Kris Bryant and the Cubs have raced out to an early lead in the NL Central and oddsmakers don’t think they will be reeled in. Photo by Minda Haas Kuhlmann (flickr).
- A hot start has helped establish the Chicago Cubs as the heavy favorites in the NL Central
- The Cincinnati Reds have disappointed but are still the second choice in the division
- The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals made the playoffs last year but face long odds
When the Chicago Cubs collapsed during the final days of last season and manager Joe Maddon’s contract was not renewed, it appeared their run as one of the top teams in the major leagues might be over.
The Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years in 2016 and seemed destined for more championships. They had a young core that included first baseman Anthony Rizzo, third baseman Kris Bryant, shortstop Addison Russell, and center fielder Jason Heyward.
The Cubs have not been back to the World Series since, though, and missed the postseason entirely last year for the first time since 2014.
Yet, a third of the way through this pandemic-shortened season, the Cubs are overwhelming favorites to win the National League Central.
2020 NL Central Division Odds
|Teams||Odds at FanDuel|
|St. Louis Cardinals||+850|
Odds as of Aug. 19.
Hot Start Propels Cubs
The Cubs quickly established themselves as the team to beat in the NL Central by getting off to a 13-3 start. The hot start moved the NL Central odds and Chicago is now, on average, a -375 bet to win the division.
Though they have cooled somewhat, the Cubs still entered Wednesday’s play with a 15-7 record. That was good for a 4.5-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs have ridden a combination of solid hitting and pitching to the top of the division standings. They are ninth in the major leagues with a 4.02 ERA and 11thin scoring with 4.91 runs a game.
Some Cubs’ fans are already counting down the magic number.
40: Hey hey! The first place #Cubs downed STL 6-3 on Tuesday behind a QS from Darvish (6 IP, 1 ER, 7 K) and HRs from Happ & Schwarber. #ThatsCub #StrapItOn #GoCubsGo #WhereStoriesPlay#FlyTheW pic.twitter.com/bypI99c1e0
— Cubs Magic Number (@CubsMagicNumber) August 19, 2020
Yet, while the Cubs are deserving favorites, questions with their pitching staff make them vulnerable.
The rotation is suspect beyond the top three of Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Jon Lester. The closer situation is also unsettled as veteran Craig Kimbrel has lost the job and his ERA is 13.50.
2020 World Series Odds Tracker
The Cincinnati Reds were the trendy pick to win the division following an active winter. They signed second baseman Mike Moustakas and right fielder Nicholas Castellanos to four-year, $64-million contracts in free agency.
Castellanos has been productive, hitting .267 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs in 20 games, putting his name into the NL MVP odds. Moustakas, though, has already had two stints on the injured list and been limited to seven games.
Nick Castellanos – Cincinnati Reds (8) 3-run
Distance: 399 ft
Exit Velocity: 104.2 mph
Launch Angle: 38°pic.twitter.com/czLqDLfkAh
— MLB Home Runs (@HomeRunVideos) August 15, 2020
The Reds are just 20th in the majors in scoring at 4.55 runs a game. Nearly as disappointing is the 4.27 ERA, which ranks 15th, despite the presence of the strong trio of Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer (the NL Cy Young favorite).
The strong starting pitching still gives the Reds a chance to make a push in the division.
Brewers Haven’t Hit
The Brewers seemingly have a weaker roster this year than in the previous two seasons when they reached the postseason. They also suffered a blow when Gold Glove center fielder Lorenzo Cain opted out of the remainder of the season on Aug. 1.
Lorenzo Cain on his decision to opt out of the 2020 season: pic.twitter.com/xe2TvydaCR
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) August 1, 2020
Yet the Brewers showed last weekend that they can play with the Cubs, winning the last three games of a four-game road series.
Hitting has been a major issue for the Brewers, though, as none of their regulars have a batting average over .230.
Tough Road for Cards
The Cardinals are the defending NL Central champions. Yet they have played just 11 games after their season was interrupted for 17 days because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Cardinals are 5-6 but it is hard to get a good read on them because of their uneven schedule.
However, because of all their postponements, the Cardinals are in position where they will play 55 games in the last 44 days of the season. It is hard to imagine a team running that kind of gauntlet and still finishing in first place.
What I said on Fox: League working with union on setting full Cardinals schedule. Players want additional doubleheaders to create off-days. League believes STL still could get close to 60 games, and maybe even to 60 by making up doubleheader if necessary day after season ends.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 13, 2020
The Cubs are playing better fundamental baseball under new manager David Ross and will be hard anyone to overtake despite their pitching.
`If you are looking for a value play, though, making a small wager on the Brewers could be worthwhile. No manager gets more out of his team’s talent that Craig Counsell.
John Perrotto has been covering and writing about sports for various outlets for over 40 years. His work has appeared in the likes of USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com, Forbes.com, The Associated Press, Baseball Digest, and more. John is based out of Beaver Falls, PA.