Monday, December 4, 2023

Cardinals clear NL Central favorites, but could there be a sleeper? See futures odds, best bet

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The National League Central is set to be a two-horse race once again according to the odds with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers well ahead of the rest of the pack.

The Cardinals and Brewers were the class of the division in 2022, but the Chicago Cubs had a busy offseason and could climb their way into contention in 2023 considering the Cardinals and Brewers didn’t do much to improve their rosters.

The Cubs are the only team with a losing record last season that’s in position to turn things around, as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are still in the midst of lengthy rebuilds.

Let’s break down each team, their chances and discuss NL Central futures:

Odds from Caesars Sportsbook, official odds partner of Bet.NOLA.com

St. Louis Cardinals

Odds to win the NL Central: -130

Odds to win the NL: +950

Odds to win the World Series: +2200

The Cardinals were able to take back the NL Central crown last season, and they return the majority of their core pieces from last season and are the clear-cut favorites to win it once again.

NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt and Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado are set to lead an exciting Cardinals lineup that will see elite prospect Jordan Walker take the field on Opening Day, so they shouldn’t have trouble scoring runs, but their rotation and bullpen have some question marks. The Cardinals should have enough pitching to stay ahead in the division, but they could be vulnerable if injuries pile up since they appear to be lacking the strong organizational depth that they’re used to having.

Milwaukee Brewers

Odds to win the NL Central: +170

Odds to win the NL: +1600

Odds to win the World Series: +4000

The Brewers have what it takes to hang with the Cardinals, but injuries piled up last season and saw them fall out of the postseason altogether in what was a disappointment for a team who had high expectations.

Pitching is clearly the Brewers strength with Cy Young contenders Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff leading the way, but staying healthy can be tough for a team that’s dependent on arms as opposed to bats, which is why the Cardinals are favored. The Brewers could take the division back if their arms can stay on the field, but they’ll need their lineup to and have Devin Williams emerge as a shutdown closer if they want to get back to being a true contender in 2023.

Chicago Cubs

Odds to win the NL Central: +600

Odds to win the NL: +3500

Odds to win the World Series: +7500

The Cubs were by far the most active NL Central team in the free agent market, and while they lost All-Star catcher Willson Contreras to the Cardinals, they more than made up for it by bringing in the likes of Dansby Swanson and others.

Last season was expected to be a rough one for the Cubs after they traded away several core pieces in 2021, but they showed enough to where their ownership was willing to hop back on the spending train to where they should take a significant step forward in 2023. While going from a losing record to a division title is a tall ask, the NL Central is one of the more wide open divisions to where the Cubs could be a sneaky underdog if their new bats and pitching additions can deliver.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Odds to win the NL Central: +6000

Odds to win the NL: +12500

Odds to win the World Series: +20000

The Pirates lost 100 games for the second-straight season in 2022 as they continue to be in the midst of a rebuild that doesn’t appear to be coming to an end anytime soon.

It’s unfortunate that Pirates ownership is unwilling to spend enough money in free agency for them to contend consistently, but they’ve been able to stockpile enough young talent to where they could be slightly improved in 2023. Their pitching will likely keep them from winning more than 70 games, but their lineup has some promise led by young shortstop O’Neil Cruz.

Cincinnati Reds

Odds to win the NL Central: +6500

Odds to win the NL: +10000

Odds to win the World Series: +20000

The Reds underwent a hard rebuild in 2022 after being a mid-pack team for several seasons, and the process appears to still be ongoing, as they did very little to improve their chances in 2023.

The rotation is shaping up to be a potential strength for the Reds in 2023 with young flamethrowers Hunter Green and Nick Lodolo leading the way, but they could have their innings capped down the stretch since there won’t be a need to push them with the lineup looking just as bad or worse than last season. While there’s some intrigue here, the bottom line is that the Reds are in for another 90-plus loss season.

NL Central best bet: Chicago Cubs OVER 78 wins (-110)

The Cubs did enough to improve to where they should get back to close to a .500 record, which would be 81 wins. That would put them over the 78-win mark and makes them a value from a betting perspective considering they’re in line to rack up a bunch of divisional wins thanks to both the Pirates and Reds being non-contenders. Their odds to win the division (+600) are also intriguing since the Cubs roster doesn’t appear to be far off from the Cardinals and Brewers as far as talent.

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