MLB NL Central Division Betting Preview: Outright Odds, Division Odds, Season Win Totals

Teams in the NL Central have long felt ignored or disrespected by members of the national media, but in recent seasons it certainly has felt like flyover country. The last time an NL Central team won a playoff series? The 2019 St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Atlanta Braves in the division series.

The Central doesn’t have any super teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers or Braves, but a shocking last-place finish at least spurred the Cardinals’ front office to wake up and some of the young talent from the historically bottom-feeding teams is beginning to show. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs, always a sleeping giant given their robust market size, are showing mixed signals that they are pushing their rebuild into the next gear.

Let’s take a deeper look at a division that could surprise some people and produce a bona fide World Series hopeful for the first time in more than a half-dozen years:

St. Louis Cardinals

World Series odds: +3500
League odds: +1400
Division odds: +135
Season win total: 85.5 (-110 over, -110 under)
To make playoffs: Yes (-130), No (+100)
Record last season: 71-91 (last in NL Central – didn’t make playoffs)

Key departures: RHP Adam Wainwright, OF Tyler O’Neill, C Andrew Knizner

Key additions: RHP Sonny Gray, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP Kenyon Middleton, LHP John King, SS Brandon Crawford, DH Matt Carpenter

Season outlook: The Cardinals radically overhauled their pitching staff after allowing the seventh-most runs and striking out the second-fewest batters in the major leagues, causing a last-place finish in 2023. That doesn’t happen to the National League’s premier franchise often. The Cardinals went from 1918 to 1990 without finishing in last place in their league or division, then went another three decades before doing it again. The Cardinals responded by signing a couple of veterans with a track record of eating up innings, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn, before making their big move to land ace Sonny Gray on a team-friendly three-year, $75 million deal. Could it blow up? Easily. The youngest pitcher in the rotation is Steven Matz and he’s an injury-prone 32-year old. The team had a nice crew of young position players last season, but they’ll need continued strides from the likes of Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Lars Nootbaar to fulfill their last-to-first designs.

Best bet: Winn didn’t look entirely ready for his first taste of the big leagues last year, batting .172 and posting -0.6 bWAR, but he retained his rookie status and, at +2800 in Rookie of the Year betting, he’s too good to ignore. His minor league track record suggests he often struggles when first reaching a new level, but then adjusts and succeeds. He has looked fantastic thus far this spring. Plus, greater awareness by voters of defensive prowess will help the toolsy shortstop with an arm that routinely uncorks throws of 95+ MPH across the diamond.

St. Louis Cardinals to win the NL Central


Chicago Cubs

World Series odds: +3300
League odds: +1600
Division odds: +210
Season win total: 83.5 (+100 over, -130 under)
To make playoffs: Yes, (-105), No (-115)
Record last season: 83-79 (second in NL Central – didn’t make playoffs)

Key departures: RHP Marcus Stroman, 3B Jeimer Candelario

Key additions: LHP Shota Imanaga, 1B Michael Busch, RHP Hector Neris

Season outlook: After a promising step in their rebuild, the Cubs so far haven’t made the kind of impact off-season moves their fans were hoping for, but there are still impact names on the market and, by resigning Cody Bellinger, the Cubs certainly are in the mix in a highly winnable division. Imanaga seems like a perfectly solid replacement for Stroman and Neris should help fortify the staff. They added another high-upside prospect in Busch. The biggest move the team made doesn’t even involve a player. The Cubs are hoping the addition of manager Craig Counsell will help maximize the talent on the roster. This isn’t a team that will intimidate its opponents, but there’s no reason to think these guys can’t outplay their historic rivals in St. Louis.

Best bet: Mid-career pitchers who arrive from foreign leagues typically have a massive early advantage when they first arrive: few of the batters they’re facing have ever seen them throw. While that is true of the NL Rookie of the Year favourite, L.A.’s Yoshinobu Yamamoto, it also is true of Imanaga. At +1200, he’s a solid bet to win the award and become the sixth player from Japan to nab it.

