National League Central Preview

National League Central Preview

National League Central Preview
By Matt Zylbert
VegasInsider.com

St. Louis Cardinals

Since their dramatic World Series victory in 2011, the Cardinals have suffered a couple of really close calls in almost nabbing another one, losing in the NLCS the following year, before reaching the World Series again last season, only to fall in six games to the Red Sox. It’s no coincidence they keep making these deep runs, as this is truly one of the best-run organizations in all of sports, which is why they have just one losing season in this millennium. That underappreciated trend should continue for a variety of reasons, one being a consistently clutch and live offense, as, despite losing Carlos Beltran and David Freese, there’s more than enough ammunition here to continue rolling along with one of the best offenses in the league. Two crucial veteran stalwarts in this lineup, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday remain, but just as important is the youngsters that have made a major impact, some of which have already become established commodities in baseball, like Allen Craig, who interestingly has led baseball in batting average with runners in scoring position over the past two years. Matt Carpenter is another such player and is coming off a break-out campaign while manning the hot corner. Additionally, Matt Adams looked tremendous as a part-time player a season ago and now enters year as the starting first baseman with a load of potential. The team also added Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos, which should help maintain a steady batting order.

Starting pitching has seemingly always been a distinct strength for the Cardinals, and last year was no different, as their starters collectively put together the second-best team ERA in all of baseball. That’s scary when you think about how their rotation might even better this year, especially when their two prized youngsters, Shelby Miller and postseason break-out stud Michael Wacha, are only just getting started after fabulous rookie campaigns a season ago. They aren’t even at the top of this pitching staff, a slot held by Adam Wainwright, who was as excellent as always, and delivered when it mattered most in several clutch efforts throughout the playoffs. In fact, he was so brilliant for the year that he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting. Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly have already established themselves as nice middle-of-the-rotation options, and should continue to be just that as they continue to grow as major league starters, but the potential inclusion of 22-year old Carlos Martinez probably has the highest ceiling. If he doesn’t crack the Opening Day staff, he’ll be an effective late-inning reliever, a position he assumed successfully during last year’s playoffs, as he would be aiding Kevin Siegrist and the returning Jason Motte in getting the ball to Trevor Rosenthal, who took over the closer’s role in September and didn’t look back. Overall, it’s a really dominant bullpen. The competition in the NL Central is definitely getting a lot tighter, but as always, the Cardinals should have more than enough to be in it till the end.

Predicted Record: 90-72
 
Milwaukee Brewers

Every year, there are at least a couple of teams that surprise everyone following a down period, and if you look up and down the roster that makes up this year’s Brewers, you realize they are absolutely a candidate to be one of such stories in 2014. Of course, the main storyline in Milwaukee last year revolved around Ryan Braun finally coming forward, after lying, about his PED use, which led to him being suspended for the rest of the season. In the meantime, the club struggled lifelessly while barely avoiding 90 losses, but with Braun back, along with the younger players that are hitting their stride, this could be the year they turn it back around. At first glance concerning their lineup, there’s a batting order that could probably slug it out with the best of them, led by the aforementioned Braun, who still has the extraordinary talent to rank as one of the best pure hitters in the game. While he was gone, there were some others who stepped up in his absence that could be very valuable in 2014, such as Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Gomez was once considered a top prospect, and after years of underachieving, finally enjoyed his break-out campaign that saw him win a Gold Glove and make his first all-star team, while Segura was phenomenal in his first full season in the bigs, leading many to believe that he might become one of the best shortstops in the National League. Also featuring Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Mark Reynolds, Juan Francisco, and the emerging Khris Davis, this could definitely be one of the more explosive lineups in all of baseball.

Pitching is part of the game, too, and while Milwaukee possesses a potent offense, it could be their hurlers that cause any potential downfall. Still in place at the top of their rotation is longtime Brewer Yovani Gallardo, who has enjoyed modest success throughout his eight years in the league, but is coming off a career-worst campaign that he will need to rebound from if his club is to make any sort of playoff push. To help with their starting pitching, the Brewers added Matt Garza, who has much experience pitching in the NL Central and should be a solid addition. Veteran Kyle Lohse is also there, coming off another fine season in 2013. Youngsters Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, and the older Marco Estrada will comprise the bottom portion of the rotation, with Thornburg having the most potential of the trey, especially after a terrific display last season that saw him register a quality start in all seven of his assignments. The bullpen, meanwhile, is pretty underrated, as they were third as a group in ERA in the National League last season, and could be better with the addition of Francisco Rodriguez joining Brandon Kintzler in helping set-up returning closer Jim Henderson, who was everything the club had hoped for in his first full season handling the closer duties. Just like last year, it looks like things will be very interesting in Milwaukee, except this time, it will be for all the right reasons.

