The Chicago Cubs are an overwhelming favorite for everything. Check with your local or your favorite offshore. They’re probably favored to win the Super Bowl and the gold medal in synchronized swimming in the upcoming Olympics in Rio. Anthony Rizzo may even be favored to be the next President. In any event, as the American Pharoah of the three-horse race in the National League Central, the Cubs are the biggest favorite of any division. After winning 97 games last season in what was a rookie season for several key contributors, it’s probably justified.
There are two rebuilding teams in this division that might well stay home the 19 times that they play any of the teams that make up the three-headed monster in the NL Central. With three teams that won 97 or more games last season, a lot of people believe this to be the best division in baseball. That all depends on your perspective. Do you want a division where all five teams can win it? That would be the AL Central. Do you want a heated race until the end with division and Wild Card implications? You’ve probably come to the right place.
In terms of division winner odds, here are the prices from BetDSI Sportsbook (click the team name for Adam Burke’s MLB season win total analysis):
Chicago Cubs -210
St. Louis Cardinals +290
Pittsburgh Pirates +420
Cincinnati Reds +4987
Milwaukee Brewers +5500
After picking up Jason Heyward and John Lackey this offseason, it became eminently clear that the Chicago Cubs were going to be the flavor of the seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, and full-length seasons, not just this year, but well into the future. With an extremely talented young core featuring Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and others, the Cubs are the odds-on favorite to snap their 108-year World Series drought. The rotation is pretty good, too, led by reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, three-time AL All-Star Jon Lester, playoff hero John Lackey, and youngster Kyle Hendricks. Finding weaknesses on this team is really hard.
The St. Louis Cardinals have suffered two big injury setbacks and the season hasn’t even started yet. Jhonny Peralta is out for a few months with a torn thumb ligament and Lance Lynn was lost for the season when he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The fact that the Cardinals, who lost 200 innings from Lackey and similar upside from Lynn, are even lined as the second favorite is a testament to the organization’s player development prowess. Young position players like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty are paired with veterans like Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter to form a competitive team that shouldn’t be counted out.
Like the Kansas City Royals, it seems that people are sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After experiencing success in the 80s and early 90s, the Royals and Pirates were lovable losers for a long time. Pittsburgh has done it with some great drafting, good player development, and a defensive philosophy capable of elevating otherwise replacement-level starters. The magic touch of pitching coach Ray Searage doesn’t hurt. With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and a really compelling second-year player in Jung Ho Kang, it’s not like the cupboard has suddenly gone bare for the Pirates. Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano are a strong 1-2 punch in the rotation and the bullpen is always a quality group.
Rebuilding is never any fun, but the Cincinnati Reds are doing it at the right time. They are in no position to contend with these three Goliaths, so they will develop from within and scour the trade market to maximize their assets. The Reds do have some really intriguing pitchers for this season. Guys like Raisel Iglesias, John Lamb, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan have a lot more upside than most people realize. Not that they’ll contend for anything, but they may not roll over and die for the big boys to feast on.
The Milwaukee Brewers are also doing the right thing. David Stearns has turned over more than half of the 40-man roster since he took over in early October as the new General Manager. The Brewers lack the intriguing pitching that the Reds have, but still have a lot to play for this season from an individual development standpoint. It won’t lead to wins and the fact that a number even has to come out for their division odds is a little bit of a slap in the face.
Pick: Chicago Cubs
Don’t lay this price. Really, don’t play anything in this division. If you must, the Cubs are the team in the best position for this season. They are the deepest team in this division and they are currently the healthiest. Their position players are way too gifted to run into the “sophomore slump” and the defense is vastly improved in the outfield with Jason Heyward saving 20+ runs in the outfield. There’s a reason that they are the favorite for everything.
Best Value Pick: Pittsburgh Pirates
I’m going to bypass the St. Louis Cardinals, who have a lot of issues right now, and look at the Pittsburgh Pirates. If Gregory Polanco can take the next step and Jung Ho Kang can come back from his horrific knee injury no worse for the wear, this team has some upside. Tyler Glasnow should be in the rotation before too long and that will eliminate a below average arm from the rotation. The Pirates might have a lower floor than St. Louis, but their upside should be higher.