2014 NL Central Picks with MLB Betting Odds and Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 3/11/2014
Once the laughingstock of the National League, the NL Central has become the deepest and most talented division in the Senior Circuit. Three teams won 90 or more games in 2013, and I suspect that this summer's division race will be another three-team dogfight between St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Here is Doc's Sports 2014 NL Central picks and MLB preview (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag ):
St. Louis Cardinals
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2013 Record: 97-65 (+1100)
2014 Wins Over/Under: 92.5
Odds To Win 2014 NL Central: +225
Odds To Win 2014 NL Pennant: +350
2014 St. Louis Cardinals Odds to win World Series: +900
Outlook: The Cardinals are one of the flagship franchises in all of baseball and a model of success and consistency in the National League. They have made the postseason 10 times in the past 14 years, including four pennants and two World Series championships. They fell to Boston in six games last year and enter 2014 with some unfinished business.
As long as the Cardinals have Yadier Molina behind the plate they'll be one of the league's best teams. He is one of the 10 best players in baseball and can control the game with his bat, his defense, and his mastery of the Cardinals pitching staff. St. Louis also boasts a farm system that routinely pumps out unheralded studs like Mike Adams, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter. They were No. 4 in hitting and No. 3 in runs scored last year despite hitting just 125 home runs (No. 27).
A big reason for St. Louis' success was an astronomical .330 batting average with runners in scoring position. That was one of the highest numbers in baseball history and a complete statistical anomaly. In fact, just seven teams in the past 15 years have hit over .300 with RISP. All seven had fewer wins the following season, and the average drop was a mammoth 13 victories. That's a troubling number, and there's no way the Cards' clutch luck can continue.
The pitching staff remains superb and full of proven homegrown talent. Adam Wainwright is a bona fide ace. And guys like Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jamie Garcia and Shelby Miller have proven their chops during St. Louis' recent postseason runs.
Bet against the Cardinals at your own risk. Some of their advanced metrics suggest that St. Louis will struggle a bit this year. But they are such an amazing organization that you just know they will find a way to defy the numbers and make another journey into October.
2013 Record: 90-72 (-510)
2014 Wins Over/Under: 84.5
Odds To Win 2014 NL Central: +500
Odds To Win 2014 NL Pennant: +1800
2014 Cincinnati Reds Odds to win World Series: +4000
Outlook : Last season the Reds entered the year with World Series wishes and some of the grandest expectations in all of baseball. It is tough to be disappointed with a 90-win season. But Cincy's lack of postseason success after October appearances in three of four years finally cost Dusty Baker his job.
New manager Brian Price will have his hands full. The Reds clubhouse has some chemistry issues - not the least of which involve all-star second baseman Brandon Phillips - and this team seemed to shrink in the clutch last year. Unless Price can center this group's chi, I think the Reds are headed for a frustrating year that could lead to some personnel adjustments.
One guy that's not going anywhere is Joey Votto. He is one of the game's best hitters and the linchpin of this lineup. Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier provide the pop behind him, and Phillips anchors the top of the order. But Cincinnati hasn't had much of a bench to lean on the past few years. And an injury to Votto, Bruce or Phillips could be lethal.
Cincinnati's starting staff can go arm-for-arm with any group in the National League. Mat Latos has been a rock. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey have been streaky, but they helped the Reds to the league's No. 4 ERA last season. Opponents hit just .236 versus the Cincinnati staff, and the Reds bullpen has been a source of concern. But closer Aroldis Chapman is one of the best in the game.
Things could break either way for Cincinnati this year. I think they are better than the Pirates but not nearly as strong as the Cardinals. A lot will depend on what happens with Phillips (and what they can get back if they do move him) as well as Price's impact on the clubhouse. A bounce-back year is not out of the question.
2013 Record: 94-68 (+2340)
2014 Wins Over/Under: 83.5
Odds To Win 2014 NL Central: +400
Odds To Win 2014 NL Pennant: +1400
2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Odds to win World Series: +3000
Outlook : The Pirates rode a magical summer to their first winning season in 21 years last year. They were THE story in baseball for a good portion of 2013, and the Bucs are looking to build on their outstanding, and sudden, success.
Pittsburgh is hoping that Edinson Volquez can follow the footsteps of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano and experience a career awakening in Pittsburgh. Burnett has moved east to Philadelphia, and that will leave a major hole in a Pirates rotation that was vital to their surge last season. Volquez, Liriano, and a step forward from Gerrit Cole will be crucial for the Bucs this year.
