The Milwaukee Brewers are the only NL Central club above .500 as of this writing, but the Chicago Cubs are lurking close behind as we re-examine the division with updated MLB futures odds.
Though most look at the All-Star break as the middle point of the fixture, the true halfway point of the 2017 MLB season will be reached in another couple of weeks when teams have 81 games under their belts. We’ve seen a lot so far, surprise teams like the Colorado Rockies, disappointing squads such as the San Francisco Giants, emerging stars in the form of Aaron Judge and comeback performances like Jason Vargas.
What we haven’t seen yet is any team take charge of the NL Central Division. True, that has given us the best race in the majors with all five teams separated by just 5½ games entering the weekend. But it wasn’t supposed to be this way with the Chicago Cubs expected to dominate as prohibitive -600 favorites according to the MLB futures odds.
Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about why his gang is struggling, and he pointed to inexperience as a factor. If he means a lack of experience dealing with every team gunning for Chicago, maybe he’s right, but the Cubs' issues really have nothing to do with youth in the dugout.
Cubbies Must Get Rotation Turned Around
Pitching, especially in the rotation, has been the biggest problem for the Cubs, who are still +450 chalk at BetOnline to repeat as World Champions. The starters have a 4.66 ERA, which ranks at the top of the second half of National League staffs, with Jon Lester’s 3.89 the best of the bunch with at least 10 starts. Kyle Hendricks, now on the DL with a hand injury, has seen his ERA almost double from the 2.13 mark he led the NL with a year ago. Jake Arrieta (4.68) and John Lackey (5.26) have been utterly inconsistent and unreliable.
The offense hasn’t helped picking up the pitchers with a 4.68 runs per game average ranking ninth in the Senior Circuit. It starts at the top of the order where the experiment using Kyle Schwarber in the No. 1 slot failed miserable, Chicago leadoff hitters ranking 12th in the NL with a .312 OBP. The power is still there with the Cubs cracking 90 homers to leave them just eight off the pace Washington sluggers are setting in the NL, but that hasn’t translated into enough runs to support the struggling arms.
Can Brewers Defy The Odds To Come Out On Top?
Chicago still has a roster that is easily capable of finding its groove and running away from the division, and I still fully expect the Cubs to come out on top. But on the off chance they don’t, who will? Certainly not the Cincinnati Reds, a team I thought could lose 100 games back in March, and while the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates would seem like obvious choices, both of those clubs have more problems presently than the Cubs and teams I’m looking to fade with my free baseball picks.
Why not the Milwaukee Brewers? There’s a good balance of power and speed in the lineup, and the 4.24 team ERA may not look impressive but is still better than average in the NL. Bettors have to be pleased so far with Craig Counsell’s club, Milwaukee offering the 4th-best ROI vs. the MLB odds (+9.9 units). The upcoming schedule is pretty favorable with the Padres in to begin a homestand this weekend followed by the Pirates. Atlanta, Cincinnati and Miami will take them into early-July. So, I ask again, why not the Brewers? At 80/1 to win it all, it’d be a nice payday.