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MLB: Preview Capsules for NL Central

CINCINNATI REDS

2012: 97-65, first place (lost to Giants in division series)

Manager: Dusty Baker

Acquisitions: OF Shin-Soo Choo, INF Jack Hannahan, LHP Manny Parra, C Miguel Olivo

Projected Lineup: CF Shin-Soo Choo (.283, 16 HRs, 67 RBIs), 2B Brandon Phillips (.281, 18, 77), 1B Joey Votto (.337, 14, 56), LF Ryan Ludwick (.275, 26, 80), RF Jay Bruce (.252, 34, 99), 3B Todd Frazier (.273, 19, 67 in 128 games), SS Zack Cozart (.246, 15, 35), C Ryan Hanigan (.274, 2, 24)

Rotation: RH Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 33 starts, 2 CG), RH Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74, 32 starts, 1 CG, 1 SHO), RH Mat Latos (14-4, 3.46, 33 starts, 2 CG), RH Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68), RH Mike Leake (8-9, 4.58)

Closer: LH Aroldis Chapman (5-5, 1.51, 38/43 saves)

Outlook: The Reds return their roster virtually intact from a 97-win season that was good enough to win a second NL Central title in 3 years. The goal is to get past the first round of the playoffs, something Cincinnati has struggled with in recent memory.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

2012: 88-74, second place, wild card (lost to San Francisco in NLCS)

Manager: Mike Matheny

Acquisitions: LHP Randy Choate, INF Ty Wigginton, C Rob Johnson, C J.R. Towles

Projected Lineup: CF Jon Jay (.305, 4 HRs, 40 RBIs, 19 SBs, .373 OBP), 2B Daniel Descalso (.227, 4, 26, 7 triples), LF Matt Holliday (.295, 27, 102, 95 runs), 1B Allen Craig (.307, 22, 92), RF Carlos Beltran (.269, 32, 97), C Yadier Molina (.315, 22, 76), 3B David Freese (.293, 20, 79), SS Pete Kozma (.333, 2, 14)

Rotation: RH Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94 ERA), LH Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92), RH Jake Westbrook (13-11, 3.97), RH Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78), RH Joe Kelly (5-7, 3.53 in 16 starts) or RH Shelby Miller (1-0, 1.32)

Closer: RH Jason Motte (4-5, 2.75, 42/49 saves), will begin season on DL

Outlook: After finishing nine games behind the division-champion Reds, the Cardinals were a win from a repeat World Series appearance before blowing a 3-1 NLCS lead against the Giants. Since, they’ve lost 16-game winner Kyle Lohse to the Brewers, and Chris Carpenter to a likely career-ending arm injury.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

2012: 83-79, third place.

Manager: Ron Roenicke

Acquisitions: RHP Kyle Lohse, LHP Mike Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Burke Badenhop

Projected Lineup: RF Norichika Aoki (.288, 10 HRs, 50 RBIs), 2B Rickie Weeks (.230, 21, 63), LF Ryan Braun (.319, 41, 112), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.300, 27, 105), 1B Corey Hart (.270, 30, 83), C Jonathan Lucroy (.320, 12, 58), CF Carlos Gomez (.260, 19, 51), SS Jean Segura (.264, 0, 14)

Rotation: RH Yovani Gallardo (16-9, 3.66 ERA), RH Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86), RH Marco Estrada (3-10, 5.69), RH Mike Fiers (9-10, 3.79), RH Wily Peralta (2-1, 2.48)

Closer: RH John Axford (5-8, 4.67, 35/44 saves)

Outlook: Milwaukee traded pitcher Zack Greinke last summer but quietly made up for it by having one of the most productive offenses in the majors – and that lineup returns almost entirely intact. If Gallardo can anchor the pitching staff, and Segura can live up to expectations in the everyday lineup, the Brewers could be in position to compete in the NL Central.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2012: 79-83, fourth place

Manager: Clint Hurdle

Acquisitions: C Russell Martin, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Jeanmar Gomez, RHP Mark Melancon, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, 3B Brandon Inge, 1B/OF Brad Hawpe

Projected Lineup: LF Starling Marte (.257, 5 HRs, 17 RBIs), 2B Neil Walker (.280, 14, 69), CF Andrew McCutchen (.327, 31, 96), 3B Pedro Alvarez (.244, 30, 85), 1B Garrett Jones (.274, 27, 86), C Russell Martin (.211, 21, 53 with Yankees), RF Travis Snider (.250, 4, 17), SS Clint Barmes (.229, 8, 45)

Rotation: RH A.J. Burnett (16-10, 3.51 ERA, 180 Ks), LH Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.76), RH James McDonald (12-8, 4.21), RH Jeff Karstens (5-4, 3.97), LH Jeff Locke (1-3, 5.50)

Closer: RH Jason Grilli (1-6, 2.91, 2 saves)

Outlook: It sounds almost bizarre, but it could very well be the playoffs or bust for this group of Pirates. Pittsburgh flirted with the postseason and the franchise’s first winning record in 2 decades last summer before fading over the final 6 weeks. The roster returns pretty much intact.

CHICAGO CUBS

2012: 61-101, fifth place

Manager: Dale Sveum

Acquisitions: RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, C Dioner Navarro, OF Nate Schierholtz

Projected Lineup: CF David DeJesus (.263, 9 HRs, 50 RBIs), SS Starlin Castro (.283, 14, 78), 1B Anthony Rizzo (.285, 15, 48), LF Alfonso Soriano (.262, 32, 108), RF Nate Schierholtz (.257, 6, 21) or Scott Hairston (.263, 20, 57), 2B Darwin Barney (.254, 7, 44), C Welington Castillo (.265, 5, 22), 3B Luis Valbuena (.219, 4, 28)

Rotation: RH Jeff Samardzija (9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 Ks), RH Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03), RH Matt Garza (5-7, 3.91, 18 starts), RH Scott Feldman (6-11, 5.09), LH Travis Wood (6-13, 4.27) or RH Carlos Villanueva (7-7, 4.16).

Closer: RH Carlos Marmol (3-3, 3.42, 20/23 saves)

Outlook: As they enter the second year of the Theo Epstein era, the Cubs remain in the early stages of a building process. They did, however, try to speed things along. They still have a long way to go, though. This isn’t about quick fixes.

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