Over the past decade, no division has had as many teams reach the postseason as the NL Central (22), with an MLB-record four qualifying for the expanded playoffs last season.
However, this year, with only two of the five division-clubs having a win expectancy as high as the mid-80s (St. Louis and Milwaukee), there probably won’t be any wild card in 2021.
Below is a chart of the current 2021 pennant/Series MLB numbers (BetMGM doesn’t offer pennant info). Following that is our attempt to identify which team will emerge victoriously with the loop flag.
Check out our full Guide to World Series Betting Odds.
The MLB NL Central Futures Favorite
A lot of that has to do with the offseason acquisition of Colorado Gold Glove third baseman, Nolan Arenado, who joins the first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, for a stupendous heart of the batting order.
On the mound, Jack Flaherty is the ace. Although his ERA was an ugly 4.91 in his nine starts in 2020, that was bloated by one outing when Milwaukee got nine runs off him in three innings. Veteran Adam Wainright is a solid No. 2, but neither will need to make room for a Cy Young trophy.
The Cardinals’ sore spot is the back of the rotation where injury issues have momentarily sidelined their No. 3 and No. 4 starters (Kwang Hyun Kim, back; Miles Mikolas, shoulder). But neither player should be gone too long.
Also In The Fray
It’s hard to tell who is rated second best.
On the DraftKings board, Milwaukee is in that role at +300 for the division title, with Cincinnati next at +330 and then Chicago at +425. Yet for the pennant, the Cubs are considered a stronger threat than the Brewers. Go figure.
Milwaukee will be counting on a bounce-back year from Christian Yelich, the league MVP in 2018 who hit .205 in 2020. Analytics data indicate he went chasing a lot more bad balls and might not revert to form. And that’s too bad because there aren’t a lot of other scary hitters in the lineup. The return of Lorenzo Cain, an opt-out, should help.
RHP Brandon Woodruff and RHP Corbin Burnes are a good front end of the rotation, but there’s not much after that.
As for Cincinnati, the heart of last year’s team, NL Cy Young winner, Trevor Bauer, shrugged off the Reds’ offseason offer and signed with the Dodgers.
Not to mention they had a league-worst team batting average of .212 in 2020. How bad is that? Chicago’s famed Hitless Wonders, the 1906 champion White Sox, hit .230.
As for the Cubs? Chicago will be without its front-office mastermind, Theo Epstein, who resigned in the offseason after a nine-year stint. The team apparently isn’t thinking in the present by trading RHP Yu Darvish (8-3, 2.01) to San Diego.
Way In The Back (Against The Odds)
Pittsburgh finished 19-41 last season, three games worse than anyone else in the majors, and has done little to improve since.
Words of warning: It’s probably not going to be wise to charge to the online windows even if the Pirates get off to a fast start.
Exhibit A: In 2019, Seattle (500-1 pennant/1,000-1 Series) opened with a 13-2 record in building a four-game lead in the AL West. The rest of the way they went 55-92 and were outscored by 177 runs.
There are two choices, assuming there will be no wild card.
For the baseball bettor who doesn’t have allegiances to any of the teams, it’s the Cardinals. They have good pennant/Series odds considering they are a favorite in their division and their defense is top of the line.
For Chicago fans, it’s their favorite team. This is the first time in six years the Cubs aren’t at least a co-favorite to win the division. So this year’s odds across the board are a welcome sight, even though later that ticket will probably serve only as a tax write-off if needed.