Lets break down this years 2011 National League Central Division, where the Cincinnati Reds are expected to lead the bunch this MLB Season.
The 2010 NL Central was supposed to belong to the St. Louis
Cardinals who had been posted on the MLB Odds boards as a -160 chalk by the time Opening Day arrived. St. Louis looked the part
of a postseason club by winning seven of its first eight series, including
taking two sets from the Cincinnati Reds and a 4-game sweep of the Atlanta
Braves. In fact, the Redbirds played
very well against the top NL teams, beating the Reds 12 of the 18 times the two
clubs got together.
As well as the Cardinals played against the eventual playoff
quartet (40-15 vs. Braves, Giants, Phillies, Reds), they were mediocre in the
rest of their schedule (46-51). And as
much as the Reds struggled against St. Louis, they made up for it going 43-18
against the other NL Central clubs en route to a 91-win season for their first
division title and playoff appearance since 1995.
Sportsbooks see a 3-team race in the division this time with
the Reds and Cardinals joined by the Milwaukee Brewers. Cincinnati
(+175) is the favorite, but St. Louis (+195) and
(+215) aren't far behind with the trio bunched in the 84-87 win range. With both the Cards and Brewers dealing with
injuries to staff aces, Dusty Baker and the Reds appear poised to repeat.
MLB betting trends are already starting to take shape, lets examine how these teams are shaping up to help give you, the MLB Bettor, a look at the big picture.
Cincinnati Reds (+175 to win NL Central; 86½ wins OVER -105)
When a team moves up or down by more than 80 win percentage
points from one season to the next, it bears closer examination. This is especially true for small- or
mid-market sized franchises who are more susceptible to one key
injury/retirement or one big free agent splash.
Examining how Cincinnati
went from 78 wins and 4th-place finish in the NL Central in 2009 to 91 wins and
the division crown in 2010 requires only looking at a single column of stats:
Runs Scored. The Reds ranked 11th in the
NL in '09 with 673 runs before exploding with an NL-best 790 in 2010, that 17%
increase befitting the extra 16.7% of wins.
In many ways, it was a free agent that provided that extra offense, and
his name was Jay Joey Scott.
Injuries limited the trio of Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Jay
Bruce to 272 games in 2009; the three combined to play 159 extra games in 2010
while increasing the power they provided from 50 HR to 82 HR and adding 116
runs to the ledger. That would account
for all but one of those extra plate crossing from 2009-10. Rolen would be the
most likely of the trio to regress since the likelihood of him playing two
successive seasons of 130+ games is remote at best. But Votto and Bruce are also poised to be
even better, assuming good health.
Brandon Phillips gives the New Red Machine a lot of pop at
second base with defensive whiz-kid Paul Janish at short. Miguel Cairo is the utility glove and
potential long-term 3B replacement for Rolen.
Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hannigan will split time at catcher.
Drew Stubbs in center is another player who could experience
a market correction in his second full season.
He's expected to be the leadoff hitter, so struggles could really impact
the Reds. Jonny Gomes completes the
outfield in left with Fred Lewis the fourth outfielder.
Reds pitchers improved their ERA from 4.18 in 2009 to 4.02
in 2010, but dropped from 7th to 8th in the NL.
Keeping this group healthy will be more important than keeping Rolen
healthy. Edinson Volquez may hold the
key along with Johnny Cueto. Bronson
Arroyo isn't flashy but gets the job done as the most consistent and
experienced starter going into '10.
Homer Bailey and Travis Wood, the only southpaw, figure to complete the
rotation but stay tuned.
Francisco Cordero is the closer. Aroldis Chapman's control will be the key if
he becomes the top setup arm or even assumes Cordero's role. Nick Masset and Bill Bray are in middle
relief roles but watch for Matt Maloney in a middle/setup slot.
The first month of MLB has been and gone and Cincinnati is sitting in the middle of the road. 13 wins and 13 losses gives them a perfect .500 percentage and sees them sitting third in the NL Central. On the offensive end they are posting 5.3 average runs for, ranking 2nd and 9.0 average hits a game seeing them rank sixth.
Defense is where they have struggled so far and will need to tighten. Ranking tenth in average runs against (4.4) and eleventh for team ERA. Their last five games show the hit and miss start they have had, going loss, win, loss, win, loss with three of the five posting over the total.
