It may be the middle of July, but Opening Day is rapidly approaching for the 2020 season!
With the start of the Major League campaign now just two weeks away, we at SI Gambling are going through some of the most popular odds available at several different sportsbooks across the country within the MLB futures market.
Earlier this month, we put together our favorite World Series longshots and favorites breakdowns. Last week, we began going division-by-division to break down the projected win totals for the American League East, as well as the AL Central and AL West.
This week, we’ve turned our attention to the Senior Circuit, beginning with the National League East. Today we’ll focus on the NL Central, in what should be another highly competitive division.
Here are the odds for the National League win totals courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
National League Central Win Totals
Chicago Cubs: OVER 31.5 wins
There’s a logjam at the top of the NL Central with both the Cubs, Reds and Cardinals projected at 31.5 wins for the season.
I like the Cubs to ultimately win the division in a close race, and wrote about them earlier as a longshot pick to win the 2020 World Series at 22/1 odds. Their Pythagorean numbers were not indicative of where they ultimately finished up.
“The Cubs finished 84-78 last year, including 2-8 down the final 10 games of the season. They still finished with a +97 run differential, leading to an expected W/L record of 90-72. That's a nine-game advantage over the Brewers, whose expected W/L record was 81-81 with a +3 run differential. Yet Milwaukee won 89 games and made the final Wild Card spot.”
Their hitting should stay in the top 10 after finishing sixth in home runs and eighth in OPS. Kris Bryant is moving to the leadoff spot where his on-base clip of nearly 40% should be a major help at a lineup spot that’s been looking for answers since Dexter Fowler in 2016. The added DH gives another power bat to the roster with Kyle Schwarber holding it down most days. And, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez may battle each other for the team lead in home runs.
As for their pitching, Yu Darvish’s mid-season turnaround was a key bright spot. During the final three months of the season, Darvish pitched to a 2.95 ERA with 124 strikeouts and a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) of 0.826.
Mix in the postseason experience of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, and a fresh and rejuvenated Craig Kimbrel closing down games, and the Cubs may be ready to give it one last ride.
Cincinnati Reds: OVER 31.5 wins
Another of our World Series longshot favorites, the Reds have made substantial improvements to their club within the last calendar year. They’re even a projected NL Central divisional winner from SI’s Tom Verducci!
Last year, Reds starting pitching finished third in strikeouts per nine innings, fifth in hits per nine innings, sixth in WHIP, and ninth in ERA. Now, they have Trevor Bauer for a full (albeit 60-game season) to mix in with two excellent top-of-the-rotation arms in Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.
Their bullpen was top 10 a season ago, but closer Raisel Iglesias needs to improve on his home-run rate after leading all Reds relievers with a 1.6 HR/9 rate to go along with a 3-12 record.
Offensively, the additions of both Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos adds even more slugging in the 3-5 spot. They also have 3B Eugenio Suarez, who's coming off a 49 HR season. Castellanos led the Majors in doubles last year, and after being shipped from the Tigers to the Cubs, he went on to hit 321 with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, and 43 runs in just 200 at-bats.
Cincinnati is starting to become the trendy pick to win the NL Central and with their improvements, it’s understandable as to why.
St. Louis Cardinals: UNDER 31.5 wins
The Cardinals got hot towards the end of 2019 and nearly culminated it into a World Series appearance. After hovering around .500 through the first three months, Mike Shildt in his first full season guided the Cardinals to a 91-71 season. St. Louis went 16-9 in July, 18-9 in August, and 16-12 in September to pull away from the pack and capture the NL Central.
But is it sustainable in an improved division? The Cardinals have an ace in young right-hander Jack Flaherty, but there’s not much consistency after him in the rotation.
Adam Wainwright is about to approach 39 years old, Miles Mikolas is a pitch-to-contact guy who had a 5.40 ERA away from Busch Stadium, and Dakota Hudson’s peripherals suggest he benefitted from some good luck last year that may not be repeatable (-1.58 difference between ERA and FIP).
As for their offense, Paul Goldschmidt heated up at the most opportune time, but finding consistency was a struggle for much of the season. St. Louis ranked in the bottom half in nearly every offensive statistical category in 2019 with the exception of steals (3).
I could be underrating the Cardinals ahead of 2020, especially in a shortened season where their top-six bullpen could play a key role. But with the Cubs and Reds looking to break out, I’m likely to lean on the under for St. Louis this season.
Milwaukee Brewers: UNDER 30.5 wins
As mentioned in the Cubs preview above, the Brewers were the beneficiaries of good luck a season ago with run differential. That’s certainly not the only stat that matters in a shortened sample, but these situations tend to come back around at some point when averages, well, average themselves out!
Milwaukee feels like that team this year where I’m not sure how many breaks they can get in 2020. Brandon Woodruff was excellent a season ago (11-3, 3.62 ERA, 3.01 FIP), but from spots 2-5, the combination of Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom and Corbin Burnes projects on Fangraphs for a 4.46 ERA with a K/9 ratio of just 0.67. That’s a lot of balls put in play without much swing-and-miss.
The lineup will continue to be dangerous with Christian Yelich leading the way, but he’ll need more help from his supporting cast if they’ll be back in contention. Keston Hiura was a breakout player for Milwaukee a season ago and if Lorenzo Cain can re-gain his form from 2018, then the top of their lineup should be in excellent form.
Josh Hader remains the most electric closer in baseball, and with a limited number of games, that plays into Milwaukee’s advantage to use him for multiple innings at a time.
Ultimately the Brewers should land right around their projected win total, but I see their starting pitching failing to live up to the expectations set over the past few seasons. I’ll take the under.
Pittsburgh Pirates: OVER 25.5 wins
I flip-flopped on my decision to go over for Pittsburgh.
Without their two best pitchers in Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon, along with the trade of Starling Marte to Arizona, it was difficult to get on-board for anything but an under on that initial 25.5 number.
However, after viewing their lineup, as well as some of their upside arms, I think Pittsburgh can sneak past that total by a few games.
Their starting lineup is not terrible. Former first-round pick Kevin Newman turned in a solid season in 2019, Josh Bell made the All-Star team at first base, and Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds have proven to be solid everyday contributors, with Reynolds leading the team in WAR (4.1) a season ago.
On the pitching side, Joe Musgrove is a positive regression candidate with a +0.61 ERA/FIP from last season, and former top prospect Mitch Keller should bounce back after a rough start to his major league career last year.
The Pirates’ lineup should keep them in plenty of games. Their 23rd ranked bullpen may blow a few along the way, but I don’t think the Pirates should be ranked amongst the worst teams in baseball this year. I’ll slightly side with the over on their 25.5 win total.