2013 NL Central Picks and MLB Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/15/2013
In the 18-year history of the National League Central there have been only three teams that have managed to win back-to-back division titles. Now-departed Houston pulled a three-peat from 1997-1999, the Cardinals won three straight from 2004-2006 and the Chicago Cubs pulled a rare double in 2007-2008. That is a far cry from the National League East, which has been dominated by two teams for 20 years, and it doesn’t bode well for last year’s division winners, Cincinnati.
The National League Central will have a little different vibe this year now that Houston has been traded to the American League West. But the expectations of a wide-open division race remain. Parity has been the norm in this group. And that should continue, as Cincinnati and St. Louis are vulnerable favorites, Milwaukee still has top-flight talent, and the young, scrappy Pirates could be ready to finally burst back into relevance.
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The Cubs? They are still a train wreck and are staring down the barrel of a 104th season without a World Series title. Loveable losers indeed.
Here is Doc’s Sports 2013 NL Central picks and MLB betting odds:
2012 Record: 97-65 (+1810)
2013 Wins “Over/Under”: 91.5
Odds To Win 2013 NL Central: -140
Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: +600
2013 Cincinnati Reds Odds to win World Series: +1200
Outlook: The Reds nickeled and dimed their way to 97 wins last year. Their incredible starting pitching and dominating bullpen was more than capable of compensating for a lackluster offense. Cincinnati is the clear frontrunner in the division, and they are one of the favorites in the National League.
The core of Cincinnati is obviously its amazing starting pitching staff. Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos are capable aces, and Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake each logged 175 or more innings last year. The Reds were No. 4 in the Majors in quality starts with 98, meaning that in roughly two of every three games they played their pitchers were on the money. A key for this team will be what they decide to do with Aroldis Chapman and his electrifying left arm. They haven’t fully committed to him as a starter or a reliever. But he had 38 saves last year, and to me it seems like a no-brainer to keep him as the linchpin of the No. 1 bullpen in baseball.
Cincinnati’s offense was just No. 21 in the league. But this team still has room to grow. They were the worst team in the league with runners in scoring position and two outs, and that is one of those stats that tends to fluctuate from year to year. Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in the Majors, and Brandon Phillips is a multiple all star. Jay Bruce broke out with 34 HR and 99 RBI, and Ryan Ludwick added 26 and 80. Those two can’t have a drop-off if this team wants to maintain its elite status.
The Reds are still pretty nasty. But I don’t know how much I’ll be backing them this year. Their starters are so good -- and this team has so much hype -- that the moneylines for their games will be inflated. But they also don’t score enough to cash run line tickets. I don’t think the Reds will come close to matching the 97 wins they earned last year, but they are still the class of this shoddy bunch.
St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Record: 88-74 (-420)
2013 Wins Over/Under: 86.5
Odds To Win 2013 NL Central: +225
Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: +900
2013 St. Louis Cardinals Odds to win World Series: 25-to-1
Outlook: The Cardinals are one of the league’s flagship organizations and have been a paragon of success over the last 30 years. St. Louis lost in the seventh game of the NLCS last year and are just two years removed from their most recent World Series victory. However, there is no denying that this team’s losses have been significant over the last 18 months. And, as good as this team is, they are still vulnerable, especially with the lingering disappointment of last season’s stunning NLCS still casting a pall over this group.
Workhorse starter Chris Carpenter is done for the year and may retire. That leaves the strength of the St. Louis staff hanging on the surgically repaired arm of Adam Wainwright. That’s a dangerous position to be in, especially with unsteady guys like Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn and Jamie Garcia filling in behind him. The bullpen is as battle-tested as any crew in the league. And they have been clutch for the past two years. However, there is some meltdown potential among the setup men, and closer Jason Motte is not overpowering at all.
Lance Berkman has moved on, and Rafael Furcal is out for the year. Trades and free agency of soaked some of the depth in the franchise over the past two seasons as well. That pins the hopes of the offense almost entirely on Matt Holliday and super-streaky Carlos Beltran. David Freese can get the job done, and keep an eye on journeyman Ty Wigginton, who hits everywhere he goes. But, overall, I expect this offense to take a step back unless they can swing another deal to bring in another proven veteran.
It is tough to bet against the Cardinals. They have made the postseason in nine of the last 14 years and have been remarkably consistent over the past 15 seasons. They outscored opponents by 117 runs last year, their highest total since 2005. The core of this team is still the one that earned a ring in 2011. But even with all the things they have working for them, I still can’t help but feel like this team is going to take a step back and miss the postseason for the first time since winning 86 games in 2010. And this team is just one injury away from having the wheels fall off.
2012 Record: 79-83 (-260)
2013 Wins Over/Under: 77.5
Odds To Win 2013 NL Central: +1000
Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: +3000
2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Odds to win World Series:
Outlook: Twenty years. It has been 20 years since the Pirates have finished with a winning record. That legendary run of futility is among the worst in all of professional sports. But, alas, there is a ray of hope for this franchise after 79 wins last season. They enter this spring with renewed focus and vigor, and with the talent level in this division at perhaps its lowest in this millennia – which is saying something – there might be a chance for the Bucs to finally get into the black.
