Coming off a dismal 61-win 2012 campaign, the Cubs are again longshots to be competitive in the tough NL Central. The starting rotation is already behind the 8-ball, with Scott Baker and Matt Garza sidelined with injuries. Offensively, the present and future is certainly Starlin Castro, along with Anthony Rizzo, who is looking to build off his strong rookie year. Assuming the Cubs stumble again in 2013 (probably a safe assumption), expect Alfonso Soriano (free agent after 2014) and Carlos Marmol (free agent after this season) to be in many trade rumors come summertime. Castro and Rizzo provide a bright future, but needless to say the Cubs will make it 105 years without a championship. (Matt Sherman)
The Reds won the Central in 2012 and hope to continue their dominance in 2013. Shin-Soo Choo was brought it to be the table setter in a very talented Reds lineup with All Stars Bruce, Votto and Phillips. Cincinnati hopes Johnny Cueto can stay healthy and lead a dominate staff that has Homer Bailey as its fourth starter. The Aroldis Chapman soap opera continues, as he is back as the closer after they contemplated moving him to the rotation in spring training. Jonathan Broxton should be a solid setup man and Sean Marshall is lethal against lefties. They are the team to beat in the Central and are majors players in the National League playoff race.
While the Reds & Cardinals are grabbing the attention of prognosticators prior to the 2013 season, the Brewers believe they will be in the thick of the playoff race come September. They’ve been a mystery from year to year over the last five seasons bouncing from first to third in any given year. The rotation may be the strength of this Brewers squad as Yovanni Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and Marco Estrada provide the team with a solid 1-2-3. The bullpen could yet again be a problem depending on the success or lack there of from John Axford. The offense could be an issue which is something the Milwaukee faithful is not used to. Ryan Braun is among baseballs best at the plate but outside of Aramis Ramirez he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of help offensively. (Mike Orzechowski)
Can anyone take the Pirates seriously until August? With two straight final third collapses, extending their 20 year MLB record losing streak, there isn’t much optimism in the Steel City. PNC Park is home to one of baseball’s best players in Andrew McCutchen but there wasn’t much done during the offseason to upgrade a pretty lackluster roster. The lineup may prove to be better with the hope that growth is seen in some of their younger players including Travis Snider, Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez as well as the addition of Russell Martin (a major upgrade over Rod Barajas). The starting rotation however is a mess and the bullpen has major question marks especially with the departure of Joel Hanrahan. In the end most likely the Pirates will stand pat with a record similar to their 89-93 mark last year and the streak continues. (William Fucich)
St Louis Cardinals
Last seasons NL Central champs return with most of last seasons roster intact. The news that ace Chris Carpenter’s career is likely over casts a dark shadow over a deep team. Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday will carry the load on offense and look to continue 2012’s strong performance. A return to the playoffs is likely, as is another division title. (Glenn Coyle)