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MLB 2023: NL Central by the Numbers

Opening Day of the 2023 MLB season is less than two weeks away as we continue our division-by-division MLB predictions with the National League Central. The St. Louis Cardinals are expected to run away with the division, while the Milwaukee Brewers could finish a close second. I like the Chicago Cubs to make waves and take a big step forward in 2023. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds will fight tooth and nail to avoid a last-place finish.

1. Brewers

  • Odds of Winning the World Series | +5000
  • Win Total O/U | 85½
  • Odds to Make the Playoffs | +100

The Milwaukee Brewers are a worthy second behind the Cardinals but need more offensive depth to trust them with my MLB picks on the NL Central futures market.

Nick Solak #16 of the Cincinnati Reds flies out in the first inning - Buell/Getty Images/AFP
Nick Solak #16 of the Cincinnati Reds flies out in the first inning - Buell/Getty Images/AFP

Pitching is not the issue here; the Brewers are expected to have one of the better rotations in the National League. The 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner and 2022 NL strikeout leader Corbin Burnes is poised for another dominant season. He is, without a doubt, one of the best in the business. The Brewers surrounded him with quality arms, including Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer, and Freddy Peralta.

Between the pitching staff and stellar defense behind them, the Brewers have remained a winning team in recent years.

But, with the extended slump of former MVP Christian Yelich, the offense became a liability in Milwaukee. They did well to add Jesse Winker and William Contreras. But there isn’t enough depth here to consider the Brewers a playoff threat. I’m not convinced they can even beat the Cubbies for second place.

2. Cardinals

  • Odds of Winning the World Series | +2000
  • Win Total O/U | 88½
  • Odds to Make the Playoffs | -230

The Cardinals took home the 2022 division title and went on to get better in the offseason. The Cards added All-Star catcher Wilson Contreras to a lineup featuring the reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy was a force last season with a .317 average, 35 home runs, and an impressive .981 OPS. Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman add more pop to the lineup and defensive skill.

On paper, their pitching staff is good but not great. Ace Jack Flaherty will lead the charge so long as he can shake off the scary injury suffered in 2022. The bullpen is nothing to sneeze at, either. With it, the Cardinals are easily the most well-rounded team in a relatively weak division.

Making an MLB bet against the Cardinals regarding the NL Central is hard.

3. Cubs

  • Odds of Winning the World Series | +8000
  • Win Total O/U | 77½
  • Odds to Make the Playoffs | +300

The Chicago Cubs were one of the busiest teams in the NL during the offseason. With all the moves made, the Cubs are my pick for this season’s most surprising team in the division. The additions of All-Star Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, Brad Boxberger, Tucker Barnhart, and Trey Mancini give the Cubs a new look on defense. They join a lineup led by Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki, and Nico Hoerner.

— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) March 22, 2023

Regarding the pitching staff, President Jed Hoyer added Jameson Taillon, Marcus Stroman, and Justin Steele, along with several prospects who could contribute sooner than later.

Things could go wrong, but the Cubs can potentially give the Cardinals another team to worry about in the NL Central. The pitching and defense have the chance to be among the best in the NL, and a lot of young talent could step up and make a difference in 2023. I like teams with high ceilings, so the Cubs are among my favorite preseason MLB picks for the upcoming season.

4. Pirates

  • Odds of Winning the World Series | +25000
  • Win Total O/U | 67½
  • Odds to Make the Playoffs | +1000

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ only goal this season is not to finish last to the Reds in the NL Central. The two bottom feeders finished tied for the worst record in the division at 62-100.

There is little to like, however, about this Pirates team.

Some young players are kicking around the organization that the franchise can build around. Oneil Cruz boasts power, speed, and defense, while Ke’Bryan Hayes is a breakout candidate at third base.

The Pirates brought back veteran fan favorites Andrew McCutchen, Rich Hill, Carlos Santana, and Austin Hedges. These are fine additions, but none of the new crop of players are difference-makers in the way the Pirates need them.

The pieces are there for the Pirates to start winning soon, but it won’t happen in 2023.

5. Reds

  • Odds of Winning the World Series | +25000
  • Win Total O/U | 65½
  • Odds to Make the Playoffs | +1100

The Cincinnati Reds can look forward to a 2023 season that can’t start worse than their 2022 campaign. In case you forgot, the Reds set records for the worst start in MLB history after going 3-22 in their first 25 games. With a start like that, the Reds have nowhere to go but up.

The Reds won’t make much noise this season, but there is a chance they will finish fourth in the NL Central thanks to competing against the Pirates. 2023 will also mark Joey Votto’s final season in Cincinnati, assuming the Reds don’t pick up his $20 million option for 2024.

It’s not all bad MLB news for the Reds, however. They may have two of the top five starters in the division. Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo are both young, incredibly talented, and poised to earn trips to the All-Star Game this year. The rotation has minimal upside, but two cost-controlled starters are a good start when looking to build.

The Reds are still multiple seasons away from having any real value regarding MLB betting futures.

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