The Milwaukee Brewers will begin their attempt to become the first repeat champions in the NL Central since the 2016-17 Chicago Cubs when play commences in Major League Baseball on April 7.
Oddsmakers have the Brewers, who were 95-67 last year, as the clear favorites to do so after winning the division by seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals in 2021. FanDuel was dealing Milwaukee at -170 as of Tuesday.
Based on win expectancy numbers posted by DraftKings, though, the Brewers don’t figure to be as strong as last year. Their current over/under number is 88.5, but it’s still four better than St. Louis’, with Chicago (75.5), Cincinnati (74.5) and Pittsburgh (65.5) dragging behind. By comparison, the L.A. Dodgers have an MLB-high of 97.5.
Let’s explore the best futures betting values in the NL Central this year.
NL Central Produces Playoff Contenders
Since 2011, this division has had an MLB-best 24 teams qualify for the postseason, including a record four in the expanded 2020 postseason. But out of all those teams, only three reached the World Series (St. Louis twice and Chicago), with the Cardinals and Cubs winning the whole thing once each. With MLB adding a third wildcard for each league this season, the division should have another a team as a postseason threat.
Brewers Have Issues Despite Being Favored
The Brewers (+700 for pennant, DraftKings) are going to need a major upgrade to their attack if they are to return to the postseason.
Milwaukee hitters had the fourth worst team batting average in the regular season at .233 in 2021 and followed up with a .192 average in a first-round playoff loss to Atlanta. To top that off, they then let their most productive hitter, Avisail Garcia (. 262, 26 HRs, 86 RBIs), go in free agency.
The Brewers did have outstanding pitching behind NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, whose 0.94 WHIP ranked second in baseball behind only Max Scherzer. And Milwaukee teammate Brandon Woodruff was third at 0.96 yet still had only a 9-10 record.
Then there’s one of baseball’s top relievers in lefty Josh Hader, who converted 34 of 35 save opportunities. All that is great.
But if 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich doesn’t snap out of a funk that’s seen him hit .234 over the past two injury-curtailed years with only 21 homers, the stage is set for a disappointing season.
Cardinals Are A Threat This Year
St. Louis (+200 at Caesars Sportsbook) appeared to be sleep-walking through last season, standing 8.5 games out of the last wildcard behind San Diego before embarking on a 17-game winning streak on August 10 and surging to the last NL playoff berth.
The Cardinals have one of the league’s most potent lineups in the middle, with ex-Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado and ex-Diamondbacks star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt teaming for 65 homers and 204 RBIs last year. Tyler O’Neill added 34 homers and a team-high WAR of 6.3. The Cardinals are stellar defensively, too.
If the team’s starting pitchers can stay healthy, St. Louis will be poised for success in 2022. Ace Jack Flaherty missed more than half the season with oblique and shoulder injuries. Adam Wainwright was 17-7 in 32 starts last year. If Miles Mikolas can come close to his 18-4 performance of 2018, watch out for the Cardinals. The odds aren’t spectacular, but last year at this stage it was tough to get anything above +1200.
The Best Of The Rest
Chicago (60-1, DraftKings), Cincinnati (70-1 DraftKings) and Pittsburgh (150-1, FanDuel) appear to be more inclined to saving money than building a winner. At least for this year.
The Cubs had one of the most drastic fire sales in recent memory after unloading former stars from their 2016 championship team in Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant at the trade deadline. A team that had been 38-27 and tied for first place in the NL Central on June 13 went 33-64 the rest of the way.
Surely the only reason their odds aren’t in triple digits is because Cubs fans are always hitting the online windows.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, just got rid of two quality outfielders in Nick Castellanos (Phillies) and Jesse Winker (Mariners). The Reds then added ex-Cardinal Tommy Pham, who’s not exactly a team player. In quotes posted on an ESPN.com story here’s what he had to say: “I’m playing to get some numbers. I don’t care about anything else. I’m looking out for me.”
Things look bleak for Pittsburgh, which was outscored by an NL-high 224 runs last season. But at least the Pirates did have the fourth-best fielding percentage in the league in 2021.
That’s important since the team also had the league’s third-worst ERA at 5.08.
Don’t expect things to improve much with the lowest payroll in baseball.
Our Pick To Win Is…
By a landslide, it’s the Cardinals. They could well catch the overrated Brewers for the flag or at least get a wildcard by feasting on the bottom-feeders in the division.