Predicted Record: 86-76
 
Pittsburgh Pirates

Amazingly, the losing is over. One of the most dubious streaks in the history of professional sports came to an end last year, as the Pirates secured their first winning season since 1992 - yes, 1992 - while making the playoffs for the first time in that same timeframe as well. Of course, this was all correctly boldly predicted by this author, as Pittsburgh really had something special brewing in the few seasons leading up to last year’s break-out ever since manager Clint Hurdle took over in 2011, and luckily for Bucco fans, this miraculous turnaround will prove to be no fluke whatsoever; the Pirates are here to stay amongst the NL’s elite. That sentiment was further proven when they took the eventual pennant-winning Cardinals to the limit in the NLDS, narrowly losing in the maximum five games, but with that came a valuable learning experience that has Pittsburgh poised for even more in the coming years. They’re led by their face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen, who is fresh off a campaign that saw him take home the National League MVP award, a well-deserved honor for the superstar center fielder. Pedro Alvarez also legitimized himself further in 2013 as a top power hitter, after tying Paul Goldschmidt for the NL league-lead in home runs. In addition, Starling Marte continued his notable development with a solid season, as he appears to have all the tools to become one of the game’s most dynamic lead-off hitters. With a fine supporting cast that consists of Neil Walker, Russell Martin, and Jose Tabata, the Pirates should have enough to get by offensively once again.

In actuality, it was the pitching that led Pittsburgh’s ground-breaking efforts a season ago. After all, the Pirates finished third in baseball in team ERA, thanks to a truly sparkling performance from both the starters and relievers collectively. Francisco Liriano, in his first year with the club, posted a terrific campaign at the top of the rotation that ultimately netted him the Comeback Player of the Year award. Ultimately, however, it might be youngster Gerrit Cole who attains the status of being the staff ace, as he’s coming off a superb rookie showing and has a very bright future ahead of him without question. The Bucs no longer have the services of A.J. Burnett, but have a lot of depth nonetheless, such as the return of Wandy Rodriguez, who missed most of 2013, but will be back at the start of the upcoming year. Veterans Charlie Morton and newly-signed Edinson Volquez comprise the bottom of the staff, while Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton are more-than-serviceable youngsters who can fill in capably if someone goes down. The bullpen was just as strong, as Jason Grilli immediately justified why the Pirates dealt away former all-star closer Joel Hanrahan with a remarkable campaign. Also having Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, and Bryan Morris, this is still one of the best relief corps in the bigs. For once, the Pirates enter a season chock full of expectations, and ironically, that particular variable could be their biggest challenge yet for an organization looking to grow further.

Predicted Record: 84-78

Cincinnati Reds

Under Dusty Baker, the Reds made some serious strides over the past handful of years, winning two division titles and securing three playoff berths, after a prior woeful stretch that saw them miss the postseason in 14 consecutive years. However, they would never get past the NLDS, and losing last year’s NL wild card play-in game proved to be the final straw, as Baker was canned shortly after, paving the way for Bryan Price, who takes over the managerial duties following four productive years as the team’s pitching coach. He inherits a fairly talented roster that is mostly the same as last year’s 90-win effort, although there is one glaring omission at the top of the batting order: Shin-Soo Choo. The center fielder bolted for Texas in free agency, but the Reds have a secret weapon up their sleeve to take his place with Billy Hamilton, who has wowed scouts and fans alike for his remarkable ability to swipe bases. If he could develop into an acceptable hitter, Hamilton may evolve into one of the best lead-off men in all of baseball, while also potentially becoming the next great speedster on the basepaths. That would be extremely dangerous for opposing pitchers, given some of the names that reside right behind him. The main one, of course, is Joey Votto, a former MVP winner and still one of the best pure hitters in the league. There is also Brandon Phillips, one of the more established second baseman in the game, although some are predicting he’s on the downside of his nice career, and Jay Bruce, who has emerged as a truly dangerous power hitter. Besides the main core, though, there isn’t much, so Hamilton’s progression will be extra important in trying to really maximize this lineup.

