettor agrees with the market assessment on St. Louis. There are four teams with better odds with the Dodgers (+175), Padres (+390), Braves (+500), and Mets (+525), but only three NL Central teams have made the World Series since 2008 as well (St. Louis in 2011, 2013, Chicago 2016).
More interesting in this futures market has got to be the Reds being priced as high as they are, pushing them as a clear cut favorite to go further than Milwaukee which helps paint a potential picture for Reds plays in other markets.
But if there are questions about the Cardinals being worth the price that they are listed at, that doesn't appear to be the case with Cincinnati.
I don't see how the Reds are worth this price for the whole NL even if they did underachieve by as big a margin as possible last summer. Cincinnati's price is much more likely to grow to +2000 and higher as the weeks get played in the season, and that's part of not seeing any interest in the Reds right now.
That's not to say Cincinnati can't be a good price to win the National League this year, but the likelihood of getting them at a better price to do so is rather high in my view that even those who have the most positive outlook for the Reds this year would be prudent to wait and let the season play out a bit first.
Finally, we can't leave out the fact that the Cubs have the better price than Milwaukee in this market, despite the Brewers owning that honor for the division. The idea that the Cubs are a streaky team is nothing new and definitely has to be expected to a degree, but again, seeing how the Cubs open up the year and get a few weeks under their belt isn't a bad idea.
Remember, with all these NL Central teams, they are still competing with the likes of the Dodgers, Padres, and NL East leaders in this market, all of whom come into the year with much better prices. If those teams start the year on a roll, prices on the other teams have no choice but to climb.
The Cardinals upgraded their lineup with the acquisition of 3B Nolan Arenado from the Rockies. (AP)
2021 World Series Odds
It's the same hierarchy of prices in relation to the teams again here, with Milwaukee being the worst of the bunch in the Top 4. Don't think that matters as much here as any run by any of these teams through the entire league this year would be worthy of being priced in the 3000 to +5000 range.
Cincinnati may not be worth 11 points on Milwaukee, so from a pure price perspective it might be an option to take Milwaukee now and see what kind of other opportunities open up down the road.
2021 NL Central Win Totals Odds
Win Totals Odds
So what do you do with the NL Central win total prices in a division that should be quite congested at the top?
Well, to start, every NL Central winner (outside of last year) has finished with at least 90 wins since 2008, so get the division winner correct and the 'over' should be an easy cash as well.
Seven of the last eight have either been the Cubs or the Cardinals in that regard, but I still like the chances of one those two teams sitting at 82.5 wins. Still believe the Reds are much better than they showed last year offensively, and that it's still more than enough to make up for losing the reigning Cy Young winner.
Going back to 2008 is also important as there have only been two times since 2008 that this division has had four teams finish with 80+ wins (2008, 2018). That's a 12-year run that even includes multiple years where the NL Central was a six-team division with the Astros still lurking around.
If the Pirates are the furthest of afterthoughts, correctly pick the the team that will be the worst of the other four and an 'under' play on the win totals should cash as well.
2021 NL Central Playoff Props
Arguably the best division in baseball for this specific futures market, as any 'yes' option on any of the three teams offering plus money for that result (Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chicago) makes sense, as does the idea of going 'no' on St Louis for those that may want to go that route.
Finding a preference on the 'yes' option for the Brewers/Reds/Cubs would be my preferred path, although it's no certainty the Cardinals finish as a Top Two team in this division either.
But rooting for teams to win is always more enjoyable than rooting for specific ones to lose, so finding a 'yes' option on one of those three plus-money teams is probably the best way to go.
2021 NL Central MVP Contenders
Balance and depth are the glaring perspective of the Cardinals roster, so unless St Louis piles up 100+ wins at a top seed in the NL, Arenado and Goldschmidt probably take too many votes from one another to be that strongly considered.
That argument can obviously be made for all the Cubs players on the list, but Chicago probably won't get the pitching St Louis would in 100-win campaigns for either of them, meaning Chicago's success will be more dependent on the bats of those guys.
Every one of the last 11 NL MVP winners has been a 1st time winner of the award though, so that does hurt Kris Bryant's chances in that Cubs debate.
It also hurts Milwaukee's Christian Yelich as the 2018 winner, but if Milwaukee goes off as a team this year, who else can you think they'd give it to on the Brewers besides Yelich. Anyone high on the Brewers chances this year shouldn't worry too much about that with Yelich.
2021 NL Central Cy Young Contenders
It isn't a deep list for Cy Young contenders in the NL Central this year and probably for good reason. However, the Central had the worst net run differential as a division in the NL last year at -1 (STL 0.2, CHI 0.4, Cincy 0, Milwaukee -0.3, Pittsburgh -1.3) and facing the weaker offenses more often certainly didn't hurt Bauer's efforts in winning the award as a member of the Reds last year.
But I don't believe any of these guys have the pedigree that Bauer already had going into the year, nor do I believe any of these names are consistent enough with their dominant efforts to run through the entire year and claim this award.
2021 National League Central Predictions
Best Bet/Value on NL Central Division Winner
Best Bet: Cincinnati (+330)
Best Bet/Value on National League Pennant Winner
Best Value: Chicago (+2200)
Best Bet/Value for World Series Winner
Best Value: Chicago (+4000)
Best Bets/Value for NL Central Win Totals
Best Over: Cincinnati (82.5)
Best Under: Milwaukee (82.5)
Best Bet/Value for Yes/No in the 2021 MLB Playoffs
Best Bet: Cincinnati - Yes (+190)
Best Bets/Value for Individual Awards
Best Bet MVP: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago (+3000)
Best Value Cy Young: Sonny Gray, Cincinnati (+3300)
National League Central Betting History
Year - Winner (Last 10)
Odds Subject to Change - per BetMGM