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NL Central Spring Training Report: Wide-Open Race

There might not be a tougher division to project in Major League Baseball than the National League Central.

Defending division champion Milwaukee is lagging behind in the MLB odds following the departure of its manager and top starting pitcher. The Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals currently have the best odds of winning the division. However, all the young talent on the Cincinnati team make the Reds the most compelling team in the division.

NL Central Spring Training Report: Wide-Open Race
Mark Canha #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers -John Fisher/Getty Images/AFP

When looking at the MLB futures odds, the Cubs and Cardinals lead the NL Central teams with the best odds of winning the World Series.

With players reporting for spring training, here’s an early look at the National League Central.

1. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs fired David Ross and quickly hired former Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell. Now Counsell looks to lead the Cubs to the first NL Central Division title since 2020. Counsell guided the Brewers to two of the last three division crowns.

Cody Bellinger, who led the Cubs with 26 home runs, is a free agent. Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ, Nick Hoerner, Seiya Suzuki, and Patrick Wisdom are all coming back so this is a team that can score runs.

Justin Steele leads the rotation with Kyle Hendricks, Jameson Taillon, and Drew Smyly are also back but Marcus Stroman has moved on.

There are still rumors of a big transaction coming with the Cubs after missing out on some top free agents.

  • Odds to win Division: +170
  • Odds to win the National League: +1600
  • Odds to win World Series: +3500


2. St. Louis Cardinals

While some teams in the majors are building their pitching rotations with young arms, the Cardinals brought in 30-somethings Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson after moving on from Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery.

It will look a little different for the Cardinals without pitcher Adam Wainwright or catcher Yadier Molina on the roster. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt return to lead the offense.

With young outfielders Jordan Walker and Lars Nootbaar, the Cardinals traded Tyler O’Neill to the Boston Red Sox. Tommy Edman, Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, and Willson Contreras are also coming back for a team that was 10th in the National League in runs scored.

St. Louis finished last in the NL Central a season ago and look to make a move up in the standings this season.

  • Odds to win Division: +190
  • Odds to win the National League: +1600
  • Odds to win World Series: +3500


3. Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati is loaded with young players with tons of promise.

Elly De La Cruz, who had four home runs in his first six games, took the league by storm before coming to earth. Matt McLain, Spencer Steer, TJ Freidl, Jonathan India, Will Benson, and Jake Fraley are some of the other hitters to keep an eye on. Veteran Joey Votto’s time with the Reds has come to an end.

Graham Ashcraft, Andrew Abbott, Nick Lodolo, and Hunter Greene all can emerge into the team’s ace and are all 26 or younger. Alexis Diaz had 37 saves to lead the bullpen.

The Reds added third baseman Jeimer Candelario while pitchers Frankie Montas, Nick Martinez, and Nick Martinez have been brought in to add some experience oto the young Reds’ nucleus.

Cincinnati was among the teams that cashed out against the MLB spread last season with a 97-65 record against the run-line total.

All that talent had Cincinnati finish two games over .500. Can the Reds make the next step?

  • Odds to win Division: +375
  • Odds to win the National League: +2000
  • Odds to win World Series: +5000


4. Milwaukee Brewers

The biggest news for the Brewers was the departures of Counsell and ace pitcher Corbin Burnes so things will be a little different with Pat Murphy taking over as the team’s manager.

The offense should feature most of the same players from the 2023 team led by Christian Yelich, Willy Adames, and William Contreras. Brice Turang, Joey Weimer, and Sal Frelick are among the young hitters who could make a jump in 2024.

Burnes will be missed but he never won more than 12 games in a season. Freddy Peralta,

Wade Miley and Devin Williams are the top returning pitchers. Brandon Woodruff is still unsigned and so is Julio Teheran. Woodruff is one of the best free agents left.

Milwaukee is expected to take a step back in 2024.

  • Odds to win Division: +375
  • Odds to win the National League: +3500
  • Odds to win World Series: +8000


5. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates added pitcher Martin Perez but there are still more questions than answers when it comes to the pitching staff. Mitch Keller had a breakthrough season with 13 wins. Seeing Johan Oviedo going on the 60-day injured list is not ideal. Roansy Contreras and Quinn Priester are among the young pitchers who could make an impact.

The Pirates added Aroldis Chapman though they already have one of the top closers in baseball in David Bednart.

Oneil Cruz, Henry Davis, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Jack Suwinski look to produce for a lineup featuring Bryan Reynolds.

The Pirates are picked to finish last in the NL Central as they are relying on so many players who haven’t delivered consistently at the major league level.

  • Odds to win Division: +20000
  • Odds to win the National League: +5000
  • Odds to win World Series: +10000



Questions Of The Day

Which team is favored to win the National League Central Division?

The Chicago Cubs have the best MLB odds at +170 to win the division title in 2024 followed by St. Louis Cardinals at +190.

Who are some National League Central players to watch in the individual awards races?

Justin Steele of the Chicago Cubs is among the top National League Cy Young Award candidates with +1600 odds. Cincinnati’s Noelvi Marte and Paul Skenes of the Pittsburgh Pirates are among the players to watch in the NL Rookie of the Year race.

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