With over a third of the season behind us, it’s the perfect time to focus our attention on who the real contenders are and which teams offer the best value at winning this year’s Pennant. The NL is packed full of young, up-and-coming talent creating a myriad of teams teetering on the edge of mediocre and great. While many clubs are just a single deadline move away from becoming a contender, there are an equal number of squads, an injury or cold spell away from missing out on the playoffs completely.
The league is riddled with heavy contenders, starting with the defending champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have looked very beatable at times, though, this season, so even they are no lock to advance deep into the playoffs. With so many teams in contention and a historical amount of injuries to begin the year, it’s anyone’s guess who will win the Pennant. That said, with just a bit of digging and a deeper look at the numbers, it’s a bit easier to classify which teams have a realistic shot. While a team like the Dodgers, given their depth and all their strengths, do have the likeliest path, their payouts aren’t substantial enough to take the risk.
I’ve spotlighted a few teams that are worth your hard-earned dollars, however, who, at their current odds, are a valuable bet. Judging by what we’ve seen and going by the numbers to dictate if a team’s success is sustainable, these are currently your best bets to win the National League Pennant.
San Diego Padres +400
My pick since before the season started has always been the San Diego Padres (or the Mets). No other team exudes confidence quite like the Friars do, and when analyzing their roster, I find very few, if any, weaknesses.
Their lineup hits for power, gets on base, and steals more than any other team in the league. Their staff is full of fantastic arms. The bullpen, even ravaged by injuries, is still an extremely solid group. Their defense is also great (now that Tatis has stopped making so many errors). The fans are on board. The media is on board. Management made all the necessary moves in the off-season, and you can bet they’ll do whatever is needed by the trade deadline. And they even have a few top prospects waiting in the wings to help boost their roster down the stretch.
The team and city are hungry for a championship, and this is the year I believe they get it done. The Dodgers will be the team most likely to stand in their way, but if MLB’s recent history has taught us anything, it’s that it is very difficult to repeat. No team this century has done it.
Plus, after losing the last few series, their odds have crept back up to +400, making this the prime time to grab them as Pennant winners. Put your money on the Padres to make it back to the Fall Classic for the third time in their franchise’s history and their first time in the last 23 years.
New York Mets +500
I love the Mets’ chances this year. I have all season long and even early in the Spring. The biggest hurdle standing in their way (other than injuries, but that seems to be an issue for all teams this year) is they are, after all, still the Mets. Somehow over the last 20 seasons, Mets fans have been let down by their beloved franchise one way or another. After an offseason full of hope and some early signs of life, the Metropolitans have a knack for fizzling down the stretch.
But I say not this year! This is the year under new ownership that it all comes together. On paper, the seemingly cursed franchise should have a real shot at winning it all this season. Now with a five-game lead in the NL East, the team from Queens has been getting it done with some match sticks and a hot glue gun, mixing together a group of minor leaguers and NRI players. Many thought the NL East would be the toughest division in baseball, but the Mets have continued to thrive even with a dilapidated offense.
New York has sent over 20 players to the IL already, and it’s only mid-June. They’ve been without most of their regulars for much of the season, including two of their best pitchers who have yet to throw a single pitch for the club.
If the team from Flushing can even get somewhat healthy, you have to like their chances at winning the division. The Braves are their main competition, and while Ronald Acuna may be the best player in baseball, they lost one of their key cogs (likely for the season) in Marcell Ozuna, and their pitching staff has looked extremely pedestrian.
Once they take care of the division, it’ll be on to the Divisional Series in a five-game playoff. They will likely match up against the NL Central winner, who, at this point, could be any team not named the Pirates. All four of those clubs have their weaknesses, and I believe the Mets, led by deGrom and company, would defeat any of them in a shortened series. The Pennant will then probably come down to a series against one of the Southern California teams, and while the Mets would be the underdog in the matchup, they would still have a strong chance at advancing.
At +500, you have to love the payout because once they win the division, it’ll drop down closer to +200. There’s still a long road ahead, and it’s always difficult to put money on the Mets long term, but ownership has shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to win this season (so a nice deadline deal isn’t out of the question) and once fully healthy, the team should be one to reckon with.
One final word: Jacob deGrom’s historical season was put on hold last night after reports of a sore shoulder ended his start after just three innings. The news broke today, however, that it’s not considered serious, and he should be good to go after a week or so of rest.
Without deGgrom, you can toss your wager ticket in the trash if you’ve already bet, but with him, the Mets are one of my top picks to win the Pennant. It’s definitely a situation worth monitoring.
