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National League Central Preview

National League Central Preview

National League Central Preview
David Chan

Life gets a little bit more difficult in the National League East this season now that the Astros have taken their 107-loss glorified AAA roster to the American League West, which means that the Cubs will no longer be able to turn in their usual 71-91 record and avoid finishing last.

ST. LOUIS – The Cardinals could be one of the most balanced teams in the majors. The rotation includes Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, which is a better 1-2 than at least 20 other teams. And the team can flat-out hit with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and David Freese returning. Lance Berkman is gone and Kyle Lohse is unsigned, but the Cards have enough juice to win the division and maybe even go to the World Series.

CHICAGO – Anyone and everyone is available on this team, with the possible exception of emerging 1B Anthony Rizzo, as the Cubs go into full rebuilding mode under GM Theo Epstein. Rizzo should hit 25 HRs if the Cubs don’t dump his lineup protector, veteran Alfonso Soriano -- though finding a taker for Soriano’s big contract won’t be easy. The Cubs love SS Starlin Castro, who led the league in hits last season but has battled hamstring problems in spring training. And the best starter, Matt Garza, will start the season on the disabled list.

CINCINNATI – The Reds will carry the burden of last season’s playoff choke job well into this year, but there’s plenty of talent on board to help Queen City fans forget that their team lost three in a row at home to the Giants last October. Joey Votto and Brandon Philips should anchor the right side of the infield for the rest of the decade. Shin-Soo Choo has been targeted for center field (good luck with that) and should be an OK leadoff batter. Flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman moves from the bullpen to the starting rotation, so we’ll see if he tones things down or tries to throw 90 100-mph fastballs every fifth day.

PITTSBURGH – For two straight years the Bucs have tried to convince folks that they can actually make a run at the division, but in the end the pitching always fades and the Pirates realize that they are the Pirates. Will this year be any different? They’ve added a legit catcher (Russell Martin), a few pitchers who could find a spot at back end of the rotation, and bench depth. Much of the offense centers on CF Andrew McCutchen (.327/31/96 last year). In 2012 the Pirates first drifted out of the race, then finally under .500. They need to exhibit more staying power this year to maintain interest in Western Pennyslvania.

MILWAUKEE – The bottom line with the Brewers has always been the bottom line, and they knew that trading Zach Greinke and letting Price Fielder walk before last season would hurt. And it did. Despite a late burst, Milwaukee hitters couldn’t make up for a pitching staff that had the worst ERA in the league (4.66). The team is figuring that youngsters Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers can help glue the rotation back together. With Corey Hart (ACL) out until at least late April, the Brewers are hoping against hope that slugger Ryan Braun (.319/41/112 last season) passes all his drug tests.

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