The NL Central was always going to be a world wide open, but Milwaukee was threatening to slam the door on the race up until Cincinnati took three of four off the Brewers and kept things very much in the air as the teams head to the final 70-75 games of the season. With four teams within eight games of first and nobody really establishing dominance, this race could easily turn — especially with the Reds and Brewers matching up again right after the break.
BEST BET: CINCINNATI REDS, +500
Reason: If this is a bet that intrigues you, get it in now, because the value will drop drastically if the Reds can sweep the Brewers and cut the margin to one. There’s actually a fair amount of value on this bet, because multiple factors favor the Reds over the remaining games. First, the Reds are yet to see the Marlins and have 13 games left with the woeful Pirates. Second, other than a home series with Los Angeles, they don’t see the NL West again this season. Not only does that mean no Giants or Padres, but it also means the Reds won’t travel west of the Mississippi River again except to play the Cardinals. Third, Cincinnati hasn’t even played all that well, and yet it’s still in striking distance.
With all of those factors in play, I’d much rather take my chances on the Reds’ offense at +500 than I would the Brewers’ pitching at -600. Pitching might be more likely than hitting to win titles, but it’s not 30 times more likely to do so.
VALUE PLAY: ST. LOUIS CARDINALS, +2000
Reason: There’s not really a lot of value left in the Central once you get past the Reds, as the Cubs are fading fast and the Cardinals have been crippled by injuries and poor hitting. But at least there’s a chance that St. Louis could get healthy, which is the only reason that the Cardinals find themselves on this list. What will give them a realistic shot is if they can figure out Milwaukee. Of their remaining games, 13 are with the Brewers and another 21 are against the Cubs and Pirates, who should be full-on sellers at the end of the month.
I don’t expect St. Louis to pull this off, but you could do worse for this kind of value.
OUT OF THE RUNNING: PITTSBURGH PIRATES, +50000
Reason: Are the Pirates ever going to get this right? Pittsburgh keeps rebuilding and rebuilding and rarely getting anywhere, as their picks end up either stalling out or traded for more prospects. Things shouldn’t be this bad in Pittsburgh, but this is now a team that has gone five years without getting close to the playoffs and no real end in sight.