2019 NL Central Picks: Division the Best in MLB
For my money, the National League Central is the best division in baseball. Last season they were the only group to have four teams finish above .500. And their two top teams, the Cubs and the Brewers, tied for the best record in the regular season. Both teams are still stacked, while the Cardinals made one of the offseason's biggest moves, grabbing Paul Goldschmidt. The Pirates haven't been pushovers for years, and even the Reds look like a team on the rise. Add it all together, and this division should give us the best race of the season.
Here is Doc's Sports 2019 National League Central preview (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
2018 Record: 95-68 (+55)
2019 Wins Over/Under: 87.5
Odds To Win 2019 NL Central: +185
Odds To Win 2019 NL Pennant: +600
2019 Chicago Cubs Odds to win World Series: +1300
Outlook : The warm and fuzzy feelings from the 2016 World Series championship sure didn't take long to wear off in Wrigley. After winning 92 games in 2017, the Cubs came back and won 95 games last season. Yet somehow that was considered a major disappointment despite playing in the most competitive division in baseball. Now there is grumbling that manager Joe Maddon may be on the way out, and I don't know if any team in baseball comes into the season with more pressure on it than the Cubs.
Despite 95 wins and their fourth straight postseason appearance, the Cubs really were inconsistent last year. And they never seemed to find a groove. This year they have basically the same team. And if they can get some better starting pitching from a veteran staff, then this team should be just fine.
Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist can all play. No, the Cubs didn't do much to add depth behind their starters. But then again, they really shouldn't need to for a squad that was No. 4 in team batting and No. 9 in runs scored.
As I touched on, the Cubs season may come down to how their aging arms hold up. Guys like Jon Lester and Cole Hamels don't have that much tread left on the tire. Yu Darvish was a massive bust last season. And if injuries lay any of the vets out, there aren't many young arms ready to pick up the slack.
There is a ton of negativity surrounding this team. That may create some value backing the Cubs. This roster is as good as any in baseball. If they can build some momentum, I think that this team could get on a roll similar to what they did in 2016 when they notched 100 wins. I'm a little more optimistic about this group than most people.
2018 Record: 96-67 (+2310)
2019 Wins Over/Under: 86.5
Odds To Win 2019 NL Central: +250
Odds To Win 2019 NL Pennant: +750
2019 Milwaukee Brewers Odds to win World Series: +1700
Outlook: The Brewers caught fire last summer and enjoyed one of the best seasons in franchise history. Milwaukee played itself within one game of the World Series last year. Now the same core group will take another shot and try to get back to the top of the mountain.
Milwaukee's lineup is one of the best in the game. Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Mike Moustakas and Eric Thames can all mash. Ryan Braun still has something left in the tank as well. The Brewers added catcher Yasmani Grandal, and it will be interesting to see if he can take over the staff while providing a little offense.
The Brewers pitching staff was anchored by its bullpen last year, which posted the No. 5 reliever ERA in MLB. If they want to overtake a team like the Dodgers, though, Milwaukee will need to find an ace (or two). And they just don't have it. Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson can be good for short periods. They can't dominate. And Jhoulys Chacin does it with guts and guile more than pure stuff. I think Milwaukee has to upgrade here.
It will be tough to find value on the Brewers this year. They won't be able to sneak up on the field like they did last season. In 2018, the moneylines on the Brewers were great for bettors because their starters lack star power. This year the books won't care. This team won 96 games and has a stacked lineup. So if you want to bet on the Brew Crew, you are going to have to pay a premium for it.
St. Louis Cardinals
2018 Record: 88-74 (+300)
2019 Wins Over/Under: 88.5
Odds To Win 2019 NL Central: +190
Odds To Win 2019 NL Pennant: +725
2019 St. Louis Cardinals Odds to win World Series: +1500
Outlook: It is now or never for the Cardinals. They pushed their chips all in this season with Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright all playing in the last year of their contracts. It is sink or swim for St. Louis. They will either make a desperation push to get back to the playoffs or they could become major sellers at the trade deadline. Either way, I think the Cardinals are going to play a major role in how the National League race shakes out this season.