In May the Reds face two series with the Cubs and Astros and a tough close out the month against the Phillies, Braves and Brewers.
June finds the Reds in the same third place they started May in. The PCT has improved from .500 to .517 their home record now stands at 18-12 with the away a little worse going 12-16. The offense has remained basically the same going 4.8 average runs for and 9.0 average hits and ranking second and third respectively.
The Defense has dropped off a little and they are now in the 13 spot for ARA and ERA and they finished the month by dropping 7 of the last 10 games and they are 5-11 SU in the last 16 but a much more positive 10-3 SU in the last 13 at home.
June sees them in the sanctuary of the home field 13 times and away an equal number, the mid month trip to San Francisco and the Dodgers could be a tricky proposition.
St. Louis Cardinals (+195 to win NL Central; 83½ wins OVER
The general consensus is if the Cardinals couldn't win with
Adam Wainwright last season, they won't win without him in 2011. No doubt the loss is big, and should they
fall a game or two short of the division flag it will leave fans and bettors
alike wondering what if the club had Wainwright for 30 starts instead of Kyle
Wainwright's absence doesn't mean St. Louis can't still win the NL Central,
though it wouldn't take more than 1-2 more key injuries to really derail the
McClellan actually looks more than ready to step up in
Wainwright's rotation slot. The
righthander was solid out of the pen last season and has enjoyed a very solid
spring so far along with Kyle Lohse who is looking to rebound from a poor 2010. Chris Carpenter has to stay healthy, and at
35 with his past that is not a given. St. Louis will get a full season from Jake Westbrook who
looked good after coming over from Cleveland
The key to the rotation is Jaime Garcia who has been knocked
around in spring action. He's the only
southpaw in the mix and there isn't much depth behind the current quintet.
Removing McClellan from relief leaves manager Tony La Russa
resetting his bullpen. Ryan Franklin
remains the closer with primary bridge work from Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs
and Trever Miller.
The club was unable to work out a new mega-extension with
Albert Pujols, but he will at least be leading the Cardinals offense this
season. Teamed with Matt Holliday, it's
as potent a pair of bats as you can find.
But is there enough support around on this offense?
Colby Rasmus in center and David Freese at third are both
capable of adding to the attack, but the middle of the infield is light with
Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot. Lance
Berkman was signed to become an everyday right-fielder, and counting on him to
hold up for more than 110 games is asking for disappointment.
Heading into the second month of the season, St Louis is perched atop of the NL Central with a .577 win percentage and have suprisingly seen greater fortunes on the road than at the Busch Stadium, going 6-6 on home turf and 9-5 on their travels.
It is the offense that is really driving them with a top ranking for average runs and average hits per game (5.4 and 10.6 respectively).
From a betting perspective the strong offensive end coupled with a less than perfect defense has meant the Over has been a good play with the Cardinals this month. The total has gone over in 9 of their last 10 games on the road and in 5 of their last 6 in all.
St Louis starts May with a tricky visit to the Marlins for a four game series and sees them face the League leading Phillies for a two game series in the middle.
St. Louis have defied the books so far this season and they end May looking good in the number one position in the NL Central. Despite dropping the PCT, but only fractionally, to .576 they can really cement their hold on the division if they can take the three game series at the Brewers which starts on June the 10th.
With a clean sweep of first place rankings across the board for runs, hits and walks it is surprising to see the under cashing in 12 of their last 18 games and 9 of the last 12 whilst at home.
The June schedule looks relatively kind to the Cardinals and they have road trips that should provide some wins, including trips to the Nationals, Astros and Orioles. Whilst at home their fans will get to see the Cubs, Royals, Phillies and Blue Jays.
