Cubs, Cardinals Expected to Compete for Top Billing in NL Central

MLB NL Central Division Preview: Cubs, Cards Pegged for 84.5 Wins

Is the National League Central Chicago’s to lose? Some prognosticators may think so, but it’s not that obvious. The Central is shaping up to among Major League Baseball’s most competitive divisions in 2024, much as it was last season when Milwaukee outlasted its competition.

The Cubs entered spring training as +180 favorites, but after an active offseason, the rival Cardinals are right on their heels with +185 odds. Meanwhile, the defending Central champion Brewers are expected to take a step back.

What should bettors expect? Let’s break down the odds in our MLB NL Central Division preview.

THE FAVORITE

Cubs logo Chicago Cubs (+180)

Chicago had the splashiest offseason of any NL Central team, starting with poaching Craig Counsell from Milwaukee. Counsell, who led the rival Brewers to five playoff appearances in eight seasons, is a big upgrade on David Ross. The Cubs also bolstered their roster, signing Japanese left-hander Shota Imanaga and reliever Hector Neris while bringing back outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger.

The Cubs won 83 games last season and were in the playoff hunt until late September. Given their additions, anything short of a postseason appearance in 2024 would be a huge disappointment. Oddsmakers project them for 84.5 wins. MLB betting odds also have them +1400 to win the National League.

They are the most balanced team in our MLB NL Central Division preview, especially if Imanaga proves he is the real deal.

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TOP CONTENDERS

Cardinals logo St. Louis Cardinals (+185)

After the first 90-loss season since 1990, the Cardinals wasted no time addressing their glaring need for pitching. With an eye on improving a 4.79 staff ERA (5.07 among starters), they signed Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson.

If that trio can provide both length and stability in the rotation, the Cardinals should improve. Oddsmakers have them projected for the same number of wins as Chicago.

The middle of the lineup remains potent with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Much is also expected of outfielder Jordan Walker following an encouraging rookie season.

Reds logo Cincinnati Reds (+340)

Reinvigorated by the emergence of top prospects Elly De La Cruz and Matt McLain, the Reds finished above .500 last season for only the second time in a decade. Although the Reds faded a bit in the second half, going just 32-38 after the All-Star break according to MLB stats, many are enthusiastic about their prospects for 2024.

The Reds — projected for 82.5 wins — added more thump to an already potent lineup by signing Jeimer Candelario, who should plenty of time at first base. They also rejected the urge to trade Jonathan India.

If De La Cruz continues his ascension as one of baseball’s brightest young stars, Cincinnati could win its first division title since 2012. But the Reds must also get reliable pitching from the likes of Hunter Greene, Andrew Abbott, and newly signed Frankie Montas.

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Brewers logo Milwaukee Brewers (+700)

In steps a first-year manager in Pat Murphy, who spent the previous eight seasons as Counsell’s bench coach. The Brewers won three NL Central titles during that span, including last season when they went 92-70.

But after trading away ace Corbin Burnes, the Brewers to be in cost-cutting mode.

There will be a lot of pressure on the young bats to produce, including outfielders Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer. Jackson Chourio — who at $82 million signed the largest guarantee ever for a player with no Major League experience — is waiting in the wings. The 19-year-old outfielder has played only six games above Double-A but is regarded as the No. 2 prospect in baseball behind Baltimore infielder Jackson Holliday.

The Brewers are projected for only 77.5 wins, so oddsmakers clearly expect them to take a step back.

LONGSHOT

Pirates logo Pittsburgh Pirates (+1600)

The Pirates finished 76-86 last season, a stark improvement over back-to-back 100-loss seasons. Although they are seemingly moving in the right direction, there is nothing that indicates they’re ready to make this type of leap. Another sub-.500 season seems to be the likeliest outcome, as the Pirates are projected for only 74.5 wins in our MLB NL Central Division preview.

General manager Ben Cherington spruced up the bullpen by signing veteran left-hander Aroldis Chapman and added rotation depth in southpaw Marco Gonzales through a trade with Atlanta. But arguably his biggest move was locking up Mitch Keller for the foreseeable future. On the heels of an All-Star season, Keller signed a five-year, $77 million extension with the Pirates last month.

It seems like only a matter of time before Keller is joined atop the rotation by former No. 1 overall pick Paul Skenes.

For MLB power rankings, betting odds, analysis and more, visit Point Spreads Sports Magazine.


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