Of course, when Price was hired as the manager, he knew he was also getting largely the same pitching staff that he’s worked with in recent years, aside from the subtraction of Bronson Arroyo. His frontline starter is still Johnny Cueto, and despite battling injuries throughout most of last season that limited him to just 11 starts, all indications point to the right-hander successfully resuming what has been a very solid career thus far. Mat Latos is still the No. 2 in Cincinnati, and he’s been remarkably consistent as well. Homer Baily and Mike Leake are above-respectable options in the middle of the rotation, both each having potential of becoming more. Tony Cingrani might actually be the most intriguing of all five, as he’s the youngest and displayed a truly enthralling knack for strikeouts last year in his rookie campaign that could get him noticed very quickly. Perhaps the best strength of this team lies in its bullpen, where flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman returns as the closer. There’s nobody else quite like him, and with Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall setting Chapman up, it’s almost a foregone conclusion when they bring a lead into the late innings. Getting said leads might be extra challenging this year, however.

Predicted Record: 76-86

Chicago Cubs

Will Cubs fans ever be put out of their misery? Having not won a World Series championship since 1908 is bad enough, but over the past handful of years, the Cubs have become a perennial laughingstock, owning a current abysmal streak of four straight fifth-place finishes in the NL Central. First and foremost, if that is to end, the Cubs will need its two star offensive players, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, to bounce back after disappointing seasons in 2013 that saw both of their batting averages drop by a combined 90 points! It’s probable that they rebound, considering how talented each player is, and that will be mandatory for the Cubs to escape the division basement. It wasn’t all negative in the hitting department last year, as the Cubs got an unlikely break-out year from Nate Schierholtz in right field that could solidify him as a decent middle-of-the-lineup slugger going forward. Wellington Castillo also enjoyed a solid first full season on both sides of the ball as Chicago’s starting catcher and will look to pick up where he left off. Furthermore, Junior Lake impressed greatly after being called up last July, and the Cubbies also added Justin Ruggiano, who could prove to be a real underrated pick-up, considering the flashes of promise he’s shown in the recent past.

Believe it or not, the Cubs may actually have a pitching rotation that could wind up amongst the league’s best by season’s end. While the offense has little expectations, especially after a year full of disappointments, the opposite can be said of the pitching, which will be counting on key starters to continue the forward development that was exhibited a year ago. One such name where this applies is staff ace Jeff Samardzija, who has really come into his own over the past couple of years in establishing himself as an acceptable frontline starter. In fact, he was fourth in the NL in strikeouts last season. Travis Wood is another one who fits this bill, as he’s coming off a career-best campaign that even saw him make his first all-star team. In his first tenure in Chicago last season, Edwin Jackson disappointed mightily, but has had success before, which is the main reason for optimism in hoping he can turn it back around. Meanwhile, two potential wild cards on this staff are Chris Rusin and Jake Arrieta. Rusin impressed for the most part in his rookie showing, while Arrieta churned out mostly quality work after he was acquired from Baltimore midway through last year. In that same trade, the Cubs also picked up Pedro Strop, who has proven to be an efficient set-up man, and along with James Russell, should be an above-average pair in getting the ball to new closer Jose Veras in the ninth. Most likely, new manager Rick Renteria will have his hands full in his first year on the job.

Predicted Record: 74-88

Final Say on the NL Central: The NL Central is probably the most wide-open of the three National League divisions, solidifying it as the toughest to bet on in terms of a futures’ bet. Four teams, realistically, have a legitimate chance of winning the division, with the Cubs being the lone club that really doesn’t, as they’re still mired in their rebuilding effort, although it’s safe to say that they’re definitely getting closer. Of course, when talking about the potential winner of the Central, you have to start with the favorite, the Cardinals, who are similarly built compared to recent years, in which the storied organization has experienced much success. Thus, it’ll be hard to dethrone them, but the possibility is certainly there. We all saw what Pittsburgh did last season, and how they almost took down the Cardinals in the playoffs, so it’s definitely fathomable to see the Pirates perhaps be the new division champs, with how much they’ve been trending upwards since 2011. The Reds have always been in the mix, although this might be the year they regress, getting older and in a transition year featuring a first-time manager at the helm. The wild card, no pun intended, might be Milwaukee, who should definitely have enough offense to keep them involved. Pitching, however, could ultimately determine where they end up, and if it can hold up, they are deep enough to shock everyone and win this division, making them +1050 the best value bet amongst this bunch, and perhaps the best investment overall.

