NL Central

At the beginning of last season, the general consensus was that the division champ Astros, Griffey-led Reds and the much-improved Cardinals would battle for the division title.  As it turned out, the battle was over by late July.  Griffey got off to a slow start and both the Reds and Astros did more battling with injuries than they did with the Cardinals.  This year promises to be a much more interesting race as it's unlikely that the Cards will get as many career years out of so many players and it is nearly metaphysically impossible for the Astros to suffer as many significant injuries.  Adding to the flavor of this race will be improved Cubs and Brewers squads and a Reds team led by a healthy Sean Casey and a Ken Griffey, Jr with a full year facing NL pitching under his belt.

St. Louis Cardinals

Cincinnati Reds

Milwaukee Brewers

Houston Astros

Pittsburgh Pirates

Chicago Cubs


The departure of Pat Hentgen won't hurt the Cardinals as Matt Morris should as good, if not much better.  But can their offense duplicate last year's output if they don't again get career years out of Edgar Renteria, Jim Edmonds and Mike Matheny.  A healthy Mark McGwire will certainly help, as will increased playing time for JD Drew, Albert Pujols and Placido Polanco.  But McGwire is starting the season off on shaky knees and LaRussa is insistent on playing veteran, less productive players.  The Astros offense will be fun to watch.  If their young starters can stay healthy, especially Elarton, then this team will be hard to beat.  The Reds staff suffered a blow when Scott Williamson went down to a season ending elbow injury.  They were thin as it was and now even their once vaunted bullpen has questions.  They'll score runs, but can they prevent them?  A healthy and effective Kerry Wood will alleviate a lot of pressure off the rest of the Cubs staff and they've upgraded the offense at 3 positions over last year's Opening Day squad.  The Brewers rebuilding process is beginning to take shape and shows some positive signs.  But as long as the front office keeps acquiring contracts and players like Devon White and Jeffery Hammonds, one has to wonder if the good moves are simply a product of dumb luck.  The Pirates are in much the same category, but at least their farm system is producing some compelling alternatives.  In the end, though, it comes down to talent.  And the Cardinals and Astros have more than anyone else in the division, with the Astros having a slight edge.


1) Houston Astros
2) St. Louis Cardinals
3) Chicago Cubs
4) Milwaukee Brewers
5) Cincinnati Reds
6) Pittsburgh Pirates