Here’s our analysis of 2021 NL Central Futures Bets, including Taylor Tarter’s Best Pick & Sleeper Division Champion. Odds used for 2021 NL Central Bets and Predictions for the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are provided courtesy of BetMGM, current as of Wednesday, Feb. 17.
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2021 NL Central Futures Bets: Predictions, Picks & Sleeper
2021 NL Central Title Odds
- St. Louis Cardinals (+175)
- Cincinnati Reds (+275)
- Milwaukee Brewers (+300)
- Chicago Cubs (+350)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (+5000)
The Chicago Cubs won the NL Central in 2020, but the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals only trailed them by three games, and the Brewers by only 5 games. The Pirates weren’t in it at all, finishing 15 games behind the Cubs, with a 19-41 record. The Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs have each won the division crown since 2013. There have been no back-to-back winners since the Cubs did it in 2016-2017. It’s reasonable to expect that we won’t see a repeat winner in 2021.
The Reds lost several players this offseason in an attempt to cut payroll. Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer signed with the Dodgers and closer Raisel Iglesias was traded to the Angels. Reliever Archie Bradley, catcher Curt Casali, and outfielder Brian Goodwin were all allowed to walk in free agency.
On top of that, the team has not added anyone significant, so it surprises me that the Reds are currently the second favorites to win the division in 2021. They have a deep bullpen of young arms, but no proven closers, and starters Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo have a lot of upside, but there’s not much upside in the rotation behind them.
The Cubs traded away ace Yu Darvish and allowed pitchers Jose Quintana and Jon Lester to leave for the Angels and the Nationals respectively. The only major signing was platoon outfielder Joc Pederson. Where the Cubs lack most is in their rotation and bullpen, and that will limit them from truly competing for the division title this season. Beyond Kyle Hendricks, the rest of the pitching staff boasts a projected WAR of 0.6 or worse for 2021, and Craig Kimbrel has the highest projected WAR of their relievers at just 0.5.
Even a resurgence to greatness by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez wouldn’t be enough to put them in the conversation for the division title.
The Pirates have essentially traded away every veteran of value this offseason. They traded Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees, Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals, and Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres. I think it’s likely Pittsburgh will be one of, if not the worst team in baseball this year. They might have one of the worst seasons in baseball history. I am surprised the +5000 odds they’re getting isn’t closer to +10000.
2021 NL Central Title: Smart Money Prediction
St. Louis Cardinals (+175)
BetMGM has the Cardinals favored to win the division at +175, and it’s no surprise why. The Cardinals added third baseman Nolan Arenado, who brings a 32.3 career WAR to an already solid team. They are bringing back Yadier Molina for another year. I’m curious to see what they do with Matt Carpenter, because first base and third base will be occupied by Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado, respectively. Tommy Edman should be the Cards’ second baseman.
Does Carpenter play in right field? Does that mean we see an outfield platoon? It’s never a bad thing to have too many good bats, and that’s where the Cardinals are at right now.
St. Louis also has one of the league’s best young pitchers in Jack Flaherty, along with a solid rotation and bullpen. It’s no wonder they are projected to finish first in the NL Central. The Cardinals are the only team in their division that has made aggressive moves this offseason.
2021 NL Central Winner: Sleeper Bet
Milwaukee Brewers (+300)
The Brewers return mostly the same team that they started in 2020. They signed second baseman Kolten Wong this offseason, and presumably will move Keston Hiura to first base. Lorenzo Cain will return to the lineup in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season.
By reinjecting Cain and shifting Hiura to first, the Brewers have filled problematic holes in the outfield and at first base. Those moves, plus a return to health and form for Christian Yelich, should help boost the offense in 2021.
The major question in the lineup will be if Luis Urias can play up to the potential he had as a prospect in San Diego’s system and give the Brewers a solid option at third base. The Brew Crew returns a promising rotation headlined by recent breakout candidates Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes along with an elite bullpen headlined by closer Josh Hader and setup man Devin Williams.
If you’re looking for a bigger payout with a little more risk than the Cards, target the Brewers. They have a rotation and bullpen that will limit runs, and an offense that will keep them close in most games. Either way, the division probably will be won by a narrow margin again this season.
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