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The National League Central is the home of the defending World Series Champions and two of the four teams that reached the playoffs in 2011.  Ergo, it's the best division in baseball! ;D  This preview will ask 12 probing queries and maybe provide some insight of what you can expect in 2012.
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The Cincinnati Reds won 91 games to capture the Central flag in 2010, besting the St. Louis Cardinals by five games.† A big reason the Reds won was Toronto native Joey Votto, who captured the National League's Most Valuable Player†award.† †The Redlegs and Cards were the only two clubs to finish above .500 as the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs finished†with 77, 76 and 75 wins respectively.† The Pittsburgh Pirates made it 18 straight years without a winning season as†they†only avoided being the second place team on the†scoreboard 57†times.††As a point of reference, the 1979 Blue Jays were four games worse so that might give you an indication of†how bad things were in Steeltown in 2010.† Let's see what baseball's six pack has in store for 2011.

The Cincinnati Reds crack open some cold ones to celebrate their Central Division Championship of a year ago.

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It's the biggest division in baseball and it's smack dab in the middle of what learned baseball fans call the senior circuit.  Five of the six teams will be looking at former Blue Jays to boost their fortunes in 2010.  Guess which team could have the most former Jays on their roster this season?  Guess which team doesn't have a former Jay as of now?  Which player (not a former Jay!) denied me a free taco five years ago?  Who really let the dogs out?  And where the hell are my Toronto Star Season Passes already?  The answers to most of these questions and more in the Batter's Box 2010 NL Central rundown.

 

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The National League Central may be a fairly boring division to watch in 2009. The Cubs appear poised to run away with the division. After winning almost 100 games last season, the Cubs made a number of changes to the 25-man roster for 2009 in hopes of strengthening the outfield and bullpen. The club also brought back free agent and Canadian starting pitcher Ryan Dempster after a career year in his free agent season. The Cardinals have a solid veteran club as well, but injuries have already taken their toll on the club, which could hurt its chance of competing with the Cubs. The Astros, Pirates and Brewers do not look like very strong clubs on paper, and they could all lose at least 80 games. The Cincinnati Reds, though, could be a sleeper team - with a plethora of young, impact talent on the 25-man roster. The rise of the Reds could easily be the biggest story of 2009... unless the sophomore jinx bites too many second-year players.

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Miguel Tejada, the resurgent (.328/3/11 in '08) Astro shortstop, is -- by all accounts -- 31 years old. But it turns out that, due to a little intentional "miscalculation" on his part back when he signed with the A's in 1993, come May 25, he will turn 34.

The question is, regarding this two-year gap in Miggy's life ... do you care? Should anyone? And what did you think of the TV spot where Tejada was, as one online columnist put it, baseball's equivalent of "Punk'd"?

For the fourth straight year I have the enjoyable task of previewing the Milwaukee Brewers. Last year I did alright on the preview, as I predicted 85 wins and the Brewers reached 83 and I hit the mark on a couple of individual players, as well. I missed the win totals badly in my other two previews, predicted 75 and 85 wins in 2005 and 2006, while Milwaukee ended up with 81 and 75, respectively. Maybe I learned something in 2005 and 2006 or, more likely, I donít know what Iím talking about and just got lucky in 2007. Regardless, grab a seat and letís take a look at what 2008 holds for the Brewers. Seriously, make sure you're sitting down. This isn't going to be quick.
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"There's a good possibility we may not be as bad as people think we're going to be."-- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

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Every year in this space, I write a Cincinnati Reds preview that is wildly incorrect -- when I predict a World Seris appearance, the Red Legs tank; if I foresee gloom and doom, they at least hang around on the peripherals of a pennant race far longer than one might suppose.

