Once again this season, all the teams in the National League Central division will be chasing the best team in baseball as the Chicago Cubs go for a second straight World Series title.
Chicago Cubs (2016: 103-58, +2.99 units, 75-79-8 O/U)
Division odds: -500
Season win total: 96
Why bet the Cubs: Kyle Schwarber is healthy and that means more hits and runs for an already powerful offensive lineup. He has an on-base percentage of .408 for his career. Wade Davis is a solid closer to replace Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. Davis had a 1.87 ERA last year for Kansas City. Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta provide a potent top-3 in the starting rotation. Joe Maddon is an excellent manager that will keep this team humble and motivated.
Why not bet the Cubs: The Cubs will be a very public team this year, so their lines will be inflated which takes away value. Chicago must also avoid complacency after finally winning a World Series title. New closer Wade Davis wasn't healthy last year for the Royals, so depth in the bullpen could be a concern. John Lackey is aging which could affect the depth of the starting rotation as well.
Season win total pick: Over 96 wins
Cincinnati Reds (2016: 68-94, -7.26 units, 87-65-10 O/U)
Division odds: +9000
Season win total: 70.5
Why bet the Reds: Joey Votto hit .408 after the All-Star break and is one of the best first basemen in baseball. Raisel Iglesias has some electric stuff out of the bullpen. Billy Hamilton had 58 steals last year and he also covers a ton of ground in the outfield. Anthony DeSclafani was 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 2016.
Why not bet the Reds: The rotation is going to be awful as Dan Straily was traded, plus both Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani are currently injured. The bullpen was terrible last year as they led the majors in home runs, walks and runs allowed. Cincinnati will likely be a seller once the trade deadline approaches.
Season win total pick: Under 70.5 wins
Milwaukee Brewers (2016: 73-89, -0.24 units, 74-79-9 O/U)
Division odds: +9000
Season win total: 70
Why bet the Brewers: Ryan Braun is a star and his surgically repaired back allowed him to play 135 games last year. Jonathan Villar led the league in stolen bases with 62. The Brewers became the fourth team in MLB history to hit 180 home runs and steal 180 bases last season. Craig Counsell is a solid manager that will keep his team competing hard all year.
Why not bet the Brewers: The rotation is led by Zach Davies and Junior Guerra and neither one of them is a true No. 1 starter. The rest of the rotation is a host of mediocre veterans including Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Tommy Milone and Jimmy Nelson. The bullpen is filled with youth and the offensive lineup outside of Braun is inexperienced.
Season win total pick: Over 70 wins
Pittsburgh Pirates (2016: 78-83, -13.78 units, 89-69-4 O/U)
Division odds: +900
Season win total: 83
Why bet the Pirates: Pittsburgh returns the core from last year and they could enter the season underrated after winning just 78 games last season which was twenty games less than the 98 games they won in 2015. Andrew McCutchen remains one of the best all-around players in baseball. Gerrit Cole has the potential to become a solid No. 1 starting pitcher. Tony Watson was an All-Star last year and should be able to make the transition to closer. Pitching coach Ray Searage has been a miracle worker at times.
Why not bet the Pirates: Behind Cole in the rotation is Ivan Nova and some youngsters who are very unproven. Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon are highly touted prospects, but they went just 10-11 combined last season. Daniel Hudson was acquired for the bullpen, but he had a poor 5.22 ERA last year. Pittsburgh might become sellers at the trade deadline if they are not in the playoff race.
Season win total pick: Under 83 wins
St. Louis Cardinals (2016: 86-76, -6.49 units, 83-73-6 O/U)
Division odds: +600
Season win total: 84.5
Why bet the Cardinals: Dexter Fowler comes over from the Cubs and he is going to be a solid addition to a lineup that features Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz. Seung-hwan Oh was one save shy last year of being the sixth rookie ever to have 20 saves and 100 strikeouts. Lance Lynn returns and he has been an All-Star in the past.
Why not bet the Cardinals: Alex Reyes undergoing Tommy John surgery weakens the rotation as he will not be available this year. Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright are coming off poor performances last season. The Cardinals are also an aging team at some key positions. Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss combined for 48 home runs last season, but they have both departed.
Season win total pick: Under 84.5 wins