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St. Louis Cardinals

2013 result: 97-65, 1st place, lost to Boston Red Sox in World Series 4-2

For a team that can be satisfied with three consecutive NLCS trips, two pennants and a thrilling 2011 World Series triumph, the Redbirds approached this winter in a way that was prudent and conducive to letting their homegrown talent continue to blossom. With Carlos Beltran headed to the Yankees, they wisely boosted their outfield by acquiring Peter Bourjos from the Angels for David Freese. With newcomers Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis strengthening the infield, the Cardinals can now simply let their mind-boggling (and young) starting rotation mature and position players like Allen Craig and Matt Adams click into place. With so few moves, the Cards still did everything right and arguable had the best offseason of any team.

Prediction: 96-66, 1st place

Cincinnati Reds

2013 result: 90-72, 3rd place, lost NL Wild Card game to Pittsburgh

The good news: They fired perennial playoff heartbreak generator Dusty Baker as manager, an encouraging affirmation of their frustration with first round exits. And they just signed Homer Bailey to a lengthy contract, putting a stamp on a muscular yet underrated pitching staff. The bad news: They didn’t do much else. Cincy’s willingness to lay low this offseason (especially not giving Shin-Soo Choo a massive contract) would be forgivable in most instances, given their incredible depth at all parts of the roster from Joey Votto to Billy Hamilton to Aroldis Chapman. But compared to St. Louis’s brilliant improvements, the Reds’ lack of activity is all the more glaring. Unless the NL Central crowds the wild card race again this year, the Reds could miss the playoffs even with an extraordinarily resplendent team.

Prediction: 90-72, second place

Pittsburgh Pirates

2013 Result: 94-68, 2nd place, lost to St. Louis 3-2 in NLDS

With the post-”The Play” stretch of losing seasons finally retired, as well as a thunderous wild card win that turned PNC Park into the baseball version of Heinz Field, the Bucs made a moon-leap of progress in one year. Sadly, the front office seems to have missed the memo that if you want to win a division that has the defending NL champions, you need to upgrade accordingly. And the Pirates simply, and wholly, failed to do that. Their acquisitions of Edinson Volquez and Chris Stewart, underwhelming in and of themselves, are even worse compared to the exodus of A.J. Burnett, Garrett Jones, and Justin Morneau, among others. The Pirates still have a captivating core of talent anchored by NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, but the front office’s sclerotic approach to common sense building will likely prove a setback.

Prediction: 87-65, 3rd place

Milwaukee Brewers

2013 result: 74-88, 4th place

The shattering decline of Ryan Braun seems to have singlehandedly eclipsed evaluating his team altogether. And that’s unfortunate, given the many other potent hitters such as Carlos Gomez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Aramis Ramirez, and Lyle Overbay who could be a modern-day Harvey’s Wallbangers at their full potential. They also added the powerful (but historically strikeout prone) Mark Reynolds on a minor league deal, as well as stellar lefty reliever Will Smith from the Royals. For a team that came within two games of the World Series a few years ago, and one that still has plenty of talent to make up for the absences of Braun, Hart and Fielder, they may be close a rebuilding period. The bats will certainly have to carry the load this year, for even with the acquisition of Smith the bullpen that ranked as one of the best in the league last season has been notably dismantled.

Prediction: 71-91, 4th place

Chicago Cubs

2013 result: 66-96, 5th place

While manager Dale Sveum was quickly axed after 96 losses in 2013, he arguably wasn’t the reason for the Cubs’ failures. As an old friend of mine, a Cubs fan since his birth in 1943, has said time and time again: “You know the team’s in trouble when Theo Epstein is getting paid more than the entire starting infield combined.” But when all was said and done, it wasn’t boy wonder Theo’s head who would roll for back-to-back last place finishes. All the same, new manager Rick Renteria stands as the club’s biggest offseason acquisition, with new players like lefty reliever Jose Veras standing as necessary but not terribly exciting. Aside from a promising farm system, there’s simply not too much to expect from the Cubbies in 2014.

Prediction: 68-94, 5th place

Who will win the NL Central in 2014?

  • Cincinnati Reds (67%, 2 Votes)
  • St. Louis Cardinals (33%, 1 Votes)
  • Milwaukee Brewers (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Chicago Cubs (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 3

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