The same suspects

Kevin Baxter

Los Angeles Times

If you liked last season's NL playoffs, chances are you'll like this fall's version since you'll be seeing many of the same teams.

Washington, with Stephen Strasburg cleared to pitch a full season alongside Gio Gonzalez, could be even more dominant in the East, while the World Series champion Giants, with their deep pitching staff and reigning MVP Buster Posey behind the plate, are the favorites in the West.

The Central will once again send St. Louis and Cincinnati to the postseason, but the Cardinals will win the division after two consecutive wild-card appearances.. The final wild-card team will be the Dodgers. The team goes into the season with the largest payroll in history at $230 million. Expect them to keep spending to plug any holes.

kbaxter@tribune.com

Reds should cruise

Phil Rogers

Chicago Tribune

Eight pitches.

That's all the