Cardinals & Pirates Chase Champion Cubs In NL Central

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Willie Bee

Thursday, February 16, 2017 3:21 PM GMT

Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 3:21 PM GMT

Is a World Series repeat in the cards for the Chicago Cubs? MLB futures odds certainly believe so as we wrap up our preseason division previews with a look at the NL Central -- which the Cubbies won by 17.5 games in 2016.

One would think that after securing their first World Series title in more than a century, the Chicago Cubs might be content and bask in the glow of their championship for a while. That is not the case, however, and the MLB futures odds show that the Cubs are an even bigger threat to win back-to-back titles than they were to win their first since 1908.

Just a little more than three months removed from their exciting Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians, Chicago is a runaway choice in the National League at 3/2, their closest competition being the Washington Nationals (4/1). The Cubs are slightly ahead of Boston on the World Series odds at most of SBR's top sportsbooks, Chicago generally fetching a 9/2 price to 6/1 for the Red Sox.

Employing the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" strategy, it was a mostly quiet winter for the Wrigleyville Nine. The biggest move was dealing Jorge Soler to Kansas City for closer Wade Davis, further beefing up the bullpen with the addition of free-agent Koji Uehara. Davis makes up for the loss of Aroldis Chapman to free agency. The only real battle entering spring training is for the rotation's fifth slot between lefty Mike Montgomery against fellow southpaw and free agent pickup Brett Anderson.

 

Are Cards Only Real Challenge In Division For Cubs?

The Cubs' rotation has a stellar Top 3 of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, Hector Rondon rounds out a deep relief corps, and manager Joe Maddon is excited to have a healthy Kyle Schwarber for a full season to join a versatile lineup that includes NL MVP Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Ben Zobrist.

St. Louis checks in second behind Chicago in the NL Central, though the Cardinals are a somewhat distant 10/1 on the MLB odds to win the league. Except for being fined a few million and losing a couple of draft picks to the Houston Astros in Hackgate, the Redbirds were also quiet the past few months. The only major change was signing free-agent outfielder Dexter Flower (pictured) away from the Cubs. Mike Matheny is banking on a rotation led by Carlos Martinez and veteran Adam Wainwright, with Seung Hwan Oh at the back of the 'pen. The Cards already have taken a big hit in losing the top pitching prospect in baseball, Alex Reyes, to season-ending Tommy John surgery. He was being counted on as either the No. 5 starter or a key bullpen component. Last year in 46 major-league innings as a rookie, Reyes had a sterling 1.57 ERA.

 

Pirates Under Pressure To Contend

Continuing our theme of NL Central clubs making very little offseason news, Pittsburgh is going off in the 15/1 to 20/1 range to win the NL. After three consecutive postseason appearances, the Pirates sloughed off to a sub-.500 level in 2016, and GM Neal Huntington could be a trade deadline seller if veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen can't bounce back from a down season and ace Gerrit Cole can't stay healthy to lead the rotation.

There is no money to be made on either the Milwaukee Brewers or Cincinnati Reds as far pennant or World Series futures go, and both will be sizeable underdogs when free baseball picks begin rolling out for the regular season. They're priced 75/1 and up to win the National League, with Cincinnati my pick to nail down the division cellar early en route to a 100-loss campaign. The Reds are in full seller mode after recently trading former All-Star 2B Brandon Phillips in a salary dump to Atlanta. Milwaukee could be an intriguing underdog play in April with a potentially decent rotation and some pop in the lineup.

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