Many people expected the St. Louis Cardinals to win the NL Central in 2021 after their offseason acquisition of third baseman Nolan Arenado, but as we approach July, those expectations have quickly been proven very wrong.
Entering Monday, the Milwaukee Brewers and their strong pitching staff anchored by Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes led the NL Central by three full games over the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs surged from third place in the division to first place — at one point — in June but have gone just 4-6 in their last 10 games.
Meanwhile, the Brewers have been one of the better teams in the National League since acquiring shortstop Willy Adames from the Tampa Bay Rays in late May.
The Cincinnati Reds have had two of the best players and potential MVP candidates in the NL all season long in corner outfielders Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos, but that hasn’t been enough for Cincinnati to maintain a record over .500 this season.
At the bottom of the division is the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 29-48 record, but in their last 10 games, the Pirates are 6-4, including winning three-of-four against the Cardinals in St. Louis, which moved the Cardinals record to a disappointing 37-41.
Here are some future bets you should consider taking before the All-Star break.
Who is going to winning the division?
Entering July, every division in baseball is a tight one at the top. The biggest gap between the first and second place team is in the NL West, where the San Francisco Giants lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by 3.5 games, but that could quickly change this week as the Dodgers and Giants battle in Los Angeles.
In the NL Central, though, the Milwaukee Brewers currently have the best odds to win the division with -141 odds. The Cubs are +250 while the three other teams in the division are +650 or worse to win the division crown.
The old saying that pitching and defense win in baseball still remains true, and with the Cubs not looking like all-in buyers at the trade deadline picking the Brewers to win the division seems like the safest bet. Woodruff and Burnes are as good of a one-two punch in the NL outside of Los Angeles and San Diego Padres, and with a bullpen anchored by Josh Hader, it’s safe to bet on the Brewers to win the title.
However, if you’re looking for a risky bet that could give you a better payout, the Cubs at +250 has good odds. A big risk would be on the Cardinals to put their horrible month of June in the past and hope that the return of starters Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas coupled with some improved bullpen help will get Cardinals hot, but again, this isn’t likely to be a smart money move.
Take the under on…
Take the under on the Pirates win total. Pittsburgh still has yet to reach the 30-win total mark despite playing 77 gamers already. The Pirates do have some trade pieces on their rater that would be enticing to other teams across the major leagues, including second baseman Adam Fletcher and first baseman Colin Moran as well as power-hitting outfielder Gregory Polanco. Should the Pirates decide to trade any of these pieces, it’s fair to assume that Pittsburgh would struggle to hit their preseason win total over/under of 59.5.
If you want an MVP pick
Oftentimes the MVP tends to be on a team that wins a significant amount of games. That’s why it makes sense for a player like Frenado Tatis Jr to potentially win the MVP in 2021, but if you really want a pick from the NL Central, go with Kris Bryant.
Bryant’s ability to move into the outfield and play all three positions has been invaluable to the Cubs this season. In fact, this season, Bryant has played more games in the outfield than he has at third base.
He has cooled down at the plate a lot after a great start, but he has seen his average drop to .265. He still has 15 home runs as we approach the midway point of the season and his OPS+ sits at a high 138, or 38% above league average.
Jesse Winker and Nick Casteallons both have produced some impressive offensive numbers this season, but the Reds aren’t likely to be in the picture to win the division, so staying away from those two is likely smart.