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NL Central Over/Unders

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The lines have opened for the 2020 MLB season. Can you win cash money by gambling?

William Hill Race & Sports Book At The Plaza Turning On Ceremony Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for William Hill U.S.

While ZiPS and other analytic systems have been rolling out their projections for the 2020 baseball season, the various Sportsbooks have also begun posting Over/Under win totals. So let’s take a look at current Over/Unders for the NL Central and see if Benny The Sharp can help you win some money.

A quick note: There is variation and movement from day to day and book to book, so these lines are only what I’m seeing as of RIGHT NOW on the Draftkings Sportsbook, from highest win total to lowest:

Chicago Cubs
Over/Under: 86.5
2019 Wins: 84

While several books started the Cubs and Cardinals both at 88.5 wins, both have tended to drift lower, and as of right now the Cubs projection sits just above the Cardinals at Draftkings. While I would not consider the Cubs the favorites in the division, 86.5 seems like a good line for this team. (Also, all of these lines will be pretty good - the books know what they are doing.)

Where I would go, were I betting on these Futures, would be to consider not just what the team is like now, but what it is likely to be like by the end of the season. The Cubs have held strong to their contention that they would not add payroll, and now that Kris Bryant’s grievance is settled, perhaps they will actually trade him and begin something of a rebuild.

That could all be smoke and they could trade for Nolan Arenado tomorrow - we don’t know. That’s why they call this gambling. But all indications are the Cubs are more likely to subtract rather than add, and for that reason.

I would take the UNDER on this.

St. Louis Cardinals
Over/Under: 85.5 (Over -125, Under +100)
2019 Wins: 91

So here we get into a little sportsbook magic. While Draftkings has the Cardinals Over/Under one game below the Cubs, they’ve upped the juice from a standard -110 to -125. And even though the Under is set at +100, that still means you’ll be paying a 6.14% margin on this bet, rather than the standard 4.76.

What does that mean? Well, it means that the book understands you will probably lean toward the over at this line, and so they’re going to squeeze you a little more for it. It also suggests to me that they feel there is more variability here, so they are protecting themselves on either side.

I don’t like the margin and might avoid this bet on general principle, but I have to admit, I still think the Cardinals are a pretty good Over bet at 85.5. While we grouse about this team’s reluctance to go all-in, they are perennial contenders. 2017 is the only time in the last twelve seasons they have won fewer than 86 games. Yes, their offseason has been underwhelming, and yes, Marcell Ozuna and his 2.6 WAR are gone. But do you really think this team is six wins worse than last year, even with no additions?

On the flip side of the Cubs, the Cardinals are a team I would expect to add talent should they need a boost midseason. They have not been major trade deadline players the last few years, but from John Lackey to Matt Holiday, they have been willing to make these kind of deals in the past - and I expect they will again.

I’d take the OVER on the Cardinals.

Cincinnati Reds
Over/Under: 83.5 (Over -120, Under -105)
2019 Wins: 75

Here’s our other contender with some variability in the expected results and an increase in the margins as a result. In this case, the book is taking an extra 1% margin in addition to their standard juice.

Most books opened the Reds at 82.5, so the Castellanos addition has added just one Win here.

On first blush, I’m guessing this looks low to many folks. The -120 on the Over would suggest the same. The Reds have been crowned champions of the offseason, and are clearly a better team than they were last year, so the momentum has to push towards the Over... right?

I’m not so sure. This was a 75-win team last season, so they could well have added the talent they have added only to become about average. They have added older players, who certainly are more at-risk to decline. Trevor Bauer is a major wild card. You would have to assume he is still a very good pitcher, but he performed terribly as a Red in the 2nd half.

Bauer is in the final year of his contract and even though they just signed Castellanos, his opt-outs after Year One and Year Two mean he could also become a free agent at the end of the season. That means that while the Reds are clearly trying to win now, it’s also easy to see them selling and re-tooling at the deadline if it looks like this current version isn’t quite ready to compete for the division.

There’s a lot of variability there. I’m staying away from this bet.

Milwaukee Brewers
Over/Under: 82.5
2019 Wins: 89

The Brewers have moved a number of pieces around, but they have clearly taken a step back. Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas were their #2 and #3 position players by WAR last season - good for 8.0 between them - and both are gone.

But even with those two pieces gone, do you think the Brewers are seven games worse? I see upside there, particularly in Keston Hiura. They’ve done a good job of finding value in surprising places and from relatively unheralded organizational guys over the past couple years, and they don’t seem to be overtly venturing into a rebuild.

I’d take the OVER on the Brewers.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Over/Under: 70.5
2019 Wins: 69

And here we have the dregs. Most books opened the Pirates at 71.5, so here they’ve been dropped by a single win for the Starling Marte trade. I’m of two minds on the Pirates:

On one hand, the Marte trade means more than just the loss of Marte. It means the fire sale is on and any parts of value must go. This team is only going to get worse. But on the other hand, I’m a bit hesitant to wager on win totals THIS LOW. A team that could win 88 games will do everything they can to win 89 or 90. But do the Pirates really care if they win 69 or 71? Bad teams will be bad, but I feel less certain about pinning a number on it.

Even so, the deciding factor for me is that I do believe the rest of the teams in this division will be competitive. That means not many easy games for the Pirates and likely a performance on the low end of their range.

I’ll take the UNDER on the Pirates.

***

So those are my picks. What do you guys think? Voting is open until midnight tonight.

Poll

Chicago Cubs: 86.5 wins

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Over
    (182 votes)
  • 61%
    Under
    (291 votes)
473 votes total Vote Now

Poll

St. Louis Cardinals: 85.5 wins

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Over
    (420 votes)
  • 13%
    Under
    (65 votes)
485 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Cincinnati Reds: 83.5 wins

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Over
    (279 votes)
  • 40%
    Under
    (190 votes)
469 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Milwaukee Brewers: 82.5 wins

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Over
    (269 votes)
  • 42%
    Under
    (199 votes)
468 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Pittsburgh Pirates: 70.5 wins

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Over
    (81 votes)
  • 82%
    Under
    (391 votes)
472 votes total Vote Now