Cincinnati’s NL Central Odds Have Improved 27% in Three Weeks; Are the Reds Division Contenders?

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto will be hoping for a bounce-back year with the offensively-challenged Cincinnati Reds in 2020. Photo by Erik Drost (Wiki Commons) [CC License]
  • The Reds haven’t won the NL Central since 2012 and haven’t finished better than fourth since 2013
  • But an aggressive off-season makeover has seen Cincinnati’s division-title odds improve from +350 to +256
  • See the odds and analysis of Cincinnati’s 2020 division hopes below

Winning an average of 69.6 games over the last six seasons hardly generates optimism. But 2020 is shaping up to be a different kind of season in Cincinnati, with general manager Nick Krall’s off-season makeover providing tangible reasons for hope.

While All-Star first baseman Joey Votto is still a mainstay on the team, the additions of Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and the intriguing potential of Shogo Akiyama have all helped to move the needle on a team that has reached the postseason just three times in the last 24 years.

Consequently, the Reds’ 2020 NL Central odds have been on the move in the last month. Cincinnati is now the third-favorite in the division, moving past the Milwaukee Brewers and only slightly trailing the St Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs.

On average, the Reds’ odds to win the Central are +255.

Odds to Win 2020 NL Central Division

Team Odds
St. Louis Cardinals +195
Chicago Cubs +205
Cincinnati Reds +257
Milwaukee Brewers +530
Pittsburgh Pirates +20000

Odds taken on February 27.

The Only Way Is Up

When a team has finished no higher than fourth in its last six seasons, and no closer than 14 games out of first place, the logical conclusion might be that it’s in for another tough slog in 2020. And if that history wasn’t bad enough, the fact that Cincinnati’s offense could only muster 701 runs, fourth-worst in the National League, doesn’t bode well either.

But a closer look shows real potential for improvement. For one thing, no team in the National League lost more one-run games than the 2019 Reds, who went a brutal 24-33 in one-run contests. Even if a third of those went the other way, Cincinnati’s win total would have jumped from 75 to 86, putting them just five games back of St. Louis for the division crown.

Better Bats

The likelihood of positive regression wasn’t enough for Krall, though; he went out and added some pieces that should help improve 2019’s anemic offense.

Moustakas has hit 101 home runs over the past three seasons, behind just Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado and Cincinnati’s own Eugenio Suarez amongst third baseman. While Moustakas’ move to second base at Great American Ball Park certainly creates defensive concerns, his bat will help spark a lineup that sorely needs it.

Castellanos is only three seasons removed from a 101-RBI year with the Detroit Tigers, and still put up a respectable 73 RBI last year along with a career-high 27 home runs.

Japanese import Akiyama is something of an enigma; if he can quickly find his feet in the majors, his career on-base percentage (.376) in Japan’s Pacific League should make him a valuable leadoff hitter for this Reds squad.

Winning the Arms Race

Front-ender starters Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer helped guide Cincinnati to the fifth-best earned-run average (4.12) in the National League last year, and increased offense should help the rotation better its 48-54 win-loss record of a year ago.

The Reds also signed veteran right-hander Wade Miley along with reliever Pedro Strop to bolster the rotation and bullpen, respectively.

Miley went 14-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 2019 – albeit a record earned with the heavy-hitting Houston Astros.

Strop will team with relievers such as Michael Lorenzen, who had a 1.91 ERA after the All-Star break, to help improve on the 13th-best bullpen in the majors. Closer Raisel Iglesias will be hoping to leave behind his own second-half form, where he posted a 4.30 ERA after the All-Star break.

The Bottom Line

With a much-improved roster, providing mostly everyone can stay healthy, Cincinnati should be firmly in the mix for the division crown. Its +257 odds provide decent value in a wide-open NL Central.

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