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Re: National League Central Preview

National League Central Preview
By Steve Merril
Covers.com

The National League Central division featured three playoff teams that all won 90+ games last season with the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates.  Those three clubs will once again battle for the division title, while the Brewers and Cubs try to catch up.

Chicago Cubs (2013: 66-96, -1542 units, 68-86-8 over/under)

Division odds: 70/1
Season win total: 70

Why bet the Cubs: Starlin Castro tops a lineup that has youth and the potential to improve with more at-bats. Rookie Junior Lake hit a solid .284 in 64 games for Chicago last year. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood present a strong 1-2 punch in the pitching rotation, while Pedro Strop and Wesley Wright are two young arms in the bullpen with potential.

Why not bet the Cubs: The rest of this team is a mess. They had 26 blown saves last year which was the second most in the National League. In an unsuccessful attempt to address this problem, the Cubs acquired Jose Veras who is now on his 8th different team since 2006. Edwin Jackson finished the year losing seven of his last 10 starts. Jake Arrieta and Chris Rusin are also question marks in the rotation.

Season win total pick: Under 70


Cincinnati Reds (2013: 90-72, -509 units, 76-79-7 over/under)

Division odds: 3/1
Season win total: 84.5

Why bet the Reds: Speedy Billy Hamilton should score a ton of runs at the top of this lineup with Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce batting behind him in the heart of the order. The pitching rotation is solid with Johnny Cueto available for the whole season along with Mat Latos and Homer Bailey.  Tony Cingrani was great last year and will also be part of this strong rotation. Aroldis Chapman will be throwing heat out of the bullpen.

Why not bet the Reds: Ryan Ludwick missed time last year and is an injury risk along with Cueto. Mat Latos threw a career high 210 innings last year, so we'll see if there are any side effects and fatigue. The bullpen should be stable, although Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall did miss time last year.

Season win total pick: Over 84.5


Milwaukee Brewers (2013: 74-88, -723 units, 76-82-4 over/under)

Division odds: 15/1
Season win total: 80

Why bet the Brewers: Ryan Braun is back for a full season and he has looked strong in spring training. Kyle Lohse isn't flashy, but he is a capable leader in the pitching rotation along with Yovani Gallardo. Jim Henderson will be even more of a force in the bullpen this season. He was fantastic in his second season, converting 28-of-32 save opportunities last year with 75 strikeouts in just 60 innings pitched.

Why not bet the Brewers: Gallardo had a velocity drop last year which is concerning since the rest of the pitching rotation is suspect with Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg. Can Matt Garza pitch well too? Aramis Ramirez is coming off a power outage with just 12 home runs last year. The bench is weak with few backup options if any major injuries occur.

Season win total pick: Under 80


Pittsburgh Pirates (2013: 94-68, +2,342 units, 71-85-6 over/under)

Division odds: 5/1
Season win total: 84.5

Why bet the Pirates: Andrew McCutchen is the reigning National League MVP and one of only two players with 20 plus home runs and 20 plus stolen bases in each of the past three seasons. He also has help in the lineup with Starling Marte and Russell Martin. The pitching rotation is solid with Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole leading the way. Jason Grilli had 30 saves last season before getting hurt, while Mark Melancon had a 0.93 ERA at home last year.

Why not bet the Pirates: They went from AJ Burnett to Edinson Volquez. Wandy Rodriguez is coming off an elbow injury and who knows if Gerrit Cole might slip a little after a solid rookie year. Pedro Alvarez led the NL in strikeouts last year and may not be the best protection for McCutchen in the lineup. This offense is inconsistent and struggles to score runs at times.

