Major League Baseball Division Odds – NL Central

Major League Baseball Division Odds – NL Central

Major League Baseball Division Odds – NL Central
By: The Linemakers
Sportingnews.com

Of the three National League divisions, we expect the Central to produce the most drama. While they will no longer have the Astros to beat up and pad their record, four teams have to be given serious consideration to win the division title, more than any other division in the NL.

In the first part of a series providing an in-depth look from a betting perspective at each division in the majors, here’s how we see the teams in the NL Central stacking up, along with odds offered by the LVH SuperBook.

Check back at The Linemakers on Sporting News for regular reports from spring training, as well as season win totals, which will be released on Sunday.

Cincinnati Reds

2012 record: 97-65, first-place by 9 games over the Cardinals.

2013 odds to win World Series: 10/1

2013 odds to win NL Pennant: 5/1

2013 odds to win NL Central: 5/6

The Reds have improved their chances at repeating as NL Central Division champions with a few minor moves that have major upside. The first was a trade that sent Drew Stubbs to the Indians for Shin-Soo Choo, an immediate upgrade by over .100 in terms of on-base percentage. Stubbs may go on to be a superstar for Cleveland, but his strikeouts and inability to take a pitch hurt the Reds. With Choo in the lineup, they should be an even more efficient squad, with more ducks on the pond for Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.

The Reds made a bold move with star flame thrower Aroldis Chapman by putting him in the starting rotation and leaving bullpen duties to Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton. The Reds feature one of the strongest rotations in baseball, with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey. Cueto and Latos should perform at the same high level of 2012, but Arroyo and Bailey could be the two pitchers that ultimately decide the fate of the Reds’ season. If the Reds get similar production from the staff to 2012, Chapman should fit right in and not have any pressure to try and save the day as the No. 5 starter.

Also, third baseman Todd Frazier could be on the verge of stardom. He hit 19 home runs in only 422 at-bats last season and will be able to ease into his role as the starter. He strikes out more than the Reds would like (103 in 2012), but by giving him sole possession of third base, he may not have to press as much.

Reds 2013 projection: 91-71

St. Louis Cardinals

2012 record: 88-74, 9 games out of first-place. Made post-season as wild card.

2013 odds to win World Series: 16/1

2013 odds to win NL Pennant: 8/1

2013 odds to win NL Central: 9/5

The Cardinals last season ranked in the top five in runs scored (765, 5th), batting average (.271, 4th) and on-base percentage (.338, 1st). They’ll bring back the same lineup, but the bigger issue – just like last season – will be their pitching, especially in the bullpen.

Chris Carpenter missed most of last season, but was spectacular in the postseason – again. However, it appears the nerve damage to his arm that kept him out most of 2012 may now mean the end of his career. They also lost Edwin Jackson, and Kyle Lohse is still in search of a team through free agency. Rookie right-hander Shelby Miller, however, could give them a solid No. 5 starter. Jackson was a virtual lock to give his team 200 innings, but Miller has the potential to deliver the consistency Jackson lacked.

The bullpen will take the Cardinals on another scary ride this season. Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte (42 saves, seven blown saves) haven’t exactly intimidated opposing teams in the eighth and ninth innings. If the Cardinals are in the running for a playoff berth this season, expect them to make a trade for an upgrade in late July, something they probably should have done last season for their playoff push.

Their hitting alone makes the Cardinals a dangerous team. David Freese, Allen Craig and Jon Jay all have the potential to be batting champions. And when you mix in the veteran bats of Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, there is no reason to believe this team can’t better 2012, despite the pitching.

2013 Cardinals projection: 90-72

Pittsburgh Pirates

2012 record: 79-83, 18 games out of first-place.

2013 odds to win World Series: 60/1

2013 odds to win NL Pennant: 30/1

2013 odds to win NL Central: 15/1

The Battlin’ Bucs gave it all they had through the All-Star break last season and became the team America was pulling for amid all the high-priced salaries of modern-day baseball. But they faded down the stretch, just as they did in 2011. However, they gained invaluable experience of playing in big games for the second consecutive season, which could help the Pirates finally get over the hump in 2013.

The Pirates have a lot of positives. LF Starling Marte has the potential to be one of the game’s elite five-tool players. But “potential” seems to be the operative word for the entire Bucs lineup. The only rock solid star on the team is Andrew McCutchen, whose batting average (.327) plunged simultaneously with the Pirates record. Neil Walker (.280) is a nice player, but you know what you’re going to get out of him. The real issue lies within the corner infielders Garrett Jones (27 HR, 86 RBI) and Pedro Alvarez (30 HR, 85 RBI). Both went through extreme hot and cold streaks during 2012, and they’ll be hard pressed to match their 2012 numbers.

