The 2018 season is finally upon us, with action starting early Thursday down in Miami. The Cubs will see their Prince That Was Promised, Starlin Castro, once again. The NL Central race isn’t the most interesting storyline in baseball, far from it, but I’m here to break it down, anyway.
The current Oddsshark odds for the 2018 NL are as follows: Cubs -245, Cardinals +325, Brewers +550, Pirates +3000, Reds +4000. If you’re not a gambling man, that means the Cubs are fairly heavy favorites, as they should be. They’re virtually the same team as last year, replacing Arrieta with Darvish, and a full season of Jose Quintana to look forward to. We’ve written enough about the Cubs this offseason, so here’s my preview and prediction for each NL Central team not named the Chicago Cubs.
St. Louis Cardinals: +325 to win NL Central, Vegas wins over/under 86.5
There’s no planet on this earth in which the Cubs should be overlooking St. Louis. They’ve been the gold standard of the MLB along with the Yankees for what seems like forever. Recently, there are a multitude of questions around this years Cardinals team. Their fans expect playoff runs every year, don’t even want to hear about a rebuild, and if the Cards miss October this year, it’ll be the first time they’ve done so for 3 consecutive years since ’97-’99. So can Marcell Ozuna be that bat they have been missing since Pujols left? Ozuna’s acquisition went fairly under the radar this season, maybe because he lived in Giancarlo Stanton’s shadow in 2017 on a sub .500 Marlins team. Ozuna is an all around hitter that can rip your heart out, do not take him lightly Cubs fans. Can Carlos Martinez lead this staff back to the relevance of the Chris Carpenter/Prime Adam Wainwright days? There’s a lot of question marks in the air in St. Louis.
Official prediction: 84-78 falling to the Brewers in a late September race for the 2nd NL Wild Card spot
Milwaukee Brewers: +550 to win NL Central, Vegas wins over/under: 84.5
If there’s anyone who is going to challenge the Cubs this year, it’s our brethren up north. Winning America’s heart recently with their reenactment of The Sandlot, the Brewers are hungry for baseball to start. They added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain as premier outfielders this offseason, possibly pushing Cub killer Ryan Braun into a platoon spot at first base with Eric Thames. The Brew Crew’s bat power can’t be questioned. Travis Shaw brings his lumber from the left side of the infield, and their outfield is now a three headed monster of Cain, Yelich, and either Domingo Santana or Ryan Braun.
Meanwhile, this team who missed the playoffs last year by just a few games is struggling to sell tickets for this season. $30/month for season tickets? Almost worth it to commute from Chicagoland to catch games at that price if you’re a Brewers fan. Although they missed out on premier arms such as Jake and Darvish, this pitching staff is young and able, with 17 game winner Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson leading the charge. I really wish Alex Cobb ended up a Brewer and solidified this rotation, but I digress. It’ll be really scary when Milwaukee becomes a place where free agents look to go, and I don’t think they’re far from that point. This team has a real chance of scaring the Cubs like they did last year.
Official Prediction: 89-73, 2nd Wildcard Spot, beating the Rockies and advancing to the NLDS
Pittsburgh Pirates: +3000 to win NL Central, Vegas Wins Over/under: 73.5
For the Pirates and the Reds I’ll keep it short for obvious reasons. Pittsburgh not too long was at the top of the league. 98 wins in 2015, only to lose to Chicago in the one game WC game. Since then, it’s been nowhere but downhill. Starling Marte suspended half a year for PEDs, McCutchen and Cole both gone, and Gerrit Cole even throwing a little shade from Houston saying, “it’s refreshing to come to an environment where the team is willing to continually put resources into the club and continue to move forward and try to provide the best possible product for its fans.” WOW! For such a great ballpark and fanbase, I hope the Pirates do what they have to do to get back to the top.
Official Prediction: 70-92, 4th in NL Central
Cincinnati Reds: +4000 to win NL Central, Vegas Wins Over/Under: 73.5
If you’re still reading to this point, God bless you. +4000 might be a great value pick at first glance, but I don’t see the Reds winning 90-95 games believe it or not. They’re in that shitty part of a rebuild that Cubs fans went through. A storyline to watch this year and the upcoming years is Joey Votto. A shoe-in Hall of Famer that is habitually overlooked because he plays on the Reds. And five years into a 12 year deal, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be a trade piece any time soon. As a long time Cubs killer, I hope Votto either gets to be a vital part of the Reds future success, or move to a team soon where he can showcase his abilities on a national stage.
Official Prediction: 66-96, 5th in NL Central
These predictions mean absolutely nothing come Thursday, couldn’t be more excited.