Season win total pick: Under 84.5


St. Louis Cardinals (2013: 97-65, +1,106 units, 79-75-8 over/under)

Division odds: 4/7
Season win total: 91.5

Why bet the Cardinals:  The Cards are arguably the most complete team in the league. They hit .330 with runners in scoring position last year and they have several talented hitters from Matt Holliday and Allen Craig to Matt Adams and Yadier Molina. The pitching rotation has young talent in Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha who follow veteran Adam Wainwright. The strong bullpen is led by Trevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte.

Why not bet the Cardinals: There aren't many negatives on this team. Injuries are usually the biggest concern, but the Cardinals have depth and talent throughout the lineup. Could there be a hangover after falling short last year?

Season win total pick:  Over 91.5

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Re: National League Central Preview

Win Total Bets - NL Central
By Bruce Marshall
VegasInsider.com

BEST BET...

At this time last year we wondering if our favorite color analyst, Steve Blass, was ever again going to have a chance to describe a winning season, and if the Pittsburgh Pirates (83 1/2) were forever doomed to mediocrity after 21 straight sub-.500 campaigns. Now the experts seem to have a collective "let's see you do it again" attitude about the Bucs after their dramatic rise to 94-68 and a playoff berth in 2013. While we acknowledge the slight slips that seem to inevitably happen after breakthrough years, we don't think that GM Neal Huntington should be crucified for mostly standing pat in the offseason, and not over-reaching for upgrades. He remained patient mostly because he can wait for the Pirates' improving farm system to begin delivering ready-made MLB talent; sometime before the All-Star break, expect OF Gregory Polanco and SP Jameson Taillon to reinforce the roster after promotion from AAA Indianapolis. Last year's rookie sensation, Gerrit Cole, now figures as the ace of the staff after A.J. Burnett's departure to the Phillies in the offseason. The staff should remain solid; with a solid comeback year now under his belt, lefty Francisco Liriano will realize he doesn't need to strike out as many hitters with that solid defense behind him. Remember, the Bucs allowed the fewest runs in the bigs last season. And their ballpark, pitching, and defense give them a chance to defend that accomplishment in 2014, and make another playoff run if CF Andrew "Mr. Excitement" McCutchen approaches his contributions from his season. Look "over" at our all-time favorite, PNC Park, where ticket prices remain remarkably reasonable.

THE REST...

Apparently, there's a lot of "prove it" among the oddsmakers regarding the NL Central this season, which partly explains why the Cincinnati Reds (83 1/2) have been priced so much below last season's 90-72. Which admittedly felt a bit worse, as the Reds stumbled down the stretch last September and were then dispatched quickly in the wild card game by the Pirates, prompting the dismissal of skipper Dusty Baker. New manager Bryan Price, promoted from pitching coach, still has a staff that posted the fourth-best team ERA (3.38) in the bigs last season, and his organizational and communicative skills helped win him the assignment as Baker's successor. The transition has been smooth this spring in Goodyear with a roster mostly intact from a year ago, although the scary injury suffered by fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman caused hearts to skip a few beats in the desert. Still, the Reds might have the best collection of young starting pitchers in franchise history, with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, and last year's rookie find, Tony Cingrani, more than compensating for Bronson Arroyo's FA departure, and there is depth in the bullpen with Jonathon Broxton and J.J. Hoover to handle any closer duties until Chapman returns. As the inimitable Marty Brennaman likes to occasionally remind us on the Reds radio network, Cincy does have some inconsistency with its offense, which is why it could not take a chance on dealing grumbling 2B Brandon Phillips, still good for 90-100 RBIs, and we're still not sure if rookie CF Billy Hamilton, who stole an eye-popping 155 bases in the minors last season, can get on base enough at this level to use his demon speed. But there are enough pieces in place for the Reds to make a playoff run and for some nice summer evenings for their fans at Great American Ballpark, where a seat in the top deck offers an expansive view of the adjacent Ohio River and the many barges floating by. Along with a drink and a few cheese coneys from Skyline Chili, does life get any better? At this modest price, it's an "over" for "us" in Cincy.