The Bucs added Russell Martin behind the plate, which is not necessarily an upgrade. Martin hit 21 home runs over 422 at-bats with the Yankees last season, but he also hit only .211. Somehow, back-up catcher Michael McKendry’s .233 average with 12 home runs in only 240 at-bats seems better.

The Pirates’ starting pitching should be on solid footing. We can’t expect A.J. Burnett (16-10, 3.51 ERA) to equal 2012, but having Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.76 ERA) for the entire season and James McDonald (12-8, 4.21 ERA) with another year of experience should keep the Pirates in plenty of games.

But Pittsburgh’s bullpen will have a hard time matching what it did last season. The Pirates’ relief crew was one of the most effective in baseball, at least through August. Jason Grilli (90 Ks in 58.2 IP) looks to be the closer this season, a role that Joel Hanrahan (36 saves) thrived in last season. They’ll also rely on Mark Melancon, a player they got from Boston in the Hanrahan trade, in a set-up role. The Bucs don’t have starters who can go the distance, which puts a premium on the pen. If this area fails, the numbers Marte, McCutchen, Alvarez or Jones put up won’t matter.

2013 Pirates projection: 84-78

Milwaukee Brewers

2012 record: 83-79, 14 games out of first-place.

2013 odds to win World Series: 40/1

2013 odds to win NL Pennant: 20/1

2013 odds to win NL Central: 5/1

Without Prince Fielder, the Brewers started slowly last season, but they made a nice run in the final two months to make things interesting. They ended up with the third-most runs scored (776) and third-best slugging percentage (.437) in baseball. Ryan Braun played brilliantly in 2012, with 41 home runs – better than his 2011 MVP season – and a .320 batting average, despite the cloud of PED usage hovering over him. And that saga is resurfacing again.

Despite the hitting numbers saying otherwise, it was the Brewers pitching that made them contenders in 2012, and the nucleus of that staff is still intact. Their top three in the starting rotation is about as tough as any in the NL, or at least it was in July, August and September of last season, when Yovani Gallardo (16-9, 3.66 ERA), Michael Fiers (9-10, 3.74 ERA) and Marco Estrada (5-7, 3.64 ERA) caught fire.

The bullpen, however, is a major concern for Milwaukee. John Axford is the closer, and while he did have 35 saves, he also blew nine chances and even lost his job for a stretch. Mike Gonzalez comes over from Washington to be Axford’s set-up man, but overall, this looks to be the Brewers major weakness.

If a few young players can step up, the Brewers may not have to wait until August to make a run to the top as they did last season. Mat Gamel will be given the opportunity to contribute at first base with Corey Hart out until late April. Gamel missed most of 2012 with a torn ACL, but replacing Fielder weighed heavily on his mind while playing regularly last April. Jean Segura looks to have the shortstop position to lose. He hit .264 in 148 at-bats last season and has the potential to be a threat on the base paths with the speed to turn doubles in the gap into triples.

The Brewers will be a fun team to watch, and their starting pitching will keep them in the running in the NL Central. They may not have 85 wins in them this year, but they’ll be close.

2013 Brewers projection: 81-81

Chicago Cubs

2012 record: 61-101. 36 games out of first-place

2013 odds to win World Series: 60/1 (always low odds in Vegas because Cub fans come strong at the bet windows. It‘s easily the largest jeopardy in baseball futures annually at Vegas books)

2013 odds to win NL Pennant: 30/1

2013 odds to win NL Central: 20/1

The Cubs haven’t really done anything to create a buzz that 2013 is their year. Signing Edwin Jackson as their No. 2 starter behind Matt Garza was their biggest move. They hope that Anthony Rizzo can blossom into their everyday power source at first base, and that Starlin Castro can come up big and that Alfonso Soriano and Darwin Barney can make bigger gains than they did in 2012.

Overall, Chicago’s starting pitching looks to be the biggest problem keeping them from post-season play. Unless Travis Wood and Scott Feldman show something special early on, we might see a repeat of 2012’s 61-101 season.

It can’t get that bad, can it? The good news is that it can’t get much worse. The bad news is they don’t have the Astros to kick around for 15 games.

2013 Cubs projection: 68-94

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