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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 09:54 AM

Future Bets - NL Central

2020 MLB National League Central Best Bets

Just like the NL East division, the NL Central is expected to be a wide open race between four of the five teams. The St Louis Cardinals (3/2 to win NL Central in 2020) – long been the model of consistency for winning in this division – enter 2020 as the defending division champs, but the Chicago Cubs (3/1), Cincinnati Reds (3/1) and Milwaukee Brewers (4/1) are expected to have plenty to say about that this season.

National League Central - Win Totals

Chicago Cubs 84.5
Cincinnati Reds 83.5
Milwaukee Brewers 82.5
Pittsburgh Pirates 72.5
St. Louis Cardinals 88.5

National League Central - Odds to Make Playoffs

Chicago Cubs Yes (+150) No (-180)
Cincinnati Reds Yes (+170) No (-200)
Milwaukee Brewers Yes (+190) No (-240)
Pittsburgh Pirates Yes (+800) No (-1400)
St. Louis Cardinals Yes (+120) No (-140)
 
And just like I did with the NL East division, it's time to take a look at a few various futures markets related to the NL Central this year, as I do believe there will be a new division champion crowned.

Season Win Total Best Bet #1
Milwaukee Brewers Under 82.5

Milwaukee has found a way to make the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and they've surpassed this win total number in three straight years as well. But last year was a step back from their great 2018 campaign, and while their 2019 record was a strong 89-73 SU, they were the luckiest team in baseball in terms of Pythagorean W/L record as they were +8 in the end. Luck like that just isn't sustainable, and 2020 is where this team is going to feel it as they aren't likely to get those types of bounces go their way again.
 
Milwaukee also had some key contributors that provided lineup depth like Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal leave town, but what I view as the biggest reason for seeing them slide this year is their starting rotation. A projected starting five of Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom, and Eric Lauer can hardly strike fear in any opponent this year. And while Milwaukee's bullpen has been a strength during these past few years for them, bullpens are so fickle as it is, that if they continue to count on those relievers to bring games home from the 5th inning on, eventually teams in that situation are going to get got.
 
Finally, in getting back to Milwaukee's fortunate luck last year, we can't leave out the fact that their 27-18 SU record in one-run games is going to be hard to repeat. Obviously some of those close victories are directly due to the great work of their bullpen guys like Josh Hader and company, but Hader started to slip as the season wore on last year – likely a high usage rate had something to do with that – and I just don't believe you can expect the same thing from that relief core this season.
 
Outside of the Pirates, every other division rival found a way to get at least a little better on paper this off-season, so Milwaukee's 45-31 SU record within the division is likely to take a hit as well. It's been two straight years of Milwaukee being rather lucky overall – they finished 2018 with a +5 Pythagorean number, but considering the 2018 MLB leader in that category – Seattle at +12 – ended up finishing in the bottom 3rd of the league with a -1 number in 2019, a flip like that for the Brewers in 2020 will have them finishing with a .500 record nothing but a pipe dream.

Season Win Total Best Bet #2
Chicago Cubs Over 84.5

The Cubs have been in the off-season news cycle a lot this winter because of the will they/won't they talk about trading 3B Kris Bryant, and as of now, it looks like they'll be starting the year with the disgruntled Bryant at 3B every day. How Bryant reacts remains to be seen, but he's still an upper echelon talent in the game today, and you've got to figure that once he's between those lines for nine innings each day, he'll aim to let that talent shine through. And if the Cubs do end up moving him, you know they are going to get some very good talent in return, so his status has very little effect on why I like the Cubs to perform well in 2020.
 
Instead, part of the reason I expect Chicago to be a great team this year is basically the exact opposite of what I see in the Brewers. Chicago's still got a very long and deep lineup offensively with the likes of Bryant, Rizzo, Baez, Heyward, Schwarber, Happ, and Contreras being every day guys, and their projected starting five rotation – Lester, Darvish, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood – should strike some fear into opponents on a daily basis. And if closer Craig Kimbrel can stay healthy unlike in 2019, a full season of him shutting down games for the North Siders can likely only be a positive overall for this season win total play.
 
Not only does the Cubs roster have talent littered throughout it, but there should also be some added excitement in playing for new manager David Ross. Ross was a teammate to a lot of these Cubs players when he helped them win the World Series in 2016, so that respect level from the players end, and the ability to connect  on numerous levels with the players on Ross' end is already there. It's hard not to figure that Joe Maddon's message and ways got a little stale and overdone with this team at the end of last year, so having a fresh face, and one that everyone in the organization already has experience with and respects is going to be a huge plus.
 
Finally, we can't forget about old Lady Luck potentially flipping over to the Cubs side in 2020, as their 2019 record was 84-78 SU despite a league-worst -6 in luck in relation to Pythagorean wins. All of that came on top of all the reports of drama etc in those final few months and it speaks to just how talented this team is when things are rolling. They break even in the luck department this year and 86-87 wins should be easily attainable, and if they end up on the positive side of things there, 90+ wins will be where this team finishes. Which leads me to...

Team Future Best Bet
Chicago Cubs to win the NL Central (+150)

This play is really just a continuation of that Cubs season win total 'over' bet, as if you believe the Cubs are going to at least threaten a 90-win campaign as I do, taking them to go a step further and win the NL Central at +150 odds is the next logical step.
 
Outside of all the positives I outlined for the Cubs this year, you can look around at the rest of the division and figure that +150 is more then a fair price to take a shot with the Cubs this year. Pittsburgh is going to be a bad team that ends up in the basement, the Brewers should take a significant step back as discussed earlier, and the Reds, for all their off-season hype about being a highly improved team and going for it in 2020, still have to prove it to the world. I'm not exactly ready to believe that a few solid additions will turn a theoretically 80-82 team from 2019 into division winners just yet.
 
Which leaves the Cubs and the Cardinals, and in that heated rivalry I've got no problem riding with Chicago over the course of the year. St Louis is likely still going to be counting on Adam Wainwright to go out and perform every fifth day, and he's been on his last legs in this league for some time now – especially on the road. It's not hard to convince me that if the division does indeed come down to these two organizations, it's going to essentially be a coin flip, and with the Cubs sitting at +150 in that scenario, I'll take my shot with them.

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