Milwaukee Brewers (+215 to win NL Central; 85 wins OVER -110)
Much of the early excitement surrounding the Brewers has
been tempered by the injury to newly-acquired staff ace Zack Greinke. The former AL Cy Young winner fractured a rib
playing basketball and will not be ready to pitch until mid-April at the
earliest. Given how ribs can be slow to
heal and easy to re-injure, Greinke's savior status has to be put on hold for
Greinke hasn't been lonely in the Milwaukee trainer's room this spring. Numerous other Brewers regulars have been
nursing pains, including outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, catcher Jonathan
Lucroy, second baseman Rickie Weeks and pitcher Manny Parra who is returning
from hip surgery and could be the temporary replacement for Grienke in the
Milwaukee also added Shaun
Marcum in a trade with Toronto
this winter, and he'll probably slot in behind Yovani Gallardo and in front of
Chris Narveson as the top 3 in the rotation to begin the season. Veteran lefty Randy Wolf has been hammered
this spring, but he figures to be the fourth starter to begin with. John Axford
closes with Kameron Loe and Takashi Saito the two most likely to set Axford up.
It's certainly a great lineup that could carry a team to a
division title with just a little bit of pitching. Milwaukee
ranked fourth in the NL with over 4.6 runs per game, second with 182 homers and
third in OPS (.759). Five 30-HR threats
fill the order with Braun, Hart, Weeks, Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee.
Yuniesky Betancourt, who accompanied Greinke from Kansas City in that deal,
will be at short and popped 16 for the Royals a year ago. A breakout season from Carlos Gomez in center
would make it the top offense in the NL this season.
Milwaukee has been value for Under bettors throughout April, seeing the score go below the total in 6 of their last 9 road games and with a sixth ranking runs offense its not so hard to see why.
The Brewers are second in the National League Central going 13-12 and 8-5 at home, having lost their opening series against the Reds they bounced back with a 3-1 win over the Braves and took a three game series over the Philles 2-1.
In May they again face the Braves early in the month and close out against the Reds.
The Brewers continue to be value for people tailing the under, in their last 12 road games the total has gone under in 8 but they are only 5-12 SU in the last 17. The offense has gone up a notch and now ranks fifth for runs and hits.
They still retain the second spot in the National League Central with .544 PCT and a strong home record boasting 21-7, which of course means the away record is just 10-19.
Looking at June the Brewers better sort out their road troubles with 15 games away in June and just 12 at home so we could be seeing a different position for them in July.
Houston Astros (+2000 to win NL Central; 72½ wins OVER -120)
No team overachieved as much the second half of 2010 than Houston, either that or
Berkman and Roy Oswalt's were bigger clubhouse cancers than anyone knew. Let's go with the former to explain how the
Astros managed to go 36-27 from late-July to the end of the season.
It also makes for a tough time trying to handicap a team
when it far exceeds its perceived talent.
won down the stretch is no mystery: pitching.
The club got very consistent starting pitching from Brett Myers all
season, plus good stuff from lefthanders Wandy Rodriguez and JA Happ after Happ
came over from Philly in the Oswalt trade.
Brandon Lyon closed with Wilton Lopez and Tim Byrdak filling the gap
from starters to closer.
Rodriguez is having shoulder trouble this spring, and its'
difficult to expect Myers to pitch as well as he did in 2010. There's still the potential for a good staff,
especially if Happ continues to grow and Bud Norris figures out how to beat
teams other than the Cardinals. A step
back in performance for the staff overall is more likely, however.
will have a new middle infield, and neither shortstop Clint Barmes or second
baseman Bill Hall are really known for solid defensive work. They should add
pop to a lineup that finished last in the NL in homers last season with
108. Chris Johnson is a solid young
third baseman and the club hopes Brent Wallace can get his game in gear at
The outfield is the strength of the Astros with Carlos Lee,
Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, plus there's depth with Jason Bourgeois and
The Astros did not manage to bring their late 2010 form into 2011, going 9-17 was good enough for rock bottom place in the NL Central. They have been equally week at home and away posting a record 5-9 and 4-8 respectively.
April really wasn't fun for Houston as they opened with just two wins in their opening ten games. It didn't help that they stared the season facing the newly revamped Phillies who swept them aside, but they will need to improve on their record in May.
Their defense has been particularly poor in April, ranking sixteenth for both average runs against and also team ERA (5.8 and 5.23 respectively). Heading into May they will face the Reds twice in the opening two weeks but will need to record a stronger road record if they are to move up.
The Houston Astros end May the same place the ended April, down the bottom of the Central division. They are second only to the Twins for the worst PCT at .397 and boast a terrible 11-17 home record and 12-18 away.
