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2015 NL Central Division Odds / MLB Handicapping Season Predictions

Futures Odds to Win the NL Central

There’s been a ton of offseason buzz about the trajectory the Chicago Cubs are on, and with the Theo Epstein brain-trust humming along and the major acqusition of ace pitcher Jon Lester, why not?

MLB Lines & Matchup Insight

Odds to Win the NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals +130
Pittsburgh Pirates +240
Chicago Cubs +300
Milwaukee Brewers +1000
Cincinnati Reds +1200

However, over the years the St. Louis Cardinals have been as reliable as the change from summer to October – and when you pull apart the 2015 NL Central, there’s little reason to doubt otherwise.

Here’s how we see the 2015 National League Central division shaking out:

1. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards just seem to get it done. Not unlike the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings or the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, the Redbirds seem to be in the mix every single year.

How do they do it? Shrewd drafting puts less pressure of the franchise’s payroll, for one.

When Cardinals GM John Mozeliak does make a big splash on the free agent market (like when he signed veteran OF Matt Holliday to a big deal a few seasons ago) the player responds with performance commensurate with his paycheck. St. Louis hopes it has caught lightning in a bottle once again with the trade that brought baseball savant Jason Heyward to town. Heyward has been among the MLB’s leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) the past couple of seasons, and that’s even with the disappearance of his power since his rookie season.

Giving up young starter Shelby Miller hurt the pitching depth, but it’s a necessary evil to fill a void in the franchise after the tragic death of Oscar Tavares last year. Heyward will play right field and he’ll play it well, in addition to providing on-base skill and a smooth hitting stroke.

The pitching staff is anchored by veteran Adam Wainwright, and his efforts last year (197 IP, 3.12 ERA) proves that’s an excellent spot to be in. Until the upstart young Cubbies or the (suddenly well run) Pittsburgh Pirates prove otherwise, the Redbirds are still the class of the NL Central.

2. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are getting better in a hurry thanks to a revolutionary way of thinking that valued young bats over young pitchers. Chicago’s brain trust – led by Theo Epstein, the man who led the Boston Red Sox out of the woods after decades of futility – has been stockpiling boppers, slashers and mashers over the past few seasons, and figured it could figure out the pitching staff later.

It’s a formula that appears to be working. Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and super-prospects Javier Baez (if he can cut down on the strikeouts) and Kris Bryant should be producing lots of runs for the Cubbies for the forseeable future. Grabbing Lester on the free-agent market was the siren song to the rest of the league that Chicago might be ready now. He is a true ace, improves the rest of the pitching depth and with the amount of runs the Cubs should score, adequate pitching might be all they need.

GTBets

The Cubs might need one more year to let the babies grow up before they are truly ready to make a World Series run, but this team is getting close. Once they arrive, the Cubs should be a force to be reckoned with for years.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Bucs were bad for so long, that Pittsburgh fans forgot what it was like to cheer for a winner on the diamond. The past two seasons have shook things up considerably. Pittsburgh is led by one of the league’s best players in CF Andrew McCutchen, but after him this team seems to get by on its heart and its pluckiness.

Its batting order and pitching rotation are respectable, but unspectacular, with little to truly admire after young starter Gerrit Cole. The team is really counting on grinding out another year of strong performance out of lefty Francisco Liriano, who was thrown to the wolves until he signed with Pittsburgh and hooked up with pitching coach (and pitching whisperer) Ray Searage.

The past two campaigns saw the Pirates with luck finally on their side, so with a regression back to the mean, it appears to me Pittsburgh is ready to compete, but likely finish third in the division in 2015.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Franchise superstar OF Ryan Braun was totally hampered last year with a thumb injury, which sapped his power and his ability to pull the ball. If the former PED pariah can’t find the power alleys, his effectiveness grinds to a halt. With a full return to health for Braun, it will leave the Brew Crew with a potent lineup. Without it, that glaring hole will remain. Braun could be busted inside last year and all his stats suffered as a result.

Righty Mike Fiers is intriguing, but largely, Milwaukee’s rotation is nothing to write home about.

This franchise is not without other stars – C Jonathan Lucroy and CF Carlos Gomez are awesome – but without that thump in the middle of the lineup, the Brewers don’t stand a chance in 2015.

5. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are in payroll hell and aside from the blazing speed of CF Billy Hamilton and the quirky flawlessness of ace Johnny Cueto, this franchise is in increasingly rough shape. Cincy has veterans on the decline that it is paying too much money, which is limiting its ability to contend in the short term. Canadian 1B Joey Votto was great when they signed him to a massive extension, but his performance has since tailed off and the Reds are paying him way too much money to just be an on-base machine.

Second baseman Brandon Phillips has had a great career, but he is also unquestionably on the decline.

Cincinnati should likely be sellers in the latter half of the season this year, and should maybe try wooing Epstein and Co. away from the Cubbies.

2015 Predicted Order of Finish:

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds

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