NL Central predictions


Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake throws against the Chicago White Sox during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Since 2006, NL Central teams are 1-15 in first-round games. But, of course, baseball’s playoffs are a crapshoot, and anyone who gets in has a shot at winning it all. To that end, we’ve seen nothing this spring to suggest anyone is ready to supplant the defending champion Reds atop the Central.

Featuring a deep, largely homegrown rotation, a lineup constructed around reigning MVP Joey Votto and a bullpen featuring Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman, they are solid all around, if a bit unspectacular — the perfect formula for winning in the Central.

Part of the appeal of the Reds is the way the other major Central contenders crashed and burned this spring. We might have been tempted to pick the Cardinals , for example, before they lost their ace, Adam Wainwright, early in the spring to a blown-out elbow.

Any team with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday anchoring the lineup will always be dangerous, but we get the feeling Pujols’s tenuous contract situation will become a monster distraction.

The Brewers won the division’s offseason crown after pulling off trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. But then Greinke got hurt playing basketball and Marcum came down with a shoulder problem. Rather than a division title, we foresee a hard fall and a midseason trade of Prince Fielder to a rich contender.

The Cubs are Mike Quade’s problem now, and the rookie manager has his hands full with this aging, bloated mess. Their best hope is that a bunch of declining veterans in their walk years (Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Pena) all of a sudden finds inspiration.

The Astros ’ free-fall into irrelevancy has been swift. As recently as 2008 they were an 86-win team with a modicum of hope. But those days, along with Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, are long gone.

The Pirates are stacked with talent again this year, making this a potentially huge year at Three Rivers Stadium. Barry Bonds is entering his prime as the best all-around player in the league, veteran Doug Drabek remains a perennial Cy Young threat atop a deep rotation, and this young knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield, looks like he might stick around for awhile.

(Oops. Looks like I got my notes mixed up and dropped in a chunk of text from the 1992 preview — that being the last year the Pirates produced a winning record and the last time anyone outside of Pittsburgh cared about them. As for the 2011 Pirates, I’ve never heard of any of them. Sorry.)

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