The 2021 MLB Opening Day is almost here, and with that, it’s a perfect time to preview the season and at some point, we have to discuss the NL Central odds, even if the division doesn’t give much in the way of hope. The NL Central is led by a new-look St. Louis Cardinals team that should be ahead of a very slow pack. BetRivers.com is proud to provide a wide variety of NL Central odds, MLB futures, game lines, and player markets. Longtime sports broadcaster David Tuchman is here to give his picks and predictions on the NL Central odds.
I tried to find a way to come up with something brilliant, witty, and insightful. But after several tortuous minutes of thinking about the NL Central odds…I got nothing. Look, someone will win the NL Central, but that’s about it. There are some things to like, but no one in the NL Central will be able to hang with the Dodgers, Padres, Mets, or Braves. The winner of this division feels like fodder for a better team in the playoffs. The problem is, there’s not a lot of difference between the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, or Cubs. The only certainty in the NL Central is that the Pirates will lose, lose often, lose hilariously and finish last. SO with that, let’s get to our breakdown of the NL Central odds.
NL CENTRAL ODDS: St. Louis Cardinals (+105)
Win Total: 86.5 wins (+100/-124)
World Series: +2200 (Seventh shortest)
National League: +1050 (Fifth shortest)
Click here for more Cardinals NL Central Odds.
My baseball guy, ‘Nucci, and I disagree about analytics a lot, but we agree on this: This Cardinals team just isn’t nearly as good as people project.
The Cards got tons of love from fans and gamblers alike for making a huge splash getting the Rockies all-world third baseman Nolan Arenado. But then…they didn’t do anything else – like, anything! Arenado is great, sure. And he and Paul Goldschmidt form a nice 1-2 punch in the lineup. But dig deeper and you’ll see why I’m fading the Cardinals big time. After Goldschmidt and Arenado, there’s not much to get excited about in the lineup. Dylan Carlson is their rookie CF and he should be solid, but an injury to Harrison Bader forced another rookie, Justin Williams, into the lineup, and he might not be ready. Contact hitter, Tommy Edman will leadoff, but he’s not ideal, with an average .322 OBP. After cleanup hitter, Paul DeJong (he hit .250 last year, which was his highest average since 2017), the 5-6-7-8 doesn’t have much – Carlson, 38-year old catcher, Yadir Molina, Williams, and Tyler O’Neill (.173 last year). This doesn’t project to a lot of high-scoring games.
Good thing, they have a great pitching staff – oh wait, they don’t. the Cardinals rotation has more holes than Bonnie & Clyde. Jack Flaherty, assuming he stays healthy, is a solid ace. But then it’s up to 39-year-old Adam Wainwright, who has been perfectly hittable for 5 years, Carlos Martinez who’s hoping to rebound after a 9+ ERA and a WHIP over 2 in 2020. A whip over 2 is really hard to do in t-ball, let alone the majors. The rest of the rotation is a patchwork of spit and polish.
The Cardinals bullpen should be a strength, with Jordan Hicks, Adam Miller, Giovanny Gallegos, Alex Reyes, and Genesis Cabrera – a lot of strong, hard-throwing arms – but, unlike the Brewers, I’m not confident that the Starting pitching will hold up for 6 innings.
I don’t usually make predictions this bold, but here it is. This 86.5 total is a joke. Take the UNDER – bet large and be in charge. They are giving you money for free.
NL CENTRAL ODDS: Milwaukee Brewers (+300)
Win Total: 82.5 wins (-125/+101)
World Series: +4400
National League: +2500
Click here for more Brewers NL Central Odds.
The “experts” have the Brewers finishing in second, but you’ll notice I’m talking about them first. This would indicate that I don’t agree with the so-called experts.
To me, the Brewers are the team to beat in the NL Central. They won’t win 90, but neither will anyone else in the Central. The Brewers aren’t gonna light the world on fire in 2021, but they’ll be good enough to win a mediocre NL Central.
What’s to like? Well, Christian Yelich had a miserable 2020. 2020 is really hard to factor in when projecting how players and teams will do in 2021. It was a strange, stressful year. Yelich had a miserable 2020, hitting just .205. But he did launch 12 bombs in just 58 games. In 2018 Yelich won the MVP. In 2019, he finished second. His WAR for 2018 and 2019 was an absurd 7.3 and 7.0. He’s only 29. Yelich is going to rebound in a big way, and lead the way for the Brewers offense. The Brewers have 2 young bats looking to make noise in Keston Hiura and Luis Urias. Hiura needs to make contact more frequently as he’s been a strikeout machine early in his career – but he can also launch 30-plus home runs. He’ll slide to first base. The Brewers signed Kolten Wong to pair with Orlando Arcia, forming a light-hitting pair that will provide an exceptional up-the-middle defense. Lorenzo Cain and Jackie Bradley will man the other outfield spots. They aren’t special, but they’re solid blue-collar players.
The Brewers rotation has some high-powered arms that aren’t household names but could break out this year. Specifically their 1-2 punch of Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. Both Woodruff and Burnes easily struck out more than a batter per inning, with sparkling secondary numbers – WHIP, ERA+, WAR. The sample size is small, but they both feel like breakout stars in the making. If they both emerge – and I think they will – the Brewers will have plenty to take the Central. The rest of the rotation is a bit suspect, but fifth starter Freddy Peralta is an intriguing wild card. He’ll strike out 10 in 5 innings and give up 6 runs doing it. If he can harness his stuff, he’ll add another strong arm to the mix.
The Brewers bullpen is an incredible asset with flamethrowers Josh Hader and 2020 ROY Devin Williams throwing absolute gas out of the pen. After those 1-2, the bullpen depth is fairly solid with Brent Suter and Josh Lindblom. The bottom line? the Brewers will be tough to beat if they’ve got a lead after 6 innings. And this is what sets them apart in the Central.
