John (@JohnBollman11 on Twitter) combines his Biostatistics degree with his baseball experience. He is a former Toronto Blue Jays employee in the Player Development and Sports Science departments and currently works as a Sports & Data Analyst for CBS Sports, so he understands the inner workings of organizations and how to evaluate players and teams. He is coming off a +42.55u 2021 MLB season that included picking the World Series winner (Braves at +1000). In short, you don't want to miss his divisional predictions for the upcoming MLB season!
MLB Expert John Bollman's NL Central Betting Preview - MLB 2022 Season
NL Central Division Breakdown
Now that we learned how to measure overperforming and underperforming teams which I covered in my overview piece, let’s dive into the NL Central.
You can find my pick for the NL Division winner at the end of this article but I encourage you to read my analysis of all five teams to give you the full picture and you may even see a betting angle that I don't.
But first, we have to lay out the odds. These are the current NL Central odds at Caesars:
Milwaukee Brewers +100
As I mentioned in my overview piece, the Brewers won the NL Central last season going 95-67 and overperforming by 2 wins. The Brewers were very good at winning close games and the way to win close games is by having a dominant pitching staff, so I feel like that is where we have to start with the Brewers. The three-headed monster of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta returns, and they are arguably the most dominant top three in the Majors right now. Corbin Burnes is coming off his first Cy Young award where Brandon Woodruff finished 5th in voting himself. Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer bring up the rear of that rotation, but they are very experienced and can be used in many different roles.
We already know about Josh Hader, probably the most dominant lefty on this planet right now besides Aroldis Chapman. Devin Williams, 2020 NL Rookie of the Year, will also be returning after an injury at the end of last season. Jake Cousins and Brent Suter also give them good options. This bullpen actually wasn’t very dominant looking at their overall numbers last season ranking just 15th in the league in relief ERA, but that is mostly because of the pitchers they bring in when they are down. They were top 6 in batting average against and top 2 in expected batting average against, so they seemed to just give up too many extra base hits. This bullpen can honestly only get better, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team win more games next season if that happens.
Christian Yelich had easily the worst season of his career slashing .248/.362/.373 with just 9 home runs in 117 games and the Brewers still won 95 games last season. He hit 44 home runs in 130 games two seasons ago. Yes, they did also have other players overperform like Omar Narvaez and Avisail Garcia. However, former top prospect Kestin Hiura was also non-existent. The Brewers scored the 12th most runs in the league last season, and they essentially get to add a former MVP and former top prospect. Willy Adames provided some much-needed flare for the Brewers, and they added Hunter Renfroe to that outfield.
Milwaukee Brewers Division Winner Odds
BREWERS TO WIN THE NL CENTRAL @ +100
St. Louis Cardinals +220
The Cardinals overperformed their expected win total by 5 wins last season, but I think their expected win total will actually increase this season. Sure, they had a career year by Adam Wainwright at his age, but they were also without their ace Jack Flaherty for half the season after he was injured. Miles Mikolas was only able to make nine starts and Dakota Hudson was only able to play in two games. Jordan Hicks barely appeared after TJ surgery in 2019. Carlos Martinez only pitched in 16 games and struggled to a 6.23 ERA when he did. This team is getting back a ton of weapons, and they really can only get better. Alex Reyes picked up 29 saves last season and really established himself as one of the league’s top closers. Giovanny Gallegos and TJ McFarland really stood out for the Cardinals bullpen. They can put Martinez in the bullpen and keep Reyes in his role if they want. Or they can let Gallegos and McFarland close and build Reyes back up to start. This team has options, and that’s all you can really ask for there.
St. Louis were pleasantly surprised by Dylan Carlson and Tommy Edman last season, and they will need them to continue to hit. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are the heart of this offense, but they can only take them so far. Yadier Molina is returning for one more season and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this team rally around him for one last push. Tyler O’Neill established himself last season slashing .286/.352/.560 with 34 home runs and 15 stolen bases, so look to see how he backs that up. Cardinals top two prospects in Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore are both expected to debut this season as well. This team was 20th in the league in runs scored last season but I think they could be closer to top 10 next season. This is a very well-built baseball team.
St. Louis Cardinals Division Winner Odds
CARDINALS TO WIN THE NL CENTRAL @ +220
NL Central Outsiders
I spent most of the time on the Brewers and Cardinals for a reason, but no chance I am leaving the other three teams hanging. Don’t get me wrong, this will be a two-horse race. But we will get into the Reds, Cubs, and Pirates too because they each have some things to look forward to this season.
