NL Central Odds: Will the Cubs Cash in on a Hot Start?

Aidan McGrath
Aidan McGrath@ffaidanmcgrath
NL Central Odds: Will the Cubs Cash in on a Hot Start?

There's a case to be made that the NL Central Division is the most competitive and evenly-matched division in baseball this season. All five of its teams have double-digit wins already this season, a feat only the AL East can match as of this writing. At 11-14, the fifth-place St. Louis Cardinals would have the third-best record in multiple other divisions as April nears its end. They're the only team in the division with a losing record.

So which teams have the best chances of taking the whole thing down in 2024? Let's take a look at FanDuel Sportsbook's MLB Division Winners Betting Odds market and see how the NL Central stacks up through the first month of the season.

NL Central Winner Betting Odds

Preseason Odds
Chicago Cubs15-9+185+240
Milwaukee Brewers15-8+250+550
St. Louis Cardinals11-14+320+140
Cincinnati Reds14-10+480+410
Pittsburgh Pirates13-12+1200+1600

Chicago Cubs (+185)

The Chicago Cubs entered the season with +240 odds to win the NL Central, the second-shortest odds in the division. After their exciting start to the season, those odds have climbed to +185, making them the frontrunner to win the division after the first month of action.

At 16-9, they're a game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. They're averaging the fourth-most runs per game (5.4) in the Majors while surrendering 4.4 runs per game, giving them the seventh-best run differential (1.0) per game on the year.

As promising as their start has been, it feels like the Cubs could be at a breaking point. The team placed star outfielder Cody Bellinger on the injured list earlier in the week after he fractured a rib on Wrigley Field's outfield wall. He's not the first Cubs stud to hit the IL, either, as Seiya Suzuki (oblique) is still a ways away from returning, and we haven't heard much from expected ace Justin Steele since his Opening Day hamstring injury.

How they perform in the next few weeks could define their season. If breakout hitter Michael Busch -- who has +500 odds to win the NL Rookie of the Year award -- can help them stay afloat without Bellinger and Suzuki on offense, the Cubs could be a team to watch in the postseason. Fellow Rookie of the Year frontrunner Shota Imanaga (+550 odds) has been ace-like on the mound with Steele sidelined while third-year pitcher Javier Assad has been lights out to start the year.

If they can weather this injury storm, they'll have a real shot at winning the division for the first time since 2020.

Milwaukee Brewers (+250)

Brewers fans were not feeling optimistic about their team heading into the 2024 season, and their +550 preseason odds to win the NL Central ranked second-longest in the division. The fans' reasons for concern were valid. A team that rode elite pitching to the playoffs last year traded away its ace just before the season began and lost elite closer Devin Williams (back) to the IL just before Opening Day.

Those concerns were exacerbated by the Brewers' mediocre offense in 2023, but this year's team looks a lot stronger than last year's at the plate. After finishing 2023 with 4.5 runs per game (17th in baseball and the second-fewest among playoff teams) this year's Brew Crew is averaging 5.2 runs per game (eighth-most). They're mashing dingers, with 29 in just 23 games (fourth-most).

Losing Christian Yelich (back) to the 10-day injured list last week was certainly a disappointment -- especially given his history with back injuries -- but the rest of the Brewers' young roster has stepped up. William Contreras looks like the best catcher in baseball, Willy Adames appears locked in, and offseason free agent signing Rhys Hoskins has been a menace for Milwaukee. Those steady bats have helped keep younger hitters like Jackson Chourio, Brice Turang and Sal Frelick in good positions to score in their first and second seasons in the Majors.

Pitching depth could be an issue for the Brewers as the season grinds on, which could explain why their odds to win the division trail the Cubs despite similar records. But still, this team has already defied preseason expectations, and they look like they could push for a second consecutive division title.

If their young roster heats up in the summer, the Brewers could develop into one of the top offenses in baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals (+320)

The Cardinals were the favorites to win this division in the preseason, but their season sputtered out of the starting gates. However, even after a disappointing opening month they are still within striking distance of the first-place Brewers and hold an 11-14 record.

So far St. Louis' season has just been...wacky. Which seems to be becoming the norm under third-year manager Oliver Marmol.

Top prospect Victor Scott II didn't initially make the Opening Day roster despite a strong Spring Training but was then immediately called back up to start on Opening Day after an injury to Dylan Carlson. Over the last week, both Scott and fellow top prospect Jordan Walker have been sent back down to Triple A.

Backup catcher Ivan Herrera has emerged as a shockingly effective batter after an early injury to Willson Contreras, forcing a shakeup at catcher and especially designated hitter. Slow-starting slugger Nolan Gorman -- who stopped eating his favorite popcorn this offseason -- is now getting fewer reps overall with Herrera eating up DH opportunities. And 2022 MVP-winner Paul Goldschmidt has looked very 36 years old as he warms up to the new year while their pitching staff has given up the eighth-most runs per game on the year (4.52).

It's a roster with underperforming vets and underperforming youth, and yet the Cardinals are still holding the third-best odds to win the division and have a just-fine 11-14 record. As their +320 odds imply, they're still very much alive for a division title in 2024.

The baseball season is long, and the Cardinals have a lot of time to figure things out. They've finished first or second in the division in four of their last five seasons, so there's reason for optimism the rest of the way.

Cincinnati Reds (+410)

The Cincinnati Reds have the hottest hitter in baseball. Elly De La Cruz has been sensational so far, posting a 1.063 OPS with 7 homers and 15 stolen bases. He now has the fifth-shortest odds to win the National League MVP (+1500).

But outside of De La Cruz and Spencer Steer, the rest of their offense has been a little slow to start, and a preseason injury to Matt McLain plus a lengthy suspension for Noelvi Marte took some of the optimistic sheen off of our offseason expectations for the team.

The Reds' offense still has extremely high upside once they hit their stride and, I have little doubt they'll be a team opposing pitchers dread this summer. The question for Cincinnati is what they can get from their pitchers the rest of the way.

Hunter Greene has impressive stuff but hasn't pitched below a 4.44 ERA in any of his first three seasons. While Nick Lodolo could develop into one of the league's top strikeout artists in time, he has struggled to put it all together while navigating injuries in back-to-back years.

Clearly, the Reds are a talented team. Even with these question marks, they're 14-10 with the 10th-most wins in baseball. Personally, I like the Reds' chances of winning the division better than I like the Cardinals' chances, making them an interesting bet with their fourth-longest +410 odds trailing St. Louis' +320 odds.

Pittsburgh Pirates (+1200)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have looked surprisingly good to start the season and are sitting in fourth place with a 13-13 record. An out-of-nowhere breakout from rookie pitcher Jared Jones -- who has +500 odds to win the NL Rookie of the Year award -- has helped them put wins on the board early in the season, and the looming presence of Paul Skenes could make the Pirates' rotation a truly fearsome group.

The problem for Pittsburgh is that we've seen them have a similar start a year ago. The 2023 Pirates jumped out to a fiery 20-8 start in April before finishing the year at 76-86. Even with two elite pitching prospects joining their ranks, it feels like they're still probably a year away from becoming a true threat to take down the NL Central.

For starters, we need to see more from shortstop Oneil Cruz this season. We can excuse his slow start given that he fractured his ankle a year ago, but all of Cruz, Ke'Bryan Hayes, and Henry Davis have recorded OPS marks under .700. That's a promising group of young players, but we'll need to see them truly break out before Pittsburgh can compete against teams like the Cubs and Brewers.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.