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National League Central

By Times Staff
Published April 3, 2005


St. Louis Cardinals

2004: 105-57, 1st.

MANAGER: Tony La Russa.

PAYROLL: $87-million.

KEY ADDITIONS: LHP Mark Mulder, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, SS David Eckstein, C Einar Diaz.

KEY LOSSES: SS Edgar Renteria, C Mike Matheny, 2B Tony Womack, RHP Woody Williams, LHP Steve Kline, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Kiko Calero.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

SS David Eckstein

RF Larry Walker

1B Albert Pujols

3B Scott Rolen

CF Jim Edmonds

LF Reggie Sanders

2B Mark Grudzielanek

C Yadier Molina

ROTATION: RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Jason Marquis, LHP Mark Mulder, RHP Jeff Suppan, RHP Matt Morris.

CLOSER: RHP Jason Isringhausen.

BOTTOM LINE: La Russa insists the team will be better at shortstop/second base with Eckstein instead of Renteria and Grudzielanek instead of Womack. ... Edmonds, 35 this summer, is the youngest of the outfielders. ... The rotation is the first since 1932 Cubs with five 15-game winners from previous season. ... No one had a better first four years than Pujols. ... Cards are a lock.

Chicago Cubs

2004: 89-73, 3rd.

MANAGER: Dusty Baker.

PAYROLL: $100-million.

KEY ADDITIONS: OF Jeromy Burnitz, 2B-OF Jerry Hairston, C Henry Blanco, RHP Chad Fox, RHP Scott Williamson.

KEY LOSSES: RF Sammy Sosa, LF Moises Alou, RHP Matt Clement, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, RHP Kyle Farns-worth, LHP Kent Mercker, C Paul Bako.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

CF Corey Patterson

2B Todd Walker

SS Nomar Garciaparra

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Jeromy Burnitz

1B Derrek Lee

LF Todd Hollandsworth

C Michael Barrett

ROTATION: RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Greg Maddux, RHP Ryan Demp-ster, RHP Kerry Wood, RHP Mark Prior.

CLOSER: RHP LaTroy Hawkins.

BOTTOM LINE: Wood (shoulder) and Prior (elbow) are supposed to be okay, eventually. But for a team that lost so much offense, how long can it wait? ... Maddux is looking for his 18th straight 15-win season. ... Will Garciaparra once again be an elite hitter? ... If things don't break right, it could be a long summer.

Houston Astros

2004: 92-70, 2nd.

MANAGER: Phil Garner.

PAYROLL: $79-million.

KEY ADDITIONS: LHP John Franco, LHP Phil Norton.

KEY LOSSES: CF Carlos Beltran, 2B Jeff Kent, RHP Wade Miller.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

2B Craig Biggio or Chris Burke

SS Adam Everett

1B Jeff Bagwell

RF Luke Scott

3B Morgan Ensberg

CF Jason Lane

LF Mike Lamb or Biggio

C Brad Ausmus

ROTATION: RHP Roy Oswalt, LHP Andy Pettitte, RHP Roger Clemens, RHP Brandon Backe, RHP Brandon Duckworth.

CLOSER: RHP Brad Lidge.

BOTTOM LINE: Beltran and Kent are gone, Berkman is hurt. What is Houston to do? ... Rely on one of baseball's top pitching staffs. The top four starters, if right, can be impenetrable and Lidge is almost automatic. ... No playoff repeat.

Cincinnati Reds

2004: 76-86, 4th.

MANAGER: Dave Miley.

PAYROLL: $60-million.

KEY ADDITIONS: LHP Eric Milton, 3B Joe Randa, RHP David Weathers, LHP Kent Mercker, RHP Ben Weber, RHP Ramon Ortiz, SS Rich Aurilia.

KEY LOSSES: SS Barry Larkin, INF Juan Castro, LHP Gabe White, RHP Todd Van Poppel, RHP John Riedling, LHP Phil Norton, LHP Mike Matthews.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

2B D'Angelo Jimenez

SS Felipe Lopez

1B Sean Casey

CF Ken Griffey Jr.

RF Austin Kearns

LF Adam Dunn

3B Joe Randa

C Jason LaRue

ROTATION: RHP Paul Wilson, LHP Eric Milton, RHP Ramon Ortiz, RHP Aaron Harang, LHP Brandon Claussen.

CLOSER: RHP Danny Graves.

BOTTOM LINE: Milton gave up an NL-high 43 home runs last season with the Phillies, and the Reds last season allowed a club-record 907 runs and 236 home runs. ... The Reds have now had four straight losing seasons, their longest stretch since 1945-55. Make it five.

Milwaukee Brewers

2004: 67-94, 6th.

MANAGER: Ned Yost.

PAYROLL: $42-million.

KEY ADDITIONS: LF Carlos Lee, C Damian Miller, RHP Ricky Bottalico, 3B Jeff Cirillo, RHP Jose Capellan.

KEY LOSSES: RHP Danny Kolb, CF Scott Podsednik, SS Craig Counsell, 2B-3B Keith Ginter, RHP Luis Vizcaino,

C Gary Bennett.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

CF Brady Clark

2B Junior Spivey

1B Lyle Overbay

LF Carlos Lee

RF Geoff Jenkins

C Damian Miller

3B Russell Branyan

SS J.J. Hardy

ROTATION: RHP Ben Sheets, LHP Doug Davis, RHP Victor Santos, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Gary Glover.

CLOSER: RHP Mike Adams.

BOTTOM LINE: Sheets (264 strikeouts) and Davis last season combined for 48 quality starts, tops of any major-league tandem. ... Payroll was boosted $15-million from last season and new owner Mark Attanasio said he wants to compete by 2008. ... A 13th consecutive losing season can be avoided only with supernatural pitching.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2004: 72-89, 5th.

MANAGER: Lloyd McClendon.

PAYROLL: $36-million.

KEY ADDITIONS: RF Matt Lawton, LHP Mark Redman, C Benito Santiago.

KEY LOSSES: C Jason Kendall, 2B-SS Abraham Nunez.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

RF Matt Lawton

SS Jack Wilson

LF Jason Bay

1B Craig Wilson

3B Ty Wigginton

CF Tike Redman

2B Jose Castillo

C Benito Santiago

ROTATION: LHP Oliver Perez, RHP Kip Wells, LHP Mark Redman, RHP Josh Fogg, LHP Sean Burnett.

CLOSER: RHP Jose Mesa.

BOTTOM LINE: Perez struck out at least 10 nine times, and he anchors an unproven rotation that has much potential. ... Kendall was a big loss. ... Little power in a lineup that holds little promise. A club-record 13th consecutive losing season is guaranteed.#