Some would argue that the NL Central might be the deepest division in baseball this coming season because every team conceivably could win it. We breakdown the Central teams by their order of 2014 finish and with their 2015 win totals on MLB odds.
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)
2015 win total: 88.5, with both at -115 at sportsbooks
St. Louis really is the marquee franchise in the National League right now as the franchise has won back-to-back NL Central titles and has made at least the NLCS each of the past four years. They have been a major thorn in the Dodgers' side the past two postseasons, especially Clayton Kershaw's. The Cards beat MLB's best pitcher twice in last year's NLDS, winning in four games as a betting underdog. However, the season ended in five games in the NLCS against San Francisco and Madison Bumgarner. St. Louis usually doesn't make a huge splash in free agency and didn't this season despite looking into Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. The only major move the team made was trading very good young pitcher Shelby Miller to Atlanta for outfielder Jason Heyward, who has major upside, and reliever Jordan Walden. St. Louis had to have an outfield bat after top prospect Oscar Taveras died in a car accident in October. Otherwise this team is pretty much the same as the one that ended last season.
MLB Projection: Still the team to beat in the division and the +125 favorites on MLB odds to win it. Go 'over' the wins.
Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74)
2015 win total: 84.5, with both at -115
Pittsburgh's win total dropped by six last year compared to 2013, but the Pirates still returned to the playoffs. Alas, they had to face Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in the Wild-Card Game and lost 8-0 as Bumgarner threw a complete-game four-hitter. Pittsburgh didn't do a lot this offseason instead counting on the growth of some of its highly-touted young players built around perhaps the NL's best player in outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP. Pittsburgh lost one of the league's top catchers to free agency in Russell Martin as well as starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and traded outfielder Travis Snider; which is something you should think about when placing your MLB picks. The club re-signed last year's ace, Francisco Liriano, and added free agent starter A.J. Burnett, who was solid with Pittsburgh two years ago. Former Yankee Francisco Cervelli replaces Martin. The wild-card could be infielder Jung Ho Kang, whom the Pirates won a bid for out of South Korea.
MLB Projection: In terms of additions and subtractions, the team doesn't look better but, again, the Pirates think the guys they already had will be better. Go 'over.'
Milwaukee Brewers (82-80)
2015 win total: 76.5, with 'over' a -125 favorite on MLB odds
Milwaukee led the NL Central for a vast majority of the 2014 season before finishing 9-22 in its final 31 games and out of the playoffs for the third straight year. Go ahead and put Manager Ron Roenicke on the hot seat entering the 2015 campaign. Which Ryan Braun will the Brew Crew get? The former NL MVP or the guy who struggled big time last year post-steroids? To be fair, he was battling a serious thumb injury nearly all season. The Brewers were oddly quiet in the offseason. They traded former ace Yovani Gallardo to Texas for prospects as well as another starting pitcher, Marco Estrada, to Toronto for first baseman Adam Lind. The Brewers still don't have a closer as Francisco Rodriguez is a free agent. Maybe the team trades for Philly's Jonathan Papelbon.
MLB Projection: Pitching staff looks very questionable now. Go 'under' and Roenicke isn't back in 2016.
Cincinnati Reds (76-86)
2015 win total: 77.5, with 'over' a -125 favorite on MLB odds
Milwaukee's Roenicke isn't the only NL Central manager who may want to keep his resume handy. The Reds' Bryan Price probably doesn't have tremendous job security right now, either. The Reds made the playoffs in 2010, '12 & '13 under Dusty Baker but decided to not bring him back because of playoff failures. Price was promoted from pitching coach and the Reds suffered their most losses last year since 2008. It certainly wasn't all on Price as the Reds were hit hard by injuries, mainly to MVP candidate Joey Votto and excellent pitcher Mat Latos. The Reds dealt Latos and All-Star Alfredo Simon in separate deals so that's 20 percent of the rotation that must be replaced. The team did bolster the outfield by dealing for the Phillies' Marlon Byrd. The biggest question hanging around this team is whether ace Johnny Cueto is traded this season as he will become a free agent after it. Cueto was second in the NL Cy Young voting in 2014. Don't look for any deal before the All-Star Game if the Reds are struggling because that's in Cincinnati this July.
MLB Projection: Offense looks solid, but pitching staff doesn't. Cueto probably leaves at the deadline. Go 'under.'
Chicago Cubs (73-89)
2015 win total: 82.5, with 'over a -130 favorite
No team's futures odds have undergone a more dramatic change since the end of the 2014 World Series. Chicago had its fifth straight losing season in 2014, but there were positives. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro were All-Stars. Jake Arrieta turned into a No. 2-type starter. And some of the Cubs' touted prospects were called up, to differing results. But the Cubs were big winners this offseason. First they were able to sign Joe Maddon, formerly of the Rays. He's considered one of the three best managers in the game. Player-wise, the Cubs beat out teams like Boston and San Francisco for lefty pitcher Jon Lester, who gives Chicago the ace it needed. In addition, Chicago traded for ex-Diamondbacks All-Star catcher Miguel Montero, dealt third baseman Luis Valbuena and a minor-league pitcher for Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler, and brought back starting pitcher Jason Hammel in free agency. He was very successful with the Cubs in 2014 before being traded to Oakland. The Cubs' best prospect and the best in baseball, Kris Bryant, should be with the big club by mid-to-late April.
MLB Projection: The Cubs as +600 third-favorites to win the pennant? Maybe in 2016, but that's a bit too optimistic this season. A wild-card spot could be doable. Go 'over' those wins.