Paul Goldschmidt could have as big of an impact on this franchise as Matt Holiday did a decade ago. The massive righty signed a $130 million extension this March and is now one of the faces of the franchise. He could also help take this Cardinals offense from respectable to a force to be reckoned with. It would help if Ozuna, Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter find the level this year around the new star slugger.
The Cardinals have solidified their lineup. The intrigue around this team is in the rotation. Can Carlos Martinez get healthy and if so will he be in the rotation? What does Adam Wainwright have left in the tank? Is Miles Mikolas for real? The Cardinals bullpen is in good shape. So their season may really come down to what their starting staff can contribute. And that uncertainty can make this squad a dicey wagering proposition.
The Cardinals are an X-Factor. They are an X-Factor in the Central and in the entire National League. St. Louis doesn't do rebuilding. Since the turn of the century they have finished above .500 every year but one! And if they miss the postseason this year for a fourth time in a row, it will match their longest streak since a six-year drought in the late 80's and early 90's. I don't know how much I want to bet on this team. But I'm not in a rush to bet against them.
2018 Record: 82-79 (+480)
2019 Wins Over/Under: 77.5
Odds To Win 2019 NL Central: +1900
Odds To Win 2019 NL Pennant: +4100
2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Odds to win World Series: +10000
Outlook : There are a lot of baseball franchises that would kill to have finished above .500 in four of the last six seasons with three playoff appearances. Yet I still feel like the Pirates don't get enough credit for remaining competitive despite massive roster turnover and a next to nothing in financial resources.
Gregory Polanco is one of the Pirates best players, but he will be out until at least early May. That will put pressure on Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson and Melky Cabrera to hold things down until he comes back. The guy I'm excited to see is Jung Ho Kang, the big third baseman that has been destroying the ball in Spring Training. Throw in feisty Josh Bell, and the Pirates lineup can still knock the ball around a bit.
If Pittsburgh is going to have another competitive season in a stacked Central, they need their young pitchers to take a step forward. Jameson Taillon has the stuff of a dominating frontline starter. He needs to put it together and build on last season. The same goes for Trevor Williams. Chris Archer is a former Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star. He needs to pitch like it from Day 1.
This team has been one of the best bets in baseball over the past six seasons. I think they are going to continue to be a moneymaker. This group is overlooked and undervalued. They don't have enough firepower to win the division. Not this division. They do have enough talent to be a thorn in the side of the rest of the league, though, and I think they will threaten .500 yet again.
2018 Record: 67-95 (-1700)
2019 Wins Over/Under: 78.5
Odds To Win 2019 NL Central: +1550
Odds To Win 2019 NL Pennant: +4100
2019 Cincinnati Reds Odds to win World Series: +10000
Outlook : As we get closer to the start of the season, more and more people are jumping on the Reds' bandwagon. Why? I don't see it with this team at all, and I'm going to go ahead and say that the only surprise that will be attached to Cincinnati's season is the surprise at how so many people got sucked into believing in this squad.
Yasiel Puig will give the Reds a jolt of energy. And Cincinnati will give Puig the freedom to stretch his wings and be himself. That should help electrify a potentially decent lineup that will feature Scooter Gennett, Joey Votto and improving Eugenio Suarez.
Everyone in the Central can hit, though. Where is the pitching going to come from? Alex Wood is already hurt and no longer hurling in those pitcher-friendly National League West. Sonny Gray is busted, and things may never click for Luis Castillo. Anything will be better than last season's 5.02 starter's ERA. And getting more innings out of their starters should take pressure off a mediocre bullpen.
Cincinnati should be better this season. They'll be more competitive. They will also still be the worst team in the best division in baseball. This team can't compete. Even if Votto finds his old form and Puig puts up MVP-caliber numbers. There isn't enough pitching. After winning fewer than 69 games per season for the last four years, I think that a jump to 73 or 75 wins would be major progress. I don't see anything better than that.
2019 National League Central Picks and Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. Chicago Cubs
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Cincinnati Reds
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 five baseball seasons (and six of his last eight). Robert exploded for an incredible +$6,100 profit run last year during the first three weeks of the season and he plans on doing it again this year. Robert has posted four of five winning years on the diamond and is looking for another big season. Click here for more information on his MLB picks .
Read more articles by Robert Ferringo
Get all of Today's MLB Picks
Get all of Today's Guaranteed Expert MLB Picks