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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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Last year I examined a 16-year gap in Brewers history to determine if the fate of the 1990 Brewers held clues for the 2006 Brewers. Was I right or was I wrong and am I going to drudge up more names from the history books in an attempt to tell you whatís going to happen to the 2007 Brewers?
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(Completing the Trilogy?)

Let's make one thing absolutely clear. No matter what I write about the 2007 Cincinnati Reds in this preview, it will be wrong. Don't believe me? Well, this is the third year in a row I've previewed my childhood's favorite ballclub, and the past two seasons, I have been -- let's be kind -- off the mark. Shall we review?

(Well, if we must ...)

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True or False? 2006 Brewers:2005 Brewers::1990 Brewers:1989 Brewers.

To investigate this question itís time for a lengthy trip down memory lane with the Brewers of yesteryear.

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"The Thing With Feathers" by Craig Burley

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.

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Those folks on the other side of Chicago seem to have all the fun.
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In last year's The Hunt For a Reds October '05, the following brash prediction highlighted the wildly optimistic conclusion: "[T]he 94-68 Reds will snag the NL Wild Card and ride an October wave into the World Series."

Yeah, that didn't happen.

Now, what about 2006? Well, it's simple. The Reds are going to ...

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Today's Preview, the Cardinals, is a Pinch Hit. It was submitted by (and in fact, solicited from) frequent poster and notorious Durazo apologist Newton.

St. Louis: No Longer a Full House but Still a Winning Hand

Coming off an impressive 100 win season in 2005, the Cards' roster underwent significant turnover during the offseason. With three new positional regulars, a new member of the starting rotation, and a re-tooled bench and bullpen, can the Cards reach the century mark again in 2006? Letís take a look, shall we.

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Houston couldn’t best the White Sox in the World Series but had an equally amazing run. Can they do it again minus (for now) Roger Clemens?

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