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NL Central Preview

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Take the 96 wins the Brewers notched in 2011, and subtract Prince Fielder’s 5.2 WAR. That equals roughly 91 wins. If they can hit that number in 2012, they should successfully defend their crown in baseball’s weakest division. Obviously, it’s not that simple, and the key here might be how well Ryan Braun responds to his PED episode and the absence of Fielder in the lineup.

The best thing the Reds have going for them is that they didn’t get any worse (something neither the Brewers nor Cardinals can say). In fact, you could say the addition of right-hander Mat Latos made them significantly better. But the loss of new closer Ryan Madson for the season was a serious blow.

Has a World Series champion ever lost as many icons as the Cardinals did this winter? It wasn’t just Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. It was those two, plus pitching coach Dave Duncan. Oh, and they also don’t know when injured ace Chris Carpenter will pitch again. Skipper Mike Matheny might just have the toughest job of any first-year manager in history.

When you take over the GM job with the Cubs, you inherit not only 103 years of futility, but 100 gazillion dollars of bad contracts. Theo Epstein began the process of digging out by jettisoning Carlos Zambrano, but there is still Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol to go. Progress for the Cubbies in 2012 might be defined as getting rid of such veteran deadweight and finding some youngsters to build around.

What’s up with little kids’ fascination with Pirates? Seriously, how many stupid pirate festivals, pirate boat rides and pirate-themed birthday parties are parents required to attend and/or ride before their kids finally wake up and realize that not only are pirates not very much fun, but the people pretending to be pirates are really just former goth-kids who can’t hold down real jobs? Arrrrgh!

The Astros will be saying goodbye to the NL after this season, as they shift to the AL West in 2013, and the degree to which other NL teams will be sad to see them go is in direct proportion to how often they play them. The Astros were abysmal in 2011 (106 losses) and will be abysmal again in 2012.

2012 MLB Preview Thomas Boswell: Nationals’ pitching rotation could change everything Interactive: What teams spend the most money on their pitchers? Interactive: Most successful pitching trios in baseball history For Nationals, high expectations bring added attention Photos: Analysis of the Nationals lineup and pitching rotation Phillies’ five-year hold on NL East crown about to be challenged Dave Sheinin’s 2012 predictions NL previews: East | Central | West AL previews: East | Central | West

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