Cincinnati Reds +525
Reds had one of the worst bullpens in the league last season despite appearing to have some of the best pieces. They lost Michael Lorenzen to free agency and Amir Garrett is coming off his worst season in his career with 63 appearances and a 6.04 ERA. They really only have Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray at the top of their rotation, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them traded at the deadline, if not before the season.
They do have their top two prospects ready to come up this season in Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, but they won’t make an impact. Jonathan India is coming off an NL Rookie of the Year award and they get Nick Senzel back from injury after playing just 36 games last season. Eugenio Suarez shouldn’t repeat his .198/.286/.428 slash line, and Tyler Stephenson could benefit from being the everyday catcher as well as a DH. This was one of the better offenses in MLB last season ranking 9th in the league in runs scored and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them around that same spot, maybe slightly worse. Especially with a DH, I feel like this team could thrive. Joey Votto could get some days off and Tyler Stephenson could hit without worrying about his below average defense. However, they just have such minimal pitching depth in such a small stadium that it will be tough ask for them to keep pace. If they have any significant injuries, they are done.
Cincinnati Reds Division Winner Odds
REDS TO WIN THE NL CENTRAL @ +525
Chicago Cubs +1000
Cubs tore it all down last season trading their three guys in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anthony Rizzo re-sign with the Cubs after being traded but my hunch is telling me he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild. The Cubs did sign Marcus Stroman to a 3-year deal, and they signed Wade Miley but that’s about it. Even with their three studs last season, this team only was within distance of the division because of a ridiculous run-less streak the Cubs bullpen went on. This bullpen really doesn’t have any pieces though this season. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you who their opening day closer will be. Roman Wick? Justin Steele? maybe Keegan Thompson? There’s a reason you haven’t heard of any of those guys.
They do have top prospect Brennen Davis slated to come up this season but there’s not much prospect depth behind him. They also still have All-Star Willson Contreras who could benefit hugely from a DH, and they added Nick Madrigal up the middle to pair with Nico Hoerner. Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel were pleasant surprises last season but nothing to rely on. This team is very clearly in a competitive rebuilding stage. They have a ton of young guys that have high ceilings but that comes with inconsistency. They also have no depth if anyone were to get injured.
Chicago Cubs Division Winner Odds
CUBS TO WIN THE NL CENTRAL @ +1000
Pittsburgh Pirates +3000
Last and probably least, we have the Pittsburgh Pirates who won 61 games last season. Let me be clear, they have no chance to win the division. But they do have some things to look forward to with all the pieces they have. Ben Cherington was hired as the GM last season and after working for him when I was with the Blue Jays, I know how good he is. He loves organizational depth, and he loves to develop talent. He is one of the best in World at that, and that is exactly what the Pirates need being in a small market. JT Brubaker and Mitch Keller are still very young, and the sky is the limit with their stuff. Chris Stratton was also a former top draft pick, but they really don’t have any pitchers other than that.
They finished dead last in the league in runs scored last season, but they did have hot streaks. Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes are legitimate stars, and they should be the faces of this franchise for a long time (or at least until the Pirates can’t afford them). Michael Chavis, Anthony Alford and Cole Tucker are all former top prospects and have very high upside. If just one of these players figures it out, that would be a success, let alone two or three. They just drafted the top prospect in the draft in Henry Davis although he won’t debut this season. They also have four other top 100 prospects in MLB including O’Neill Cruz who debuted last season, so they are on the upswing. However, they still have no chance to win the division.
Pittsburgh Pirates Division Winner Odds
PIRATES TO WIN THE NL CENTRAL @ +3000
My Verdict for the NL Central
With all this being said, who wins the NL Central? Well, I think the Brewers and Cardinals will be trading haymakers all season. The Cubs and Reds could give some teams problems, but by the time the trade deadline comes around they will be out of it. This is an extremely tough decision because I think these teams are both very good, and I think the Brewers are more than capable of winning more games than the Cardinals.
However, I think this being Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright’s last season will light a fire under this team. They also have prospect depth that the Brewers just don’t have right now. I think this is much closer to a 50-50 race between the Brewers and Cardinals to win the division, so I am going to go with the team with the much higher odds in the Cardinals at +220.
John Bollman's NL Central Division Winner Pick
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS TO WIN THE NL CENTRAL @ +225
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