After over a decade of wasting time on losers like Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, the Pirates enter the season with a legit Major League rotation. A.J. Burnett’s career has been revitalized, and I think he can continue his impressive work from the second half of last season. James McDonald is hit or miss, but he has some nasty stuff. And Wandy Rodriguez is more than capable at No. 3. Pittsburgh’s bullpen is solid-but-unspectacular. But the team has played in a load of close games over the past two seasons, and this staff is tested.
Andrew McCutchen is among the game’s elite and the sun around which everyone else rotates. But Pittsburgh was able to stay competitive in the Central last season thanks to the consistent and decisive contributions of infielders Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez. That quartet will need to match that production. But they will also need someone else to step forward. Pitt was No. 23 in runs and No. 25 in OPS despite finishing 12th in the Majors in homers. There is too large of a drop-off between the top four bats and everyone else.
Pittsburgh has increased its win total in each of the last three years. But was last season a stepping-stone to being competitive or was it the peak for this pathetic organization? I’d like to buy in and believe the former. The Pirates have been active trade deadline participants the past two seasons, and you can tell that they smell a .500 record. But unless they find another hitter or two, or if someone has a career year, then I think they are headed for another season around 75 wins.
2012 Record: 83-79 (-920)
2013 Wins Over/Under: 81.5
Odds To Win 2013 NL Central: +650
Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: +1800
2013 Milwaukee Brewers Odds to win World Series: 30-to-1
Outlook: Just talented enough to rope people into believing them and just shaky enough to fail in the most innocuous spots, the Brewers are the Central’s X-Factor. Milwaukee’s core is still intact and manned by high-end talents like Ryan “Roids” Braun and Yovani Gallardo. But the foundation of this group is still suspect.
Milwaukee enjoyed a solid 1-2-3 with Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum last year. Fireballer Mike Fiers turned in an excellent campaign, and this team was set with starters. But Greinke and Marcum are gone, and the Brewers are now going into the season armed with Gallardo, Fiers and a bunch of nobodies. Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta are going to give it a go. But neither of those guys strike fear into opposing lineups.
Corey Hart is out until at least early May with a knee injury. But Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Rickie Weeks should be able to keep this group afloat. The Brewers scored the most runs in the National League last year, and they led the Senior Circuit in home runs. They also led the Majors in stolen bases, so generating offense is not a problem for this group. The Brewers went 89-68-5 against the total last year as a result of their scoring prowess. But I expect the books to adjust this year with a lot higher totals.
It is always tough to get a read on the Brewers. But I know I don’t trust them. They have won 83 or more games four of six years. They made the playoffs twice in that span and played in the NLCS in 2011. But this year’s team, even though it has a lot of the primaries back, is not as talented as those clubs. They lack the pitching depth, and that is a problem in a division with so many well-run staffs. This is a team I try to steer clear of because they always lose games and series they shouldn’t and always win games you least expect. They are poison to a bankroll, and I will be giving them a wide berth again this season.
2012 Record: 61-101 (-2570)
2013 Wins Over/Under: 72.5
Odds To Win 2013 NL Central: +2000
Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: +4000
2013 Chicago Cubs Odds to win World Series: +750
Outlook: The Cubs are in Year 2 of their complete and total rebuild. It was never going to be easy, and it was never going to be painless, but last year’s 101-loss debacle was probably worse than any Cubs fan expected thought when they lured Theo Epstein to Wrigley. And the prospects for this year are not that much more optimistic.
Chicago will lean on an overmatched pitching staff again this year. Jeff Samardzija had some moments last year, and they are hoping he can take the next step. But the hefty righty is a bit overpriced compared to his skill set. Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman round out just about as mediocre of a starting staff as you could assemble. But the fact is that if the Cubs are going to avoid back-to-back 100-loss seasons they will need major improvement from the No. 27 bullpen in baseball. Carlos Marmol is an accident waiting to happen. If the Cubs can’t shore up the setup situation and perhaps deal Marmol, then their prospects for improvement are dim.
The prospects for the lineup aren’t much better. Starlin Castro is a stud and one of the better young players in the sport. But there just aren’t enough – or, really, any – proven bats surrounding him. Cubs fans will be forced to endure another season of Alfonso Soriano, one of the worst and most overpriced regulars in baseball. But the worse news for Chicago backers is that Soriano is still playing because, as bad as he is, he is still one of the best hitters in this lineup. Chicago was No. 28 in scoring last year and No. 26 in batting. I don’t see much hope for improvement.
The Cubs are still terrible. Epstein is obviously taking a very patient and measured approach to the rebuilding project in Wrigley. And while he can be applauded for not making costly, foolish, knee-jerk decisions on free agents and going for a quick fix. However, this team won’t be competitive for a second straight season, and unless they show some signs of progress, I imagine the honeymoon period will be over before June.
2013 National League Central Picks and Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. Cincinnati Reds
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Chicago Cubs
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Robert Ferringo is a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He is considered one of the top MLB cappers in the country and has turned a profit in four of the last six years on the diamond with his baseball picks. He closed 2012 with an amazing $11,700 in earnings over the last four months and is looking forward to a great upcoming season against the MLB odds. Click here for more information on his MLB picks.
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