MLB Picks: National League Central Division Odds Update

Joe Freda

Thursday, July 25, 2013 5:06 PM GMT

The National League Central has become a three-way race, with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds moving through the backstretch.

MLB odds makers list St. Louis (57-36) as -150 ‘chalk’ to capture the NL Central division, while Pittsburgh (56-37) and Cincinnati (53-42) closely trail as +240 and +300 choices, respectively.

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Cardinals cruise into second half

St. Louis ended its season’s first half with a 7-2 mark in its final nine games, including a pair of home sweeps against the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros. Mike Matheny’s club has had solid numbers on both ends of its action, ranking third among MLB in scoring (5 RPG) and pitching (3.40 Team ERA).

Cardinals slugger Carlos Beltran has drilled 19 homers, while hitting 13-for-37 over his last eight outings. St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright has been his staff’s top hurler over 20 starts, logging a 12-5 record with a 2.45 ERA.

Pittsburgh has had its share of surges during the year, including a nine-game winning streak at the end of June’s action. The club’s 3.08 Team ERA has won itself some tight affairs, while mates Pedro Alvarez (24 HRs, 62 RBIs) and Andrew McCutchen (.302 BA) have done their part at the plate.

Cincinnati has had losing marks against both St. Louis (3-6) and Pittsburgh (4-6), giving Dusty Baker’s club the outside track here. Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished last week with a five-game hitting streak, moving to a .318 BA. The span’s finale saw slugger Jay Bruce crack a homer in an 8-4 win over the Atlanta Braves, ending a 19-game stretch without a long ball.

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Cubs, Brewers – The dark horses

The Chicago Cubs (42-51) and Milwaukee Brewers (38-56) find themselves far back, having little hope for contention. MLB betting lines list both teams as 300/1 long shots, despite some improvement in the past two weeks.

Chicago has cashed at a 5-3 clip in its last eight games, splitting a four-game set with St. Louis and cashing 2-of-3 tickets as home dogs against Pittsburgh. Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano leads his mates in hitting (.259 BA) and homers (16 HRs).

Milwaukee held its foes to 3 RPG over its final eight days of first-half action, but ended the span with a subpar 3-5 mark. Plus, Brewers slugger Ryan Braun (.304 BA, 36 RBIs) missed most of the season’s last month, and probably won't be coming back anytime soon.

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Back the Cardinals to hold on

I am adding St. Louis to my string of divisional futures sports picks, laying the premium of -150.

The Cardinals end July with a challenging road stretch through Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, but should be in position to surge come the season’s homestretch. St. Louis has five of its final seven series scheduled at home, setting up a chance for big strides similar to its late triumphs of the past two years.

Pittsburgh has the best chance of edging out St. Louis, but could lose some distance soon with a 10-game road trip out of the second half’s gate. Cincinnati ends its July with a challenging west coast journey, while unlikely to pick up ground at home in August.

Look for all three foes to have their share of streaks in both directions but, for your MLB picks, choose St. Louis to rise atop the group’s standings in September.

MLB Pick: St. Louis Cardinals -175 at William Hill

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