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National League Central Projections

Now that the Astros are gone, dispatched to the American League, and the division is finally used to life without Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, how does the NL Central stack up?

1. Cincinnati Reds – The Reds won 97 games in 2012 despite missing All-Star first baseman Joey Votto for 51 games due to injury. Votto batted a monster .337 and led the majors with a .474 OBP, also drawing 94 walks – the best in the NL for the second year in a row. Common sense would say that if he stays healthy the Reds will push the 100-win mark, considering the only major change has been the swapping of Drew Stubbs for Shin-Soo Choo. This is unlikely, though, because it’s difficult to imagine unlikely sources like Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier can continue to provide the same level of offense they did last season. They still possess some potent bats, though, offense though and if they have the lead going into the final 3 innings they’ll be toughCardinals to beat with Aroldis Chapman, Johnathon Broxton and Sean Marshall in the pen.

2. St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals rotation remains their biggest question. Chris Carpenter is expected to miss the entire season with a shoulder injury which makes Adam Wainwright, who is two years removed from Tommy John surgery and still carrying the questions about his ability to return to his old form, as the opening day starter. The door is open to re-signing starter Kyle Lohse, but as of late-March he was still a free agent. If Lohse returns and Wainwright returns to his 2010 form—and if they get more consistency from All-Star Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia—then the Cardinals could contend for the division title.Brewers

3. Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers postseason chances rely on Ryan Braun, the 2011 MVO and 2012 runner-up. Braun led the league with a .987 OPS, 41 homeruns and 356 total bases last year. He also batted .319 and drove in 112 RBI to go along with 30 stolen bases. Any questions about Braun needing Prince Fielder behind him in the order were obliterated. Braun is also extremely durable. Doubts about his connections to PED’s will continue to dog him, but without Braun the Brewers are a 60-win team.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates are coming off of their 20th consecutive losing season, however, some hope now surrounds the organization. Andrew McCutchen is beginning to embrace his role as a superstar, finishing third in MVP voting after posting a .327 PSRbatting average, .953 OPS, and league-leading 194 hits. The Pirates also have young arms ready to make their debuts, including Gerrit Cole,who could be in the rotation by June, and even Jameson Taillon, who will more than likely get a September call-up. Both are ranked among the top 5 pitching prospects in all of baseball. The Pirates will likely continue to chase the elusive .500 mark this season, but 2014 and ’15 look to be years that they contend.

5. Chicago Cubs – The Cubs are in the early stages of rebuilding under general manager Theo Epstein. Another two to four years probably loom before the Cubs contend for postseason berths as they build around young talent like Starlin Castro and Anthony CubsRizzo, both stars in the making and both under the age of 24. Gold glove winner Darwin Barney also plays in a solid young infield. The stop-gap signing of Edwin Jackson may add a few more wins, but the Cubs will likely finish 15 to 20 games under .500.

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