A team-by-team preview of the NL Central division.
1 | Cincinnati Reds
He’s here: OF Shin-Soo Choo, INF Jack Hannahan.
He’s outta here: OF Drew Stubbs, 3B Scott Rolen, INF Wilson Valdez, LHP Bill Bray, RHP Ryan Madson, C Dioner Navarro, INF Miguel Cairo.
Written in Stone: After two division titles the past three years, and first-round ousters each time, the Reds’ mission is clear: Do some damage in the playoffs. Just getting there won’t be enough this time for manager Dusty Baker, who engenders considerable fan dissatisfaction despite his regular-season success. And the Reds definitely have a team that can win it all. They’re loaded in every area, having shored up the leadoff spot by bringing in Shin-Soo Choo and his career .381 on-base percentage. About the only downside is that Choo is forced by attrition to play center field, a position he’s not well-suited for. But that’s a quibble. The Reds are strong up and down their batting order, anchored by Joey Votto. The rotation is deep enough they can afford to leave Aroldis Chapman at closer — a source of considerable spring debate. I think they made the right call.
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|CF Shin-Soo Choo||.283||16||67|
|2B B. Phillips||.281||18||77|
|1B Joey Votto||.337||14||56|
|RF Jay Bruce||.252||34||99|
|LF Ryan Ludwick||.275||26||80|
|3B Todd Frazier||.273||19||67|
|C Ryan Hanigan||.274||2||24|
|SS Zack Cozart||.246||15||35|
|RH Johnny Cueto||19-9||2.78||170|
|RH Mat Latos||14-4||3.46||185|
|RH H. Bailey||13-10||3.68||168|
|RH B. Arroyo||12-10||3.74||129|
|RH Mike Leake||8-9||4.58||116|
|LH A. Chapman||1.51||38||5|
2 | St. Louis Cardinals
He’s here: LHP Randy Choate, INF Ty Wigginton.
He’s outta here: RHP Kyle Lohse, 1B Lance Berkman, 2B-OF Skip Schumaker, RHP Kyle McClellan, LHP Brian Fuentes.
Written in Stone: The Cardinals have already lost two stalwarts for the entire season: Chris Carpenter (shoulder) and Rafael Furcal (elbow). That’s on top of the departure of free agent Kyle Lohse and his 16-3 record. Oh, closer Jason Motte opens the year on the DL. But the Cardinals are an organization that always seems to have answers, and that should continue to be the case. Last year, for instance, Albert Pujols left and the Cardinals still rolled into the playoffs as Carlos Beltran filled the power void and Allen Craig emerged as a star. This year, touted rookie Shelby Miller slides into the rotation, while 20-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras, one of the top three prospects in all of baseball, is just a phone call away in Class AAA. Superstar catcher Yadier Molina, meanwhile, just keeps getting better. Mitchell Boggs will close games while Motte recovers from a strained tendon in his elbow.
|CF Jon Jay||.305||4||40|
|RF Carlos Beltran||.269||32||97|
|LF Matt Holliday||.295||27||102|
|1B Allen Craig||.307||22||92|
|C Yadier Molina||.315||22||76|
|3B M. Carpenter||.294||6||46|
|2B D. Descalso||.227||4||26|
|SS Pete Kozma||.333||2||14|
|RH A. Wnwrght||14-13||3.94||184|
|LH Jaime Garcia||7-7||3.92||98|
|RH Lance Lynn||18-7||3.78||180|
|RH J. Westbrook||13-11||3.97||106|
|RH S. Miller*||11-10||4.74||160|
|RH M. Boggs||2.21||0||0|
3 | Pittsburgh Pirates
He’s here: C Russell Martin, RHP Mark Melacon, INF Brandon Inge.He’s outta here: RHP Joel Hanrahan, RHP Kevin Correia, C Rod Barajas, RHP Chad Qualls.