Cincinnati Reds

World Series odds: +4000
League odds: +2500
Division odds: +350
Season win total: 82.5 (-110 over, -110 under)
To make playoffs: Yes (+145), No (-180)
Record last season: 82-80 (third in NL Central – didn’t make playoffs)

Key departures: OF Nick Senzel, 1B Joey Votto, OF Harrison Bader

Key additions: 3B Jeimer Candelario, RHP Frankie Montas, RHP Nick Martinez

Offseason outlook: The Reds might have the most raw talent in the division, but they need a lot of young players to grow up quickly, making them one of the more variable bets in baseball. The Reds didn’t pitch well enough to truly contend in 2023, but they’re hoping the additions of Montas and Martinez will eat up innings and allow younger pitchers such as Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft to begin to live up to their massive potential. If young position players like Spencer Steer and Elly De La Cruz improve in 2024, this might be the team to beat by July or August. Then again, a lot can go wrong for a team that has been unwilling to spend for well over a decade.

Best bet: It feels as if Greene is going to finally show the baseball-watching world just how good he can be. With fastball velocity that ranks in the 97th percentile and with a slider and changeup that helped him rank in the 91st percentile in strikeout rate, he was simply too good to post a 4.63 ERA. While he may not be quite ready to edge into the Cy Young discussion, he’s a solid bet, at +2000, to lead the league in strikeouts.

Hunter Greene (CIN) to win NL Cy Young Award


Milwaukee Brewers

World Series odds: +7500
League odds: +3500
Division odds: +650
Season win total: 77.5 (-110 over, -110 under)
To make playoffs: Yes (+300), No (-400)
Record last season: 92-70 (first in NL Central – lost NL wild card series)

Key departures: RHP Corbin Burnes, 1B/DH Carlos Santana, OF Mark Canha, OF Jesse Winker

Key additions: 1B Rhys Hoskins, C Gary Sanchez, RHP Jakob Junis, LHP DL Hall

Season outlook: It was an off-season of transition for the team that had moved ahead of the Cardinals atop the division in recent seasons while never mounting a legitimate World Series run. They allowed Counsell to head south to Chicago and replaced him with bench coach Pat Murphy while trading Cy Young winner Burnes to Baltimore for prospects. While they certainly lost more than they got, at least in the short term, pundits and analysts seem to be selling this team short. It has proven to have one of the more intelligent front offices in baseball and Counsell’s departure could prove to be a non-factor while top prospect Jackson Chourio could make a major impact. It was time for a change given the high regular season win totals with few banners to show for it.

Best bet: It feels as if people are way too down on this team. And, while the first instinct might be to bet on over 77.5 wins, perhaps it is wiser to go for a bigger payoff and take 3-to-1 odds on them again reaching the playoffs. After all, none of the other teams in this division are showing signs of winning 90-plus games, meaning a competitive season by the Brewers should put them in the mix once again. And the beauty of this ticket is it doesn’t require them to win in October, something they’ve been unable to do under this management group.

Pittsburgh Pirates

World Series odds: +7500
League odds: +3500
Division odds: +1800
Season win total: 73.5 (+110 over, -140 under)
To make playoffs: Yes (+700), No (-1200)

Record last season: 76-86 (fourth in NL Central – didn’t make playoffs)

Key departures: RHP Vince Velasquez, INF Miguel Andujar, LHP Jarlin García, LHP Angel Perdomo

Key additions: LHP Marco Gonzales, LHP Martin Pérez, LHP Aroldis Chapman, 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez

Season outlook: The Pirates badly needed pitching help and they’re hoping guys like Gonzales and Pérez will make for a more reliable rotation while Chapman gives them some backend oomph in the bullpen to shorten games. This team doesn’t have enough talent waiting in the wings to make a serious run at winning this division in 2024, but if the Cardinals’ age and the Cubs’ overall lack of star power cause those teams to fizzle, this is a team that could contend for a while to the shock of many. The Reds seem to be better positioned to shake up the division right now, but the Pirates’ rebuild keeps chugging along.

Best bet: David Bednar somehow managed to save a league-leading 39 games last year, more than half the Pirates’ wins. One of these days, voters will notice he is one of the most dominant relievers in MLB. Perhaps it will be in the wake of 2024 and, if so, you’ll be happy you bought a ticket on Bednar to win NL Reliever of the Year at +1600 way back in March. You’re welcome.