Odds to win 2017 NL Central

Updated: March 2, 2017

Of all the divisions in baseball, the NL Central has the biggest odds differential between the first and second team, and why not? The World Champion Chicago Cubs (still weird to type that) are an amazing team that is mostly intact from last year and the rest of thes teams in this division have big holes. The Cubs didn’t just build their team for last year, they built it for years to come and they should be the favorite to win this division next year and the year after that as well. Their core is young, their farm system is strong, their front office is smart and they have the most money. It’s a Cubs world now and the rest of the NL Central is just living in it.

NL Central – Odds to Win

Chicago Cubs -500
St. Louis Cardinals +550
Pittsburgh Pirates +850
Cincinnati Reds +3300
Milwaukee Brewers +3300

The worst team in this division is the Cincinnati Reds. Outside of Joey Votto, this team is a whole lot of maybe. Last season Adam Duvall had a breakout year in the first half that led to a surprise All-Star appearance and then a breakdown in the second half. Billy Hamilton is still the fastest player on earth that might not be able to hit, Eugenio Suarez is interesting, Jose Peraza is worth a flier and it remains to be seen if Devin Mesoraco can return from his many injuries and be a quality catcher again. There is interesting guys worth taking a flier on, but no sure thing, standout prospects.

Their pitching last year was one of the worst staffs we’ve ever seen. Brandon Finnegan is probably the best of the bunch and Anthony DeScalafani isn’t too far behind him, but the rest is more question marks. Can Homer Bailey come back? Is Robert Stephenson anything? My favorite pitcher they have is Rasiel Iglesias, but he looks destined for a bullpen role after numerous injuries while starting. This team is just uninspiring without a lot of bright sides.

The Brewers on the other hand have a ton of players that excite me. Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana are the two big ones. If they can continue improvements they showed towards the end of the year, they could prove to be very valuable especially in the power department. Ryan Braun is still a superstar despite his often forgotten status. The infield combination of Jonathan Villar, Orlando Arcia, Travis Shaw and Hernan Perez has a lot of upside and will steal plenty of bases. Eric Thames, first baseman who came over from Korea this offseason, is one of the most intriguing players out there. Can he translate that Korean success to the Majors? I hope so. The pitching is the problem here and, frankly, that feels like it’s by design. This team is still rebuilding and why they aren’t likely to challenge the Cubs, there is going to be a lot of runs scored in the Brew City this year. Still, this is a team that I think the projections are far underrating.

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The Pirates are definitely an interesting play here. We covered their outfield defense improvement for the year and that could make a huge difference. The key to the whole thing is 1.) Starling Marte proving himself to be an above average centerfielder and 2.) Andrew McCutchen adjusting the the move in right and getting back that bat he had pre-2016. Those two with Gregory Polanco in left has the ability to change this team’s whole complexion. I’m hoping that Josh Bell can get some play this season as he has elite, elite power to go with his terrible 1B defense. Also, hoping for a healthy Jung Ho Kang at third base all year who is really a key to this offense.

I like the rotation here as well with Gerrit Cole being joined by homegrown uber-prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow. If those two can live up to the hype, this team can surprise people. It’ll be also interesting to see what kind of magic the Pirates can work on Ivan Nova and Drew Hutchison. We saw a bit of it with Nova last year and if that can carryover this team might really have something.

The Cardinals are one of my picks to underperform this year. I think the pitching staff is in trouble without Alex Reyes as they will be relying far too heavily on an Adam Wainwright bounce back, Mike Leake (who didn’t show anything last year), Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn. I feel reasonably good about Carlos Martinez, but the rest of them have signs of regression or injury. Without much depth beyond Luke Weaver, that could be trouble.

St. Louis’ lineup is interesting, but I think they are making a huge mistake putting Matt Carpenter at first base. He’s too good for that and it feels like a waste of value. Aledymys Diaz came out of nowhere last year and we’ll see if he can keep that up. Jhonny Peralta, Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko will take up the rest of the starts and they are all solid. The outfield will be improved by the addition of Dexter Fowler joining Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, but overall this team just doesn’t feel as scary as the Cards usually do.

The Cubs are the Cubs. Which is to say, they are the best. They replace Fowler with Jon Jay in the lineup, but they are really replacing his best with Kyle Schwarber‘s. That’s a pretty big upgrade and Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant should be giving teams nightmare all season long. They’ll also get some centerfield time for Albert Almora who is a former first round pick and hoping to joining that trio as a Cubs homegrown star. The infield is going to be amazing on defense again with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist taking up most of the middle infield time. They should expect a better year from Jason Heyward. Or at least be praying for one.

The rotation from last year is mostly intact with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks all returning. They lost Jason Hammel, but will replace him with a combination of Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson. That could be an upgrade although the depth isn’t quite what you’d like for a team expected to contend for a World Series. The bullpen got an upgrade this offseason with the additions of Wade Davis and Koji Uehara. I also like Carl Edwards Jr. to take on a bigger role this year.

This team is just the best and it’s hard to think of any reason that they won’t repeat as division winners. They have the best defense, the best pitching and the best lineup. Going against that is simply buying a lottery ticket.

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