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NL Central MLB Preview

For the last eight years either the Cardinals or the Cubs have won the NL Central division. On paper, it doesn’t look like that trend will change this season.

The Cardinals are the reigning NL Central champs and they enter the new season as favorites to repeat at -190 at Bovada. The Cardinals aren’t considered a deeply talented team, but they do have one of the best pitching duos in baseball atop their rotation and another dynamite duo in their batting order.

Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are both legitimate candidates to win 20 games this season. Last season Wainwright won 19 games, and Carpenter won 17 in his first full season since 2006.

There may not be any better hitting combination in the majors than Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Last year they hit a combined 71 home runs and drove in 244 runs despite a disappointing first half for Holliday while in Oakland. If the Cardinals get anything from the rest of their rotation, and the lineup can set the table for Pujols and Holliday, another NL Central title should be in the cards.

The Cubs won 83 games last season, but still finished 7.5 games behind St. Louis. Looking at their lineup it’s hard to imagine them improving much this season. Chicago is stacked with injury-prone hitters such as Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. Almost as troubling is inconsistent ace Carlos Zambrano, who can be unhittable one day and light up the next. To contend Chicago needs an ace-like season from Zambrano and wins from aging arms Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly.

The dark horse in the Central this season could be Cincinnati. The Reds have a number of good young arms, including Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, who will likely start the season in the minors. Unfortunately for Cincinnati their best starter, Edinson Volquez, will start the season on the DL, but they could still have a reliable rotation that includes Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto.

The Reds also have three great young hitters in Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce to build the rest of their roster around in the future. The Reds may not be there yet, but they could be the ones to watch in the Central in the near future.

Rounding out the list of teams considered legitimate contenders in the Central is the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee retooled their rotation in the offseason by signing Doug Davis and Randy Wolf to pitch behind young ace Yovani Gallardo. That doesn’t exactly stand up to the staffs in St. Louis or even Chicago right now.

Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun give the Brewers a lot of clout in the lineup, but they need table-setters Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez to get on base first. Also keep an eye on highly-touted up-and-comer Alcides Escobar at short. He could also be an offensive threat if he can adapt quickly to major league pitching.

NL Central futures at Bovada:
St. Louis -190
Chicago Cubs +350
Cincinnati +700
Milwaukee +800
Houston +1000
Pittsburgh +10000