Dodgers team to beat in NL

National League preview

Last season, chalk came away with the five NL playoff spots, with the longest preseason odds for an eventual postseason team being the wild-card Brewers with numbers at 8-1 for the pennant and 16-1 for the World Series.

World champion Washington, also a wild card, was at 6-1/12-1 to open, but its odds zoomed to 30-1/60-1 after its 19-31 start, which dropped the Nationals 10 games off the NL East pace and 8.5 games behind the second wild card.

So, there’s often wagering value to be had at all stages of the races, including nine years ago in mid-September when St. Louis was listed at 500-1 for the pennant and 999-1 for the Series. The Cardinals went on to win the world title.

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Now for a look at how the division races figure to shake out during this 60-game season, plus a long-shot pick to make the playoffs. The current odds are courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:

EAST

It’s a logjam at the top of the division with the Mets (8-1 pennant/ 16-1 WS), the defending champion Braves (8/16) and the Nationals (9/18). They’re followed by the Phillies (15/30), who were the division front-runners for most of last spring.

New York, Atlanta and Washington all have taken their lumps since last season. For the Mets, it was when just-hired manager Carlos Beltran resigned in the wake of his part in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal. He eventually was replaced by Luis Rojas, son of Felipe Alou, who won 1,134 games in his managerial career.

The Nationals, meanwhile, lost major-league RBI leader Anthony Rendon in free agency (Angels), and veteran infielder Ryan Zimmerman and RHP Joe Ross opted to sit out because of health concerns. The defending champion Braves will be without outfielder Nick Markakis, who also opted out. Also, slugger Freddie Freeman (38 HRs, 121 runs batted in) has struggled after testing positive for the coronavirus.

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The Mets get the vote here, despite the loss of pitcher Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery. New York will be led on the mound by two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman. Helping to lead the attack will be Pete Alonso, who hit a rookie-record 53 homers last year.

As for a long shot, that leaves Philadelphia. Its pitching is solid behind Aaron Nola and ex-Met Zack Wheeler, and the offense can be special behind outfielder Bryce Harper and catcher J.T. Realmuto. Plus, veteran manager Joe Girardi is a significant upgrade over Gabe Kapler. The Phillies are wild-card material.

Miami (150/300) likely will bring up the rear again.

CENTRAL

In this group there should be a four-way battle for first between defending champion St. Louis (15/30), Milwaukee (20/40), Chicago 10/20) and surprising Cincinnati (10/20).

In October, the Reds opened at 25/50. They’re now suddenly co-favorites.

This division should benefit immensely from getting to play against AL Central bottom feeders Kansas City and Detroit, which were a combined 111 games under .500 last season.

Based on win expectancy, the Reds have the top number of 32.5 a year after finishing 16 games behind loop champ St. Louis in fourth place. Eugenio Suarez led the attack with 49 homers last season, but perennial star Joey Votto appears to be slowing down, with only 15 home runs last season.

But they should be good enough to gain a wild card ahead of Milwaukee. Thus, the battle-tested Cardinals get the division nod, with most of their key 2019 performers back, including Paul Goldschmidt, to go with a solid rotation. It will help that they’ll play a third of their games against the Tigers, Royals and Pirates, who lost 93 games last year. The Reds also have 20 against the weak links.

As for Chicago, it packs plenty of punch at the plate and added ex-Indian Jason Kipnis, but it also gives up a lot of punch on the mound. The Cubs’ low odds are misleading since their fans routinely hit the betting windows hard.

WEST

The Dodgers are overwhelming favorites to win here and make it eight division crowns in succession. And they have 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts to help them.

Los Angeles opened as a 1-14 pick win the West but now is 1-4. But it’s still the heaviest favorite to win any of the MLB divisions. The Dodgers are the 5-4 choices for the pennant and 7-2 for their first Series win since 1988.

And even with newly acquired LHP David Price opting out because of the coronavirus pandemic, there appears no team worthy of staying close. Based on expected win rate, L.A. should take the division by seven games over Arizona (30/60) and eight over San Diego (15/30), with Colorado (Ian Desmond opting out) and San Francisco (minus Buster Posey) well back.

For fans banking on L.A. faltering, the Diamondbacks are the best value. In the offseason their major additions were former Pirates outfielder Starling Marte and ex-Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.

San Diego, which was a 60-1 World Series shot when camp opened in February, has seen its odds cut in half. If Manny Machado can bounce back from a disappointing debut season with the Padres and second-year shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. can stay healthy all year, San Diego could keep L.A. in its sights late into the season.