N.L. Central Champ Odds Shifting Again

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MLB Betting Futures now show Brewers +900 to win NL Central

Brewers +900 to win Central

Coming into 2009, the Cubs were the clear favorites in the NL Central, predicted to finish comfortably ahead of the Brewers and Cardinals. Considering the unpredictability of the baseball season, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Chicago hasn’t exactly run away with the division, getting off to a 16-13 start. In fact, it was St. Louis that came flying out of the gate, beginning the year 17-7.

With the Cubs getting the preseason hype, and the Cardinals getting the attention early in the year, people weren’t paying much attention to the Brewers in April. And rightfully so, as Milwaukee struggled at the season’s outset, beginning the year just 4-9. This caused them to become something of an afterthought, as they’d dug themselves a pretty sizeable hole, especially relative to St. Louis.

But the Brewers have turned their season around incredibly quickly. Since losing nine of their first 13, they’re 13-4, and four games over .500 after their victory over Chicago on Friday night. With the Cardinals coming back down to earth, Milwaukee is actually just two games out of first place after the season’s first 30 games.

The odds have been slow to adjust to this rather sudden change, as Milwaukee’s odds obviously dropped after they got off to a slow start. But now that they’re right back in it, +900 (at BetUS) is good value, since they clearly have the personnel to compete in the NL Central.

Milwaukee’s strength is a lineup that’s solid all the way through. Everyone knows about sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, who have gotten off to their customary excellent starts. But Mike Cameron has actually been the Brewers’ most valuable player thus far, combining 16 extra base hits and 16 walks against just 19 strikeouts in his first 27 games with his customary excellent defense in center field.

Rickie Weeks is also having a solid season, with his OPS up about 50 points from his career mark. His walks are down, which is a somewhat discouraging sign, but he’s more than compensating for that with a significant increase in power, with six home runs already in 2009 after hitting just 14 last year. Corey Hart has also recovered from a dismal second half of 2008, with a very well rounded BA/OBP/SLG line of .273/.352/.455.

Maybe the most encouraging sign to come out of Milwaukee has been the emergency of starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Limited by injuries to just 24 innings last year, he wasn’t able to make a significant contribution, although he did help out in the playoffs. This year has been a different story for Gallardo, who has gotten off to a great start, 3-1 with a 3.02 ERA and a 39:12 K:BB ratio in 41.2 innings of work. He’s shown signs of dominance already, and he has the stuff to continue that trend the rest of the year.

At the other end of the spectrum, rotation mate Manny Parra got off to a very slow start, 0-3 with a 8.16 ERA in his first three starts. Since then, though, he’s been excellent, with a miniscule 2.12 ERA in 17 innings since. Parra has some control problems to work out, but he has a chance to be a solid contributor as well. Combine him and Gallardo with David Bush, Braden Looper, and Jeff Suppan and, while the Brewers may not have any huge names in their rotation, they do have a solid 1-5.

The Brewers also acquired a new closer this offseason, if the 41-year old Trevor Hoffman can possibly be described as “new”. Filling a spot that has been a problem for Milwaukee in past years – the Eric Gagne signing didn’t exactly work out – Hoffman has been all they could’ve expected and then some. In six appearances he’s 5/5 in save chances, with a brilliant 7:0 K:BB ratio, and he’s yet to allow a run.

You certainly never root for anybody to get injured, but it’s undeniable that the dislocated shoulder that Aramis Ramirez suffered in Friday night’s games will help Milwaukee’s playoff chances as well. Ramirez had only played 17 games so far this year, but he was excellent when in the lineup, with a .369/.423/.600 line in 71 plate appearances. He has been a constant contributor to the Chicago offense over the last five years, and his absence will certainly be costly.

The Brewers are obviously not a lock to win the division, as they’re up against some pretty stiff competition in St. Louis and Chicago. But at +900 they don’t need to be automatic, they just necessitate a legitimate chance at claiming the title, and that hope is certainly alive in Milwaukee.

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