It's still too early to tell if Theo Epstein's re-boot of the Chicago Cubs (69 1/2) organization is any closer to a breakthrough than the past few seasons, when the Cubbies didn't even give their fans a whiff of the playoff chase. Epstein has also changed managers, with Dale Sveum out after two woeful years and former Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, noted for his patience with young players, enlisted as a replacement. Renteria will need that patience, as the problem with the current crop of Cubs' youngsters is that we're not sure if they're good enough, especially the likes of once-touted sorts such as SS Starlin Castro and 1B Anthony Rizzo, who appeared to regress last season. Reinforcements from Epstein's reloaded farm system might begin to start paying dividends later in the summer (watch for 3B Kris Bryant and SS Javier Baez), but we're not talking about projections for 2015 or 2016 seasons at the moment. In 2014, Chicago's offense has too many holes, and we can envision Epstein making his next moves in the rebuild of the franchise at the trade deadline, where he will be tempted to move sorts such as ex-Notre Dame WR, and what qualifies as the ace of this pitching staff, Jeff Samardzija, and perhaps well-traveled arms such as Edwin Jackson and James McDonald, to contenders for more reinforcements at the minor league level, with expected payoffs down the road...not this summer. Sorry Cubs fans, but we're looking "under" again at Wrigley Field

Under the gun is Milwaukee Brewers (79 1/2) manager Ron Roenicke, who barely survived a second straight disappointing season and might need a quick start to keep GM Doug Melvin from hitting the eject button prior to the All-Star break. Not that the Brewers' slip has been any more the fault of Roenicke than of Melvin, who has searched, without much success, to find a successor to the long-departed Prince Fielder's bat in the lineup, while 3B Aramis Ramirez has been breaking down physically in recent campaigns (Ramirez played only 92 games last season). Prospects were so desperate in the offseason of finding some power at the corner infield positions that Melvin is gambling that journeymen Lyle Overbay and strikeout machine Mark Reynolds might provide some relief. We'll see. Of course, getting RF Ryan Braun back from his suspension related to the Biogenesis scandal should prove a plus, but can he resemble the player who produced MVP-type numbers in his first six seasons? (Remember, Braun was struggling before last year's suspension.) On the plus side, pleasant surprise SS Jean Segura should be able to handle leadoff duties after Norichika Aoki's trade to the Royals, and the Brewers could have the makings of a decent staff, with FA addition Matt Garza joining last year's bargain signee, Kyle Lohse, along with Yovani Gallardo in a potentially better-than-average rotation. But bullpen issues have been acute in recent seasons, and we are hardly convinced the Brew Crew has enough offense to make a run at .500. It's an "under" for us at Miller Park.

As in the old Timex commercials, the St. Louis Cardinals (90 1/2) take a licking, but keep on ticking. Like clockwork, the Redbirds have consistently been able to reshuffle their deck on the fly, adjusting for injuries and departures by filling in mostly from within their ranks, a testament to one of the bigs' best overall operations, and a tribute to shrewd GM John Mozeliak. This season, Mozeliak has gone outside of the organization to add a few potentially-useful pieces, such as ex-Angel CF Peter Bourjos, who was good enough defensively to keep Mike Trout in left field. He'll cover a lot of ground in the expansive Busch Stadium outfield to compensate for some of the limitations of corner OFs Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. True, Mozeliak was a bit out of character when signing FA SS Jhonny Peralta, suspended 50 games last term for his part in the Biogenesis scandal, but it's part of a reconfigured infield that now features the versatile Matt Carpenter at 3B and touted rookie Kolten Wong (displaying no apparent emotional scars this spring in Jupiter after his baserunning blunder cost St. Looie a World Series game vs. the Bosox) now at 2B as the final piece of the reshuffle after the trade of David Freese, the price needed to pay the Angels for the defensive upgrade Bourjos hopefully provides in the outfield. But what we really like about the Redbirds is their pitching depth. To wit: Lance Lynn topped 200 IP for the first time in 2013, and his 33 wins over the past two years are tied with teammate Adam Wainwright for the most in the NL, but his spot in rotation isn't even guaranteed because of all of the live and mostly-young arms at manager Mike Matheny's disposal. And when closer Edwin Mujica imploded late last summer, into that role Matheny was able to seamlessly slot Trevor Rosenthal, who did not allow an earned run in ten postseason appearances. We don't see the Cards losing five games from last year's 95-67, NL pennant campaign; it's another "over" for us at Busch.

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