So much for the Houston Astros' shift to the American League leading to fewer wins for the remaining occupants of the NL Central. The division boasted the three best records in all of baseball when the week began. Let's review how this may affect your MLB picks.
Count me among those who thought losing all of those games on the schedule against the Astros might make it more difficult for the NL Central to have even one wild card entry. Our February preview of the division mentioned Houston's horrible 2011-12 campaigns as a big reason the NL Central had a wild card each of those years, and it was only natural to assume that might change due to realignment.
But that has not been the case so far, thanks largely to both the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers stinking it up in 2013 to continue the Astros' recent tradition of being division fodder.
The best surprise in the division, however, has been the stellar play of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals were seen as the elite squads according to the preseason MLB futures, and so far haven't disappointed. But coming between those two in the ranks are the Pirates, and it sets the stage for an exciting race to the very end.
St. Louis led all of baseball through Monday with a 47-29 record, despite having lost three straight.The Cardinals were also atop of updated MLB odds as a 3/1 choice to win their 19th NL pennant, fourth since '04. The Reds check in third on that list at 11/2, just behind the Atlanta Braves, and the Pirates, despite sitting just a game behind St. Louis, are seventh with a 9/1 NL flag payday.
Chicago and Milwaukee are down near the bottom of the list, each sporting 200/1 odds and thankful the Marlins are keeping them from being the dregs of the National League.
Don't forget to check our AL Central odds update as well!
Will the Bucs Wilt & Leave Central To Reds & Cards Once Again?
We saw the Pirates do this in 2012 when it looked like their 19-year string of losing baseball was coming to an end. Pittsburgh sat 60-44 on Aug. 1, three games behind the Reds for the division lead and first on the NL wild card depth chart. But the Bucs collapsed from that point on, going 19-39 the rest of the way to extend their skid to 20 losing seasons.
Things look different in Pittsburgh (20/1 to win WS) this time around. The fact the Pirates were 12/1 choices to win the NL Central in March and 9/1 to win the National League now speaks volumes of the talent. The Pirates are running with St. Louis and Atlanta for the lowest ERA in the majors, and play exceptional overall defense which often gets overlooked.
Getting past St. Louis (13/2 to win WS) and holding off Cincinnati (12/1 to win WS) won't be easy.The Cardinals are without a doubt the best franchise top to bottom in the majors this century, and seeing them in their fourth World Series since 2004 won't be a surprise. St. Louis was my choice as the most undervalued team about the time Spring Training games cranked up, and hasn't missed a beat since letting Albert Pujols leave via free agency and former manager Ton La Genius -er, La Russa- retired.
The Reds have had their struggles the first 70+ games and are barely treading water the first few weeks of June (11-12 through Tuesday). Despite not playing great baseball over an extended stretch, Cincinnati is among the statistical leaders in most of the crucial categories. The bullpen is a big concern -- it always is with Dusty Baker -- and I'm expecting the Reds to be in the hunt for a top arm to beef up the relief corps as the trade deadline approaches in about a month.
Brew Crew, Cubbies No Match For NL Central's Big 3
Look no further than records within the division to find a very distinct dividing line between the NL Central's cream and sludge. Entering play Tuesday, the Cubs were 8-20 vs. St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati while the Brewers were 7-19 against that trio.
Barring some cataclysmic events the next month, Chicago and Milwaukee, both 500/1 to win the World Series, will be sellers on the trade front. We knew would be the case for Chicago, but the Brewers were picked by most to finish ahead of Pittsburgh, and that 9-game win streak the team reeled off in April, including sweeping the Cubs and Giants, is a distant memory now.