Milwaukee Brewers +1200
The Brewers don’t hit well, and it would be quite nerve-racking at this point to wager any amount of money on the offensively strapped club. That said, they still possess one of the most lethal weapons in the game.
For Milwaukee, it all starts with their starting pitching staff. The combined numbers of their top three arms are actually on a pace to rival (minus the innings) the production of the Braves from the late ‘90s. If you combine Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta’s stats from this season, you get a 1.99 ERA with 303 strikeouts, over just 221.1 innings.
The only real issue for the powerful trio is an innings limit which will undoubtedly cut into their starts as the season progresses. There’s also the question of how well their arms will hold up over a six-month season – none of the three have ever pitched above 122 innings.
It will be a tough call for the organization as to how much they want to use these guys down the stretch. No doubt they’ll be in the playoff hunt, so it’ll be on management to maximize their potential while not putting their young stars at risk. But if the Brew Crew are somehow able to keep everyone healthy and make it into the playoffs (which would be for the third year in a row), no rival team is going to want to face those three hurlers in a five or even seven-game series.
The bullpen also features a few of the best shut-down arms in the game in Josh Hader and Devin Williams. Brad Boxberger has proven his worth as well, and Brent Suter is also a decent late innings opinion. Williams hasn’t been the lights-out specialist he was in his rookie year, but he is still striking out a slew of batters demonstrated by his 14.4 K/9.
The defense complements the solid pitching by deploying some of the league’s best up-the-middle gloves. Milwaukee made it a key point to add to their defense in the off-season, which they have continued to improve upon with last month’s trade for Willy Adames. (The ex-Rays’ shortstop has brought a hot bat with him as well, producing 14 RBIs over his first 83 at-bats). During the winter months, the Crew added the back-to-back, Gold Glove winner Kolten Wong to shore up second base. Then somewhat surprisingly, they added Jackie Bradley Jr., arguably the league’s best defensive center fielder. The Brewers already rostered Lorenzo Cain, who opted out of 2020 but is a fine defensive outfielder in his own right and a two-time Gold Glove winner as well.
With an excellent starting staff, superior defense, and offensive standouts such as Avisail Garcia (38 RBIs) and Omar Narvaez (.893 OPS) to go along with what you can only hope is a healthy Christian Yelich. You have to like the Brewers chances at +1200.
Cincinnati Reds +3500
The Cincinnati Reds also deserve your attention, given that their latest odds are up to a generous +3500. They’re also currently playing at a high level, riding a six-game winning streak, and have won 11 of their last 13 games.
The Big Red Machine boasts one of, if not the best hitting trio of outfielders in the game, led by early MVP candidates Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker. The three power-hitting grass roamers (including Tyler Naquin) have a cumulative stat line of .322/.388/.582 with 41 home runs and 120 RBIs over the first 66 games. The lineup also boasts a solid group of veteran infielders, including the slugging Eugenio Suarez, who, despite clubbing 14 home runs, has yet to hit his stride.
The pitching staff is led by two-time All-Star Sonny Gray, who is close to returning from a groin injury, and the surprisingly strong campaign from Wade Miley. Cincinnati’s usual ace Luis Castillo had an awful start to the season but has shown signs of life lately, producing a fine 1.93 ERA in June (three starts), including seven innings of shutout ball in his latest game. His metrics always said he was getting a bit unlucky, and he looks on track to have a solid second half. Tyler Mahle has been quietly exceptional as well (3.59 ERA, 3.04 xERA). And Hunter Green, the organization’s top prospect, deserves mentioning, as he was just moved up to Triple-A after completely dominating the prospect-laden Southern League.
The bullpen has a few quality arms, highlighted by the strong backend held up by Lucas Sims and Tejay Antone, who is scheduled to return from the injured list over the next few days, as well as 2019 standout Michael Lorenzen, who is trending towards a return before the All-Star break.
There have been rumors that the Reds will go after Trevor Story at the trade deadline, giving them one of the scariest lineups in all of baseball. If the Reds are willing to risk part of their future at a shot to win now, is yet to be determined, but a two-month rental of Story would make a substantial difference on offense and defense.
If the Reds are able to obtain the Rockies shortstop, Suarez would move back to his natural position at third, lightening his load, while placing Mike Moustakas (once he is healthy) back at the keystone. The explosive lineup would look something like this:
That lineup would be tremendous. Combine them with the four quality arms, all capable of pitching deep into games, and the Reds have a much better than three percent chance at winning the Pennant.
Even if you have your doubts, if Cincinnati were to make it into the Divisional Series, with a 35-1 wager already in the books, you would hold the luxury of being able to hedge against them and pocket some pretty hefty gains. Grab them now before the odds drop back down.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.