- The Cubs are looking to rebound following an injury-plagued 2018 season
- The Cardinals are poised to return to contention following an offseason free agent splash
- The Brewers are likely to be the greatest threat to the Cubs’ dominance in the NL Central
After making a disappointing early exit from the MLB Postseason in 2018, the Chicago Cubs have a lot to prove as they open Spring Training.
The Cubs join their archrival St. Louis Cardinals as +225 favorites to claim this year’s divisional pennant after enduring an injury-plagued campaign in 2018 that ended with a heartbreaking loss to Colorado in the National League Wild Card Game.
2019 National League Central Odds
|Team||2019 Record||Odds to Win the NL Central|
|St. Louis Cardinals||88-74||+225|
*Odds taken on 02/19/19
While a return to health likely means a return to contention for Chicago, the Cubs can expect to face a stiff challenge from the Cardinals, who made a splash on the free agent market this winter after missing the postseason for a third straight year.
The emergence of the Milwaukee Brewers, who rode an impressive second half to their first division pennant since 2011, and the Cincinnati Reds, who look poised to climb out of their familiar position in the division basement following a series of offseason moves, leaves the NL Central as possibly the strongest division in the Majors entering the 2019 MLB season.
Cubs Postseason Hopes Pinned to a Return to Health
The Chicago Cubs kicked off the 2018 MLB campaign amid high expectations following a busy offseason that featured a flurry of free-agent signings, including pitchers Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, and Steve Cishek.
But a season that opened with such promise for the Cubs quickly turned to a battle for their postseason lives following injuries to Darvish, Morrow, and third baseman Kris Bryant. Chicago’s desperate situation was further complicated by late-season injuries to shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Jason Heyward, and the club looked to have little left in the tank as they stumbled through a 7-7 stretch run on home turf, capped by a 2-1 extra innings Wild Card loss to the Rockies at Wrigley Field to close out the season.
Cubs got to play final games at home & scored just 2 runs in 22 innings. With their payroll, it's tough to feel sorry for them.
— Kenneth Mihalik (@HoldBackTheNite) October 3, 2018
While the Cubs remained largely quiet during the offseason, with the addition of veteran utility infielder Daniel Descalso, and the departure of pitcher Jesse Chavez and hired gun Daniel Murphy marking their biggest moves, the club should enjoy an immediate benefit from improved health.
Darvish is reportedly set to make his return after making just eight appearances before seeing his 2018 season ended by elbow surgery, rejoining Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana in what is arguably the strongest rotation in the Majors.
Yu Darvish threw a baseball to real live players today, and four other takeaways from Cubs spring training today. https://t.co/QYwvYNvfKV
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) February 20, 2019
Morrow continues to rehab after elbow surgery cost him the final three months of the 2018 schedule, but is reportedly on schedule to return to his role as Chicago’s closer about one month into the upcoming season, while Bryant has declared himself fully recovered from shoulder surgery that limited the 2016 NL MVP to just 102 games last season.
NL Central Key Offseason Moves
Chicago Cubs Key Additions and Subtractions
|Daniel Descalsco, INF||Daniel Murphy, INF|
|Xavier Cedeno, P||Jesse Chavez, RP|
|Brad Brach, RP|
Cincinnati Reds Key Additions and Subtractions
|Matt Kemp, OF||Homer Bailey, SP|
|Yasiel Puig, OF||Shed Long, 2B|
|Alex Wood, SP||Josiah Gray, SP|
|Sonny Gray, SP||Jeter Downs, INF|
Milwaukee Brewers Key Additions and Subtractions
|Mike Moustakas, 3B||Keon Broxton, OF|
|Josh Tomlin, SP||Alex Claudio, RP|
|Yasmani Grandal, C||Domingo Santana, OF|
|Jay Jackson, P|
Pittsburgh Pirates Key Additions and Subtractions
|Francisco Liriano, SP||Ivan Nova, SP|
|Nick Franklin, 2B||Max Moroff, SS|
|Melky Cabrera, OF||Tanner Anderson, RP|
|Rookie Davis, SP||Jordan Luplow, OF|
St. Louis Cardinals Key Additions and Subtractions
|Paul Goldschmidt, 1B||Carson Kelly, C|
|Andrew Miller, RP||Luke Weaver, SP|
|Drew Robinson, 3B||Andy Young, 2B|
Addition of Goldschmidt, Miller Expected to Lift Cards into Postseason Contention
It has been three years since the Cardinals last claimed the NL Central pennant with a 100-win season in 2015. St. Louis has made steady improvement during its reset, winning 88 games last season, and is now poised to return to contention with the offseason acquisitions of Goldschmidt and Miller.
With Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals Try to Recreate a Formula That Worked https://t.co/TstouCq9eI
— Joan Krauter (@JEKrauter) February 19, 2019
Goldschmidt overcame a shaky start last season in Arizona before closing out the campaign with 33 home runs. The 31-year-old should add punch to a lineup that has ranked in the middle of the pack in team batting stats over the past two seasons.
While Goldschmidt brings a wealth of power of consistency at the plate, it remains unclear whether Miller can step into the closer role in St. Louis, which was forced to turn to veteran Bud Norris as their closer last season.
— John Fleming (@johnjf125) December 21, 2018
The Cardinals will also have several players making returns after closing 2018 on the DL, including veteran outfielder Dexter Fowler, who put up career-worst numbers while making just 90 appearances in his second season in St. Louis.
But with the club relying heavily on aging veterans to carry the weight, including Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina, success is far from assured in St. Louis. The Cardinals must also receive another strong season from their starting rotation. Righthander Mike Mikolas sat among the league leaders last season with an 18-4 record and 2.83 ERA, while starters got the nod in 59 of the club’s 88 victories.
Don’t Sleep on Brewers to Repeat in 2019
While the conversation in the NL Central has centered on the Cubs and Cardinals, it is tough to overlook the Milwaukee Brewers as a +300 wager to repeat as NL Central champions.
Pegged as a massive -175 favorite to fail to make the postseason in 2018, the Brewers emerged as an early surprise while marching to the top of the MLB standings during an 18-7 run during the month of May, and demonstrated veteran poise during a 10-1 stretch run, capped by 3-1 win over Chicago in a one-game playoff to determine the division champion.
— Call to the Pen (@CalltothePen) January 31, 2019
With an offense led by NL MVP Christian Yelich and Jesus Aguilar, the Brewers ranked fourth in home runs last season, and seventh in total bases. However, Milwaukee’s pitching needs to improve in a number of categories, most notably quality starts, and wins by starters.
The Brewers will also miss Wade Miley, and have several key decisions to make about the rotation before breaking camp. But despite the question marks, the Brewers enter 2019 poised to once again be the biggest challenger to the Cubs’ dominance in the NL Central.
Our 2019 MLB Divisional Previews Coverage:
- 2019 AL East Odds: Yankees Given Slight Edge Over Red Sox
- Dodgers Listed as Odds-On Favorites to Win the NL West in 2019
- 2019 AL West Odds: Astros Heavily Favored; Angels & A’s Listed at 11-2
- 2019 AL Central Odds: Indians Odds-On Favorites to Win Division
- 2019 NL East Odds: Phillies Listed as Slight Favorites Over Nationals
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