So here’s the deal – take the Brewers to win the Central at +300, they’re my pick (analytics, if that’s your thing, has the Brewers as 6 games better than anyone else). Betrivers.com has the Brewers total at 82.5 wins. I love the OVER here, as the Brewers should win 85-86 games without too much sweat.
NL CENTRAL ODDS: Cincinnati Reds (+330)
Win Total: 81.5 wins (+100/-124)
World Series: +3300
National League: +1500
Click here for more Reds NL Central Odds.
+1500 to win the NL, +330 to win the Central, and 81.5 win total. I don’t understand the love the Reds get. They are trying, bless their hearts, so maybe it’s a bit of the “Little Engine that Could” but let’s face it. The Reds couldn’t get it done WITH Trevor Bauer, the NL Cy Young winner in 2020, and now he’s pitching in Los Angeles. Sonny Gray was the Reds #3 starter in 2020, but he’s out to start the year with a back injury – he should be back by the end of April – maybe.
The Reds ace, Luis Castillo is still there, and he’ll start opening day. But after that, the Reds will roll with Tyler Mahle, Wade Miley, Jeff Hoffman and Jose de Leon. You wanna bet on that rotation?
The Reds lineup should have some bombers, with Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, and Mike Moustakas all capable of launching 25-30 home runs. There’s not much speed outside of young outfielder Nick Senzel, who’s still figuring out major league pitching. The defense will be an issue as well, as third baseman Suarez is moving over to shortstop, which is…odd. He hasn’t played short since 2015.
I’m not saying the Reds will be terrible. Their lineup is still solid as I said. And they should hit enough to win some ball games. Luis Castillo is a good bet to 15+ games and if Sonny Gray comes back by mid-April, he will add double-digit wins. But there’s just not enough here to get excited about. The Reds got a huge boost last year with Trevor Bauer and they did nothing to replace him. With Bauer, they won 31 games and were on an 84-win pace. Without him? I don’t see the Reds winning more than 77 games.
The call here is to fade the Reds. Avoid any temptation to bet them to win anything and roll with the UNDER 81.5 wins.
NL CENTRAL ODDS: Chicago Cubs (+425)
Win Total: 78.5 wins (-112/-112)
World Series: +4000
National League: +2200
Click here for more Cubs NL Central Odds.
The Cubs are tough to figure out for 2021. They won 36 games and won the Central in 2020. Stands to reason they should be the favorites to win it again in 2021, with largely the same roster intact. The Cubs lost Kyle Schwarber on offense, but he hit .188 last year, so that’s really addition by subtraction. Joc Pederson was signed to replace Schwarber and that feels like a slight upgrade. Pederson has had a solid spring for what it’s worth. The Cubs let aging Jon Lester walk in free agency. They also said goodbye to swing-starter Tyler Chatwood and then let their nominal “ace” Yu Darvish move to San Diego. Despite the fact, Darvish isn’t a true ace, the loss is huge for this team.
The lineup is counting on their stars to rebound – long-time stars, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo were awful in 2020. Was it just 2020 being 2020 or is there more to it?
The Cubs bullpen looks worse than I did the morning after ‘Nucci shaved my head in a drunken moment of inspiration – Battered, bald and hungover describes the Cubs bullpen too. There’s just nothing to like here. The nominal closer is Craig Kimbrel, but he’ll be on a short leash. Kimbrel over 2019 and 2020 has a combined 0 wins, 5 losses, 6.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 15 saves (4 blown saves). Of the other seven relief pitchers projected to start the season, 4 of them had an ERA over 5 in 2020.
Will Baez, Rizzo and Bryant all rebound? If so, the Cubs could make some noise. But it’s very telling that the Cubs spend ALL OFFSEASON trying to trade Bryant, Baez and staff ace Hendricks. They didn’t get a deal done but I believe they’re going to pull the trigger on a rebuild by the trade deadline – I expect Bryant, Baez and Hendrick all to be moved. This is why the Cubs are so tough to read. If they’re in the race, they’ll stand pat and try to win; but if they’re out of it just a little bit, they’ll blow it all up. If they do, their win total will plummet in the second half of the season.
So what to do with the Cubs? I don’t see a rebound. The Cubs front office wants to sell for a reason. I see no reason to doubt that thought process. We see Chicago winning 74-76 wins so the UNDER 78.5 represents some value.
NL CENTRAL ODDS: Pittsburgh Pirates (+6500)
Win Total: 59.5 wins (+100/-124)
World Series: +25000
National League: +10000
Click here for more Pirates NL Central Odds.
One of my favorite (and most profitable) bets of 2020 was UNDER 25.5 wins. I had this win locked up with 25% of the season to go.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are the worst team in Major League Baseball.
Really, there isn’t much else to say. I had to bribe ‘Nucci with a bottle of 18-year scotch just to get his take on this putrid team. What’s good about Pittsburgh? Well very little sadly, since they’ve been rebuilding since Barry Bonds went to San Francisco in 1993.
So, is anything good? Yes. They have rookie of the year candidate, Ke’Bryan Hayes at third base and promising young starting pitcher Mitch Keller who pitched well over 5 starts (21 IP) in his cup of coffee in 2020. In the bullpen, closer Rich Rodriguez, who led the team with 3 wins and 4 saves in 2020 is actually a decent option at closer and Kyle Crick, if healthy, is a nice setup man.
The Pirates will likely lose 100 games this year, without much difficulty. 58-61 wins feels about right. We won’t be betting the under as we did in 2020. In fact, with the total at 59.5, this is a bet we’ll be staying away from. If you must bet it, I’ve got the slightest of leans on the UNDER.
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