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Cubs, Brewers Still Favored to Win NL Central, But Pirates’ Odds Improve Significantly

Starling Marte rounds the bases.
Starling Marte and the Pirates are coming on strong in the NL Central. Photo by Ian D'Andrea (flickr) [CC License].
  • The Chicago Cubs enter the All-Star break atop the NL Central
  • All four teams trailing them are within 4.5 games
  • Who is the best bet in the NL Central?

At the beginning of May, the NL Central looked like a three team race. On May 6th, the Cardinals led the division. The Cubs were a half game back, while the Brewers were one game back. The Pirates and Reds weren’t far off, but they were in the odds.

While the Reds and Pirates have been all over the place lately, things are tight once again.

2019 National League Central Odds

Team Record Games Back Odds at Bovada Odds at BetOnline Odds at MyBookie
Chicago Cubs 47-43 0 +165 +125 +160
Milwaukee Brewers 47-44 0.5 +190 +225 +180
St. Louis Cardinals 44-44 2 +333 +450 +330
Pittsburgh Pirates 44-45 2.5 +1200 +1000 +900
Cincinnati Reds 41-46 4.5 +750 +1000 +1000

*Odds taken 07/08/19

A quick glance at the NL Central odds reveals that all five teams have +1000 odds or better. That’s the first time we can say that since April 1st.

The Pirates have been playing the best out of all five teams. Over the last 10 games, the top three teams in the division are 4-6. The Reds are 5-5. While not miles better than their competition, Pittsburgh is 6-4.

So are the Pirates worth it?

Can the Pirates Pull Off an NL Central Upset?

Since a seven game losing streak in the middle of June, the Pirates have been on a steady upwards trend. They’re 14-7 with a pair of walk-off wins. They’ve also held opponents to three or fewer runs 10 times over that stretch, going 8-2.

A big reason for that? Felipe Vazquez.

Felipe Vazquez’ Last Nine Games

March 31-June 15
June 16-Now

26 Games 9
15/16 SV/SVO 5/5
2.22 ERA 1.80
46/9 K/BB 14/1
.227 OPP BA .237

Vazquez has been great all year but he’s found another level. He’s the one constant in a bullpen that struggled before coming into its own.

Richard Rodriguez is 3-0 in that same stretch and hasn’t allowed a run. His ERA before? 5.27. Now it’s down to 3.63.

Will Pittsburgh’s Pen Be Its Undoing?

Admittedly ERA can be a bit deceiving for relievers, but some of the other numbers don’t inspire confidence.

Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen Statistics

Pitcher G W/L ERA K/BB OPP Average
Kyle Crick 8 1-2 4.32 12/10 .273
Francisco Liriano 9 2-0 6.30 8/7 .297
Michael Feliz 9 0-0 1.04 9/4 .143
Chris Stratton 5 0-0 1.00 7/0 .188

Crick and Liriano are carrying nearly equal K/BB ratios, and have been heavily used during this stretch. Additionally, the OPP batting average is higher than you would like.

On the other hand, Chris Stratton had an 8.59 ERA in the AL and a .344 opponent’s batting average. With Pittsburgh, his numbers (3.12 ERA, .269 OPP BA) have been significantly better. Feliz has overcome his issues too.

Can Josh Bell Keep Pirates in NL Central Race?

Long thought to be on the cusp of realizing his talent, Josh Bell has seemingly done it. He’s on pace to set career-highs in every major offensive category, with most likely to be set just after the All-Star break.

Bell’s .302 average is fourth among qualified players on the Pirates.

What’s amazing is that his .302 average is fourth among qualified players on the team, with qualifiers hitting above .274.

His totals have the Pirates sitting top 10 in the NL in average, OBP, Slugging Percentage, and OPS. But can he keep it up in the second half?

Josh Bell Career Splits

1st Half
2nd Half

275 Games 165
.270 AVG .268
49/178 HR/RBI 19/77
.512 SLG% .434
.350 OBP% .362

Yes, this includes the first half of this year, but looking beyond the bulk stats, Bell’s career does play itself to a slower second half.

Even in his previous career-year of 2017. Bell hit 16 home runs in the first half and 10 in the second. He did manage two more RBI’s post-All Star break, however.

Are the Pirates Worth it in NL Central?

If you think they are, then the +1200 at Bovada is worth it. But I’m not biting.

Both the Cubs and Brewers are experienced and deep. Teams go through lulls in baseball’s long season, and the key is to not overreact.

The Pirates’ bullpen has been great lately, but despite that still rank fifth in inherited runner percentage (37%), eighth in losses in relief (17) and fifth in bullpen runs per game (5.26). Whether or not Bell keeps up his pace, the bullpen will need to be magic until late September. That will be tough.

Stick with the Cubs and Brewers.

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