They finished May and started June by confounding bettors and going 4-1 SU and 5-1 SU in their last 6 away games but the Under has been profitable when looking at the Astros throughout.
June sees them facing tough spots against the Cardinals, Braves and Rangers. They will face Texas both away and then at home to round out the month.
Chicago Cubs (+370 to win NL Central; 82½ wins OVER -110)
The good news on Second
City's North Side is at
least the Cubs are trying. They've even installed a new, state-of-art pitching
machine this winter. Unfortunately it beat them 4-1 in a recent spring training
All joking aside, two expensive outfielders have dragged
this team down from its 97-win summit in 2008 when the Cubs won a second
straight NL Central crown. If Chicago is going to make
the leap from a 5th-place team to a division contender this season, Alfonso
Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome (or their replacements) have to contribute. Marlon
Byrd completes the outfield in center, and look for Tyler Colvin to eventually
The infield is a decent foursome that could be even better
if Aramis Ramirez stays healthy at third and Carlos Pena can at least bat .250
coming over from the AL. Starlin Castro is an exciting young talent at
short with Blake DeWitt penciled in at second though Jeff Baker could
eventually take that spot.
There is potential in the rotation that was beefed up with
the addition of Pena's former Tampa
Bay teammate Matt
Garza. Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells and
Ryan Dempster are each having solid springs, as is Carlos Marmol at the back
end of the bullpen.
Chicago kept it tight in April on the road, going 5-6 and fell a little further behind at home, 6-8. They sit behind the Astros in the NL Central with an 11-14 record and have really struggled to turn hits into runs. They rank tenth for average runs per game with 4.0 but are second in average hits with 9.6.
Defensively the picture is similar, they rank second for strikeouts but fifteenth on team ERA with 5.08 and will need to really start to convert effort into results in May.
But they have it tough next month with series against the Reds, Giants and Cardinals at home and potentially difficult road trips to the Marlins and the Red Sox.
May saw the Cubs go 11-16, pushing their home record to a sorry 12-19 and away 11-13, however with Houston really failing in May they climbed a spot in the League to fourth.
The Cubs have seen the under cash in 4 of their last 5 but they are just 1-6 SU in their last 7 games. Matt Garza is on the disabled list and they recalled Tyler Colvin at the end of May
In June they play a four game series away to the Phillies and close out the month at home with another 4 gamer against the Giants.
Pittsburgh Pirates (+3500 to win NL Central; 67 wins OVER
Uh, no. It's that
simple, the Pirates will not contend this season. Or next and beyond. They probably won't lose 105 games again, the
most since they dropped 113 in 1890 when the team was known as the Pittsburgh
Alleghenys. Baseball being baseball, the
Bucs are not really a bad bet to hit the 67-win total, but 96+ losses, a
19th-straight losing season, seems more likely.
There's plenty to like about a lineup that has young studs
on their way up in outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata plus infielders
Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. There's
just nothing else to like.
And there's nothing to like about a rotation with Paul
Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Kevin Correia and James McDonald. Maybe one will surprise, but then winning 10
games with an ERA not much above 4.00 would be a huge year right now for a
Pirates starting pitcher.
Pittsburgh are not exactly surprising us through April, a 12-14 record is not exactly contender material but they are being consistent. Consistenly average really. The offense is playing as expected and but the defense is not getting blown out leading to the Under being a smart play with the Pirates.
The total has gone under in five of their last five games and 13 of 17 on the road. They started April in good form with a series win over the Cubs and and the Cardinals but fell away late on against the Marlins, Nationals and Giants.
May sees them head to the Padres, Brewers, Nationals, Reds and Cubs and Mets so expect them to pick up more losses in the month.
Pittsburgh can look back on May as a potential high water mark. They now sit third in the League with .482 PCT and a road record that, at 17-15, would be the envy of a number of teams higher up the standings.
13-13 was how the sheet read in May and they have kicked off June with a win and a loss against the Mets and a win against the Phillies.
Their Defense is on a roll, moving up to fifth in the standings for ARA and ERA and will look to carry the good momentum into a packed June. Series against the D-Backs, Red Sox and Phillies will test them.
NL Central Projected Order of Finish:
3. St. Louis