So in this fourth annual edition of "The Hunt for a Reds October," let's dig back into the annals of Red Leg lore and "bottom line" it; by comparing the projected 2008 edition of the Reds with their most successful forebears -- the last Reds team to win a title (1990) and the greatest team in franchise history (1975) we can at least more accurately (one would surmise) project whether or not there is a glimmer of hope for the glint of a World Series trophy shining over the Queen City in 2008. Let's see ...
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After 99 years of futility, the Cubs seem to be getting serious. They've returned the entire core of last year's division champ, and added a handful of fresh bats to improve upon a respectable offense. Their pitching staff, which finished second in the senior circuit in ERA, remains intact. And the NL Central is awful.

The stars have aligned.

Could this finally be the year?
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Ah the Astros. The team that once had the Ryan Express, Mike Scott, Killer-Bís, Terry Puhl (formerly the best hitter Canada produced), Jose Cruz Sr, J.R. Richard, Roger Clemens, Joe Niekro, Billy Wagner, and Joe Morgan. So, where are they today, just 2 full seasons away from their only World Series appearance? Dropping and dropping fast but with some kids in the outfield and catching who give you hope.

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You know a team is bad when you talk about how many games they've lost as opposed to how many games they've won Ė for example, a team that goes 62-100 doesn't win 62 games, they lose 100. Such is the case of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have endured one of the longest stretches of futility in baseball history. Last year the Pirates posted their best record in three years by "only" losing 94 games, which is an achievement of sorts I suppose. In both 2005 and 2006 the Bucs went 67-95, and you have to go back to when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister (or George Bush Sr. was President) to find the last Pirates team with a winning record. The Pirates have finished below .500 every year since 1993, and this season threaten to tie the Phillies for the longest consecutive stretch of losing seasons in baseball history at 16. Can they avoid this ignominy? Probably not, but we'll take a gander anyway. You might not want to keep going if you are prone to queasiness though Ė this gets ugly.
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[I am pleased to post Roster alumnus Craig Burley's Pittsburgh Pirates Preview. Take it away Craig...]

Last year, I began my Pirates preview as follows:

In about 2009, the tone of all Pirates previews will have changed. By that time, the tone will either have become noticeably more respectful or will have blown over the fine line between failure and utter despair. The Pirates have not made the playoffs or finished with a .500 record since Barry Bonds played for them.

The Pirates lost 95 games last year, something that they had done only one other time since 1992, when they last made the playoffs under Jim Leyland (and lost the NLCS on Francisco Cabrera's game-winning single in Game 7)...

To say, as many are, that the Pirates look like a team on the way up is not accurate. This is a team still just trying to halt, never mind reverse, terminal blood loss. The way up is the other way.

The 2005 Pirates committed the three cardinal sins of a baseball team. They were bad, colorless and unambitious. But in all three cases, it wasn't as bad as it might seem.

I could write exactly the same phrases this year, and be correct on nearly all accounts. The Pirates lost 95 games, the Pirates were bad, the Pirates were colorless, the Pirates were unambitious. The Pirates are a year closer to (and two years away from breaking) the Phillies' record for most consecutive seasons below .500.
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Another year, another 82-80 record. It's uncanny how they do it.
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Stepping into the Box to pinch hit today is poster Newton, who graciously submitted this preview of the St. Louis Cardinals 2007 season. Take it away, Newton...

Last season I predicted the Cardinals would cruise to a division title as the NLís safest bet to qualify for a post-season berth.

They proved to be a tremendous disappointment winning only 83 games.

Playing in baseballís weakest division, the NL Central, did however allow them to gain entry into the post-season tournament where they managed to win 11 additional games (giving them enough total wins to narrowly miss out on the AL wildcard) and bring home their first World Series title since the Wizardís first season in St.Louis.
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The Cubbies' spending spree was the NL's biggest story this offseason. So itís only a matter of time before typewriters in press rooms across the desert come alive with the sound of time-tested talking points: Can a last-place team win it all? Can money buy a championship? Can the Cubs possibly break their impossibly unbreakable 98-year curse?

And from the mouths of the sage baseball interpreters, the answer to all of these standards will come:
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