All three NL divisions have clear-cut favorites on the MLB futures odds, none of them more chalky than the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
There are favorites in sports gambling, and then there are the 2017 Chicago Cubs. After getting the 108-year-old monkey off its back last year, there appears to be no stopping the north side Chicago , MLB futures odds making the Cubs runaway favorites in the NL Central Division with chalk as thick as -600.
Joe Maddon's men are actually near the caboose of the Cactus League standings, but we know that won't carry over into the regular season. The Cubs boast a lineup of heavy hitters with a lot of defensive versatility for Maddon to play with in his batting order. The rotation is chockfull of NL Cy Young candidates, and the bullpen is equally versatile with several arms having 9th-inning experience. No wonder they're expected to make it back to the World Series where their most likely opponent is Boston.
But what if? What if the Cubs stumble, maybe deal with too many injuries, catch too many bad breaks? Just looking at the MLB odds, we should expect St. Louis (+450) and Pittsburgh (+800) to win the division, with both Cincinnati and Milwaukee carrying 60/1 to 100/1 odds. Sorry, Cardinals and Pirates, but I don't see either one of you upsetting the Cubs, don't even expect either of you to win a wild card berth. Chicago takes the NL Central by double-digits.
Mets & Nats In Tight NL East Battle
One division that should produce two playoff teams is the NL East. Though not as thick as the Cubs, Washington remains solid chalk at -150. While I like the Nationals 'under' 91½ wins, that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't my division pick.
This division should have the shortest gap from first to last in the National League and, as such, might see the Nats and New York Mets (+175) battle it out with win totals both in the high-80s. New York's starting rotation has the potential to be the absolute best in the majors, and as long as the bullpen can survive until Jeurys Familia returns from whatever suspension he's about to get, the Mets should be playoff-bound.
Miami (18/1), Philadelphia (25/1) and Atlanta (40/1) follow the Nats and Mets, their win totals ranging from 73½ to 76½. I believe one of them will reach the 80-win plateau, and that could be enough to decide it between Washington and New York, which one of those three does the best against the two favorites. I'm liking Washington here in the end.
Can Giants Unseat Dodgers In West?
And in sticking with one team rising above all others in each division, not to mention my run of free MLB picks on said chalk, the NL West will go to the heavily-favored Los Angeles Dodgers. In search of their 5th-straight division crown, 'dem Bums are gonna' get it though it's not a big money-maker with LA -250 for the accomplishment.
Sure, the San Francisco Giants 5/2) will put up a fight, and they should get into the playoffs on a wild-card invite. Healthy and from 1-25 on their roster, the Dodgers remain ahead of the Giants by a good amount of talent. San Fran has the arms to hang with LA, but the Dodgers are far better on offense. Nobody else in this division -- Colorado 12/1, Arizona 18/1 and San Diego 100/1 -- will threaten the Big 2 in the NL West.
Free NL Division Picks: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles