The Houston Astros have moved to the American League West, so now a new contender must emerge as the doormat of the league. As with the A.L. West, two of these teams figure to dominate this division while the others will likely be on the outside looking in, according to the latest MLB futures.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 91.5
The Reds have had all winter to get over the debacle of blowing a 2-0 playoff series lead to the Giants (where the Reds won the first two at San Francisco’s ball park, then lost three straight at home). The acquisition of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from Cleveland should help at the upper end of the batting order, although the club has him listed as a center fielder; corner outfielder (left or right) is his more natural spot. Elsewhere, the lineup still has formidable weapons such as All-Star 1B Joey Votto and the pitching is strong enough, with the likes of left-handed fireballer Aroldis Chapman and others, for Cincy to retain the N.L. Central crown. Predicted finish: first in the division, and third in the league.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 72.5
They’ve retooled their starting rotation with the additions of Scott Baker (who is now injured), Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva and, um, Edwin Jackson. Other signings include catcher Dioner Navarro, outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston, and infielder Brent Lillibridge. None of those moves will translate into the kind of success Cubs fans have been desperately wanting for more than a century. 1B Anthony Rizzo is a glimpse at what the future may hold, and there’s no doubt Theo Epstein is building something good for the future, but the present appears to hold the same amount of unhappiness for the “win now” crowd. Predicted finish: last in the division, and last (or near the bottom) in the league.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 81.5
Kyle Lohse is expected to be announced as the latest signing (pending a physical) to bolster the Brew Crew’s rotation. He’s a step up from the perennially injured Shaun Marcum. Lohse also serves a role as a veteran presence on a team filled with promising youngsters such as pitcher Mike Fiers, outfielder Carlos Gomez and slugging OF/1B Khris Davis who may (or may not) find some cohesion. The club still has MVP Ryan Braun in the fold, and he and RBI machine third baseman Aramis Ramirez led them to an 18-10 September: if they can play like that all season, they’ll have something. That may be asking too much of them, though. Predicted finish: third in the division, and seventh to 10th in the league.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 77.5
It’s been 20 straight losing seasons for the Pirates. From the vantage point of the week before the start of the 2013 campaign, it appears the Bucs are closer than ever to breaking that streak of futility. Having a healthy veteran like Russell Martin taking charge behind the plate can’t hurt, five-tool outfielder Andrew McCutcheon will be around for the foreseeable future, and prospects like pitcher Gerrit Cole improve each year. They’ll need Cole to blossom soon, because the pitching staff’s quality and depth isn’t exactly the envy of the rest of the league. Predicted finish: fourth in the division, and ninth or lower in the league.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 86.5
Starter Chris Carpenter may have to retire, closer Jason Motte is likely to start the season on the disabled list, 2011 World Series MVP 3B David Freese is having back trouble, and right fielder Carlos Beltran’s toe is the latest problem to afflict a player who can hit 30 homers but can’t stay healthy for long. Despite all those woes, the Cardinals have the quality and depth (Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Oscar Taveras, Mitchell Boggs and up-and-comer Shelby Miller among them) to overcome even those obstacles. Given the number of injuries, left-handed slugger Matt Adams could even find enough playing time to work on the holes in his swing. Predicted finish: second in the division and forth to sixth in the league, so they should probably be in contention for a wild-card spot.