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Let’s bet on NL Central win totals

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The first betting lines for the season are out. Let’s get our money down early.

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MLB: Wildcard-St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been away the last couple weeks because - despite being very careful - my family came down with the ‘vid. We are all doing better now, and thankfully none of us experienced the most serious symptoms. But you do not want to go through even a mild case of this or play a part in spreading it to someone else. So please, continue to mask up and keep your distance.

Wynn Bet became the first sportsbook to post lines for season win totals Tuesday night, and they have the Cardinals line set at 85 wins - best in the NL Central.

That’s a better total and better spot in the standings than Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, which also came out Tuesday and pegged St. Louis for just 81 wins and a 3rd place finish. PECOTA thinks the Brewers will win 89 games and the division. The betting market opened with Milwaukee’s line at 83.5 wins and 2nd place.

The first thing that should jump out is... yikes. Whether you trust the wonks at BP or the free market of the sportsbooks, neither of those totals is exactly impressive. Even if the Cardinals won the division with exactly 85 wins, only once in the last 13 years have they posted a total that low.

They ought to look to add more talent. They’ve already added Arenado, the rest of the division is weak, and their current advantage is either slim or nonexistent. But look, you and I have watched The Cardinals. We know they aren’t going to do that.

Aside from maybe a Brad Miller or some other piece out of the discount bin, it’s ride or die with this current roster. So how many wins are these guys worth? What about the other teams in the division?

Let’s place some bets.

St. Louis Cardinals: 85 wins

Benny the Sharp has to tell you to bet the under here. When a team’s line is set more than 4 wins above their projections, your money is safer on the side of the projection.

But my heart says this PECOTA projection is hot trash. John Mozeliak’s teams are scientifically formulated to win between 86-89 wins every season, and it’s hard for me to believe the year where they made one of their biggest trades in a decade will be the the year they go five games under that.

Sure, I can see a number of prime regression candidates on this roster. Any starter not named Flaherty could blow up into a 4+ ERA guy. I don’t know if any of these outfielders will be good. Is Tommy Edman an everyday 2nd baseman?

As I said last year, the one thing I look at beyond projections is: Which teams are likely to add talent as the season goes on? With a splashy new superstar player, Yadi and Waino quite possibly in their final season, and the club’s annual commitment to being in the playoff hunt, I think the Cardinals are more likely than anyone to ADD talent if they are underachieving.

I will stupidly bet with my heart and take the OVER on the Cardinals.

Poll

Will the Cardinals win over or under 85 games?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Over
    (1824 votes)
  • 5%
    Under
    (100 votes)
1924 votes total Vote Now

Milwaukee Brewers: 83.5 wins

In 2018 and 2019, the Brewers won 96 and 89 and games respectively. They were a very good team. Last season, they were two games below .500, but still made the playoffs because last year was bonkers.

The Brewers are cheapskates who have mostly been shedding talent since their peak 2-3 years ago. They were sub .500 last year. That said, they still have Christian Yelich, and there’s a good chance the down year from him and the team were just a fluke of the short season.

I feel like Milwaukee is the 2nd best team in the division. I would bet OVER 83.5 wins.

Poll

Will the Brewers win over or under 83.5 games?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Over
    (771 votes)
  • 47%
    Under
    (709 votes)
1480 votes total Vote Now

Chicago Cubs: 81 wins

PECOTA has the Cubs projected for 85 wins, so as I said with the Cardinals, I think the sharp bet would be to take the Over. The Cubs have held a fire sale all offseason. They are clearly a worse team than they were last season, and they must be thoroughly demoralized. But there is still plenty of talent on the team, and 81 wins is a pretty low number...

As I did with the Cardinals, I’m tempted to lean against (at least the PECOTA) projections for a team based on what I think they will do during the season. The rumor mill around Kris Bryant and Wilson Contreras seems to have calmed for now, but it’s probably even money that one or both are gone before the end of the season. At that point, the Cubs are in full-on tank mode.

If you think the team will hold onto Bryant and Contreras, I think this is probably an Over. If word gets out that they are dumping one or both, I would pound the Under.

I’ll take the UNDER on the Cubs.

Poll

Will the Cubs win over or under 81 games?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Over
    (489 votes)
  • 66%
    Under
    (985 votes)
1474 votes total Vote Now

Cincinnati Reds: 79.5 wins

This number is right in-line with PECOTA, who has the Reds projected for 79 wins. The Reds were not the great team some expected them to be last year, but they did post their first winning season in seven years and make the playoffs.

I was agnostic on the Reds when I looked at win totals last January. Their market started at 83.5 wins. But as they continued adding free agents, their total rose and rose. I pounded the Under... because who successfully builds a team that way anymore? That bet paid off.

After being everyone’s darling for winning the 2020 offseason, the Reds biggest moves this year have been losing Trevor Bauer to free agency and dumping the salary of Raisel Iglesias. They are in cost-cutting if-not full tanking mode, and this number reflects that.

I can’t see much value on either side of this and would not bet it right now, but if I had to pick, I’d say Under.

Poll

Will the Reds win over or under 79.5 games?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Over
    (444 votes)
  • 66%
    Under
    (889 votes)
1333 votes total Vote Now

Pittsburgh Pirates: 62.5 wins

The Pirates are going to be terrible, but how terrible?

Since 2013, only two NL teams have finished a full season with a win total below this mark: The 2019 Marlins had 57 wins and the 2013 Marlins won 62. The Tigers 47 wins in 2019 and 43 in 2003 are the absolute nadir of the modern era, but those are extreme outliers.

What I’m saying is, this line is set pretty much at the bottom of the range you can expect MLB teams to win, except in very extreme circumstances. Are the Pirates bad enough to put up one of those historical examples? They very well could be. In fact, PECOTA pegs them for 61 wins, just a smidge below this line. Last year’s Pirates won at a pace that would have meant just 51 wins over a full season.

I try to avoid betting on very bad teams in either direction, because they tend to not just be bad but inconsistent and hard to predict. Yes, the Pirates could absolutely be worse than this. But my gut tells me there could be just enough of a dead cat bounce to get them over this line. Also, both PECOTA and the betting markets have the win totals pretty low throughout this division. If the best team in the NL Central is only going to get to 85 wins, I think that means a few more games breaking for the lowly Pirates.

Again, I wouldn’t touch this. But if I had to, I would hold my nose and take the Over.

Poll

Will the Pirates win over or under 62.5 wins?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Over
    (709 votes)
  • 45%
    Under
    (588 votes)
1297 votes total Vote Now