The National League Central once again looks wide open in 2021, meaning there might also be plenty of betting value — assuming you’re on the right ballclub.
The St. Louis Cardinals stole the offseason headlines by acquiring Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies. That gives the Redbirds arguably Major League Baseball’s top 3-4 lineup combination with Paul Goldschmidt. Pair that with a young rotation anchored by Jack Flaherty, and you can see why St. Louis is favored to win the Central crown.
But just about any team not named the Pittsburgh Pirates has a path to winning the Central. The Reds lost Trevor Bauer, which certainly does hurt, but Cincinnati was a playoff team a year ago. The Cubs are in a bit of a rebuild, but Chicago still has some high-end offensive talent that ranks among the best in baseball. And then there are the Milwaukee Brewers, who have made the playoffs the last three years and won at least 86 games in the last three non-pandemic campaigns.
Here’s a full rundown of the NL Central title odds, per FanDuel Sportsbook.
St. Louis Cardinals +100
Milwaukee Brewers +310
Cincinnati Reds +350
Chicago Cubs +500
Pittsburgh Pirates +7500
The Cardinals undoubtedly are the most talented team in the division and are the favorites for the reason, but we think there might be better value elsewhere.
We’re pleasantly surprised to see the Brewers atop Fangraphs’ projections for the 2021 season ? with an 81-81 record? For what it’s worth, those projections have every team but Milwaukee finishing with a losing record, which honestly seems hard to believe. But it does speak to the seemingly wide-open nature of the Central, which makes the 3-1 number look enticing.
It’s possible the Brewers got the steal of the offseason by signing Jackie Bradley Jr. to a manageable deal. Bradley runs hot and cold at the plate, but his elite defense should be even more important in 2021 when MLB moves to a new baseball that should cut down on home runs. That means balls that might have landed in the seats will now start falling in the outfield, which means a defensive outfield of Bradley, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich is a legitimate weapon. If anything falls in out there, it will be a surprise.
Milwaukee also has starting pitching, which remains the name of the game. The Brew Crew ranked third in the NL in starting pitching WAR last year with a FIP that was a half-run better than the ERA. Basically, the defense let Milwaukee down, and as we just mentioned, the defense is better now. Corbin Burnes struck out more than 13 per nine innings in 2020 on his way to finishing sixth in Cy Young Award voting. Brandon Woodruff was much better than his 3-5 record indicates. Oh, and the bullpen — anchored by Josh Hader and Devin Williams — is a problem for opponents.
If pitching and defense really do win games, Milwaukee will win a bunch. If Yelich returns to MVP form, look out for this club.