Pittsburgh's bullpen logged the fourth-most innings in the majors last year while producing an eye-popping 2.89 ERA, third best in baseball. It is overly optimistic to expect that level of efficiency from the pen this year, and that will put even more pressure on the starters to chew up some innings.
Reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen is one of the MLB's elite and the clear leader of this team. He will need more help from this low-scoring Pirates lineup. Pittsburgh wins games on the back of pitching and defense. But they need someone to step up and replace the production they lost this offseason when Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones moved on.
Look no further than the 2012 Brewers and 2013 Nationals for examples of how out-of-nowhere teams can be banished back to second-class status seemingly overnight. Pittsburgh beat its 2013 Pythagorean Wins Total by six games, second-most in the majors, and their 29 one-run wins were the second-most in the N.L. Those statistics scream, "regression!," and I think no one but the most Buc-blind Pirates fan believes Pittsburgh can carry over its momentum into this season.
The margin for error on this team is incredibly thin. Perhaps they can build on their model and become an N.L. version of the Oakland A's. But I am off the bandwagon of this group and expecting a less-satisfying season from them.
2013 Record: 74-88 (-720)
2014 Wins Over/Under: 80.0
Odds To Win 2014 NL Central: +1200
Odds To Win 2014 NL Pennant: +3000
2014 Milwaukee Brewers Odds to win World Series: +8000
Outlook: The Ryan Braun Circus pitched its tent over Milwaukee's 2013 season, and Braun's absence to a steroid scandal crippled a Brewers team that was already wobbling its way through the schedule. Since their revelatory 2011 season, the Brewers have slunk from 96 to 83 to just 74 wins. And looking at this roster, there isn't a lot of cause for optimism.
The core of the 2011 team has been dismantled, save Braun and aging, perpetually-injured Aramis Ramirez. Shortstop Jean Segura looks like a keeper. But Milwaukee has glaring holes at first and second base as well as left field. Depth is nonexistent, and the lack of reliable left-handed bats is going to leave the Brewers at a big disadvantage throughout the year.
Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo give the Brewers some veteran innings-eaters at the top of the rotation. But in order for Milwaukee to have more than a puncher's chance they'll need at least two of them to post career years. However, even if they don't step up, that is where the value betting against this team will come; that trio garners enough respect from oddsmakers for them to post reasonable odds for us to cash in on.
Heed my warning: stay away from the Brewers. This is the shakiest, flakiest team in all of baseball. They are a constant disappointment to bet on and aren't terribly talented. But they show up at weird times and haven't been a very profitable team to bet against consistently. This team is a mess, and the laws of baseball logic seemingly don't apply to the Brew Crew.
2013 Record: 66-96 (-1540)
2014 Wins Over/Under: 69.5
Odds To Win 2014 NL Central: +7000
Odds To Win 2014 NL Pennant: +5500
2014 Chicago Cubs Odds to win World Series: +12500
Outlook : The Cubs lost only 96 games last year after dumping 101 in 2012. That's progress, right?
General manager Theo Epstein knew that the Cubs would require a complete redesign and rebuild when he took over two years ago. He has sacrificed the last two seasons in an effort to lay a foundation for winning within the Cubs organization. But now it may be time to start seeing some more pronounced forward momentum.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo is a future star. But he's really the only sure thing in the lineup. Starlin Castro has talent. But his effort and attitude are always going to be question marks, and that's not exactly what you want with a face-of-the-franchise guy. Bit parts and retreads fill in around that duo. Chicago did slam 172 home runs last year, No. 9 in the Majors. But they hit just .238 (No. 27), and their on-base percentage was a woeful .300 (No. 28).
The Cubs pitching staff lacks depth and overall talent. I am not as high on Jeff Samardzija as a lot of people. And lefty Travis Wood has only ever struck me as mediocre. And those are Chicago's two best arms. That's a problem.
As bad as they were last year, the Cubs actually underachieved a bit. They fell five games short of their Pythagorean Win Total, putting them in a position for more W's this year. Also, they were just 20-33 in one-run games. That's another statistic that can swing wildly from one season to the next, and that can have a dramatic impact on a team's spot in the standings.
But the Cubs won't get better until they get a more veteran presence. They don't need to pour money into quick-fix free agents. But Chicago needs some proven, experienced guys to help groom the young players the Cubs are attempting to cultivate. Until they add some experience and find an identity, things are going to stay sorry in Wrigley.
2014 NL 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 five of the last seven years on the diamond with his baseball picks. He closed 2012 with an amazing $11,700 in earnings over the last four months and this summer will try for three straight profitable years. He 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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