Written in Stone: Will this finally be the year? It has been 20 seasons and counting since the Pirates had a winning record (1992, which also happened to be Barry Bonds’ last year in Pittsburgh). It sure looked like 2012 would be the year until a late collapse blew up their chances. It could be a struggle again as the Pirates will rely on the continued development of young players like Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and Travis Snider. If they go south, so will their win-loss record. The best thing the Pirates have going is Andrew McCutchen, one of the most dynamic players in the majors. His .953 OPS was surpassed in the National League by only Ryan Braun and Buster Posey. And at age 26, McCutchen should keep getting better. Second baseman Neil Walker appears to be healthy after being sidelined much of September with a bulging disk in his lower back. Trade-deadline pickup Wandy Rodriguez will be around from the start, bolstering their rotation. Francisco Liriano is out until at least early May with a broken right arm.
|LF Sterling Marte||.257||5||17|
|2B Neil Walker||.280||14||69|
|CF A. McCutchen||.327||31||96|
|3B Pedro Alvarez||.244||30||85|
|1B Garrett Jones||.274||27||86|
|C Russell Martin||.211||21||53|
|RF Travis Snider||.250||4||17|
|SS Clint Barmes||.229||8||45|
|RH A.J. Burnett||16-10||3.51||180|
|LH W. Rodriguez||12-13||3.76||139|
|RH J. McDonald||12-8||4.21||151|
|LH J. Sanchez||1-9||8.07||45|
|LH Jeff Locke||10-5||2.48||131|
|RH Jason Grilli||2.91||2||3|
4 | Milwaukee Brewers
He’s here: RHP Kyle Lohse, LHP Mike Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Burke Badenhop, INF Yuniesky Betancourt.
He’s outta here: RHP Shaun Marcum, OF Nyjer Morgan, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, LHP Manny Parra, 1B Travis Ishikawa, RHP Kameron Loe, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Fautino De Los Santos.
Written in Stone: The Brewers’ playoff aspirations improved dramatically on March 25 — more than a month into camp — when they signed former Cardinals standout Kyle Lohse. That added some heft to a rotation that needed a boost to follow ace Yovani Gallardo. Much of Milwaukee’s winter efforts were spent propping up an extremely troublesome bullpen. Brewers relievers had the worst ERA (4.66) and most blown saves (29) of any team in baseball. Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny and Burke Badenhop will all be newcomers in the pen, but much of the burden falls on closer John Axford. He blew nine saves last year and temporarily lost his job, but he’s back in the hot seat. Speaking of which … Ryan Braun will open the season once again hounded by PED issues.
|RF Norichika Aoki||.288||10||50|
|2B Rickie Weeks||.230||21||63|
|LF Ryan Braun||.319||41||112|
|3B A. Ramirez||.300||27||105|
|C J. LuCroy||.320||12||58|
|1B A. Gonzalez||.259||4||15|
|CF Carlos Gomez||.260||19||51|
|SS Jean Segura||.264||0||14|
|RH Y. Gallardo||16-9||3.66||204|
|RH Kyle Lohse||16-3||2.86||143|
|RH M. Estrada||3-10||5.69||143|
|RH Wily Peralta||2-1||2.48||23|
|LH C. Narveson||1-1||7.00||5|
|RH John Axford||4.67||35||9|
5 | Chicago Cubs
He’s here: RHP Edwin Jackson, OF Scott Hairston, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Carlos Villanueva, OF Nate Schierholtz.
He’s outta here: 1B-OF Bryan LaHair, OF Tony Campana, RHP Chris Volstad.
Written in Stone: The Cubs famously haven’t won the World Series since 1908. That streak won’t be broken this year. They hadn’t lost 100 games since 1966, but posted 101 losses last season. So don’t ever say the Cubs can’t overcome history. Fans are still waiting for former Red Sox masterminds Theo Epstein and Josh Byrnes to perform their magic. Most of it is happening behind the scenes as they endeavor to build up the farm system. At the major-league level, things are still grim. Perhaps nothing further needs to be said than Luis Valbuena will be the opening-day third baseman. That’s because Ian Stewart was sidelined most of spring with quadriceps problems and will start the year on the DL. The Cubs’ most productive player, Alfonso Soriano, remains a perpetual trade rumor as the team looks to dump his contract.
|CF David DeJesus||.263||9||50|
|SS Starlin Castro||.283||14||78|
|1B Anthony Rizzo||.285||15||48|
|LF A. Soriano||.262||32||108|
|C W. Castillo||.265||5||22|
|3B Luis Valbuena||.219||4||28|
|2B Darwin Barney||.254||7||44|
|RH J. Samardzija||9-13||3.81||180|
|RH E. Jackson||10-11||4.03||168|
|LF Travis Wood||6-13||4.27||119|
|RH S. Feldman||6-11||5.09||96|
|RH C. Villanueva||7-7||4.16||122|
|RH C. Marmol||3.42||20||3|