The Chicago Cubs have made it to the National League Championship Series four times since last making it to the World Series in 1945, falling short in each attempt to win their first title since 1908. This year, the Cubs are strong +150 favorites (bet $100 to win $150) at online sportsbook Bovada to get back to the World Series though, and they have improved their positioning with a strong second half to increase their NL Central lead.
The last four times Chicago has held a 12-game division lead in August or September, the team has gone on to win the NL pennant. The Cubs have won the World Series once when that has happened back in 1907 with the last time occurring in 1929. The St. Louis Cardinals won the NL Central a year ago, and they are +1600 to win their third pennant in six seasons. The Pittsburgh Pirates are third in the division and +4000 to win the pennant after all three teams made the postseason last year.
It will be tougher for even two NL Central teams to make the playoffs this season because of the strong competition for the Wild Card spots. The Los Angeles Dodgers (+600 to win the pennant) and Miami Marlins (+1600) are the strongest Wild Card contenders, although both of them could also end up winning division titles in the NL West and East, respectively. Los Angeles is currently tied atop the division with the San Francisco Giants (+425) while Miami is chasing the Washington Nationals, who are listed as the +325 second choice to win the pennant behind Chicago.
The Dodgers are an intriguing choice as one of the hottest teams in baseball, especially because they have charged to the top of the NL West without ace Clayton Kershaw, whose timetable for a return remains unknown. Kershaw began practicing again on Sunday but is still out with a back injury that could keep him out until September or later. If Kershaw can return before the postseason, Los Angeles may be able to win the division considering San Francisco has not been the same team in the second half.
The Giants had the best record in the NL heading into the All-Star break, but their top two pitchers have struggled since then. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto were viewed as the best one-two combo at that time, and neither has earned a win after the All-Star Game. The team picked up veteran pitcher Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the trade deadline, but he has failed to pick up a victory in two starts.
The Nationals have overtaken San Francisco as the main competition for the Cubs thanks to strong starting pitching that could help them keep the favorites from cashing in for their backers come October. Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer are as good as any top two starters in the league and may be the difference in a seven-game series versus Chicago if both teams end up playing in the NLCS.