Will the Brewers surprise in 2014?
LAS VEGAS, NV (The Spread) - The St. Louis Cardinals are the clear favorite in the NL Central but which team could be their biggest challenge in the division?
Most pundits would respond to that question by answering either the Pirates, who made the postseason for the first time in two decades last year, or the Reds, who have reached the NL Divisional Series twice (2010, 2012) in the past four years. The latest World Series odds would also agree with those pundits that feel as though Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are still the two next-best teams behind St. Louis in the division.
According to oddsmakers from online sports book Bovada.lv, the Cardinals are 12/1 to win the 2014 World Series. Of the teams in the NL Central, the Reds have the next-best odds at 18/1 while the Pirates are 25/1. The Cubs, whom nobody expects much from this year, are 40/1 while the Brewers are 50/1.
Wait, what? The Brewers are 50/1? Behind the rebuilding Cubs?
The Brewers are far from a World Series contender but they arguably have a better shot than the Cubs. Their pitching staff added another good but not great starter in Matt Garza to go along with Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo in the rotation, and the top of the order is versatile thanks to Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. Scooter Gennett brings speed to the lineup and Jonathan Lucroy is an underrated backstop.
Here are the biggest questions surrounding Milwaukee heading into the new season:
1) Will Gallardo pitch like an ace or just a solid No. 2? If he's an ace, then the Brewers could be in contention for at least a wild card spot throughout the year. If he's a solid No. 2, then the team doesn't have a true ace and this club is likely to flounder.
2) How good will Braun be coming off his PED suspension? Was he an MVP player because of the PEDs or did the drugs just make a great player elite?
3) Will this team ever replace Prince Fielder at first base? Juan Francisco isn't going to keep opposing pitchers up at night.
Despite the above questions, the Brewers have talent and it's not as if the Pirates or Reds got better this offseason. In fact, they took a step back in some respects. The Cardinals are clearly the best team in the division but after them, the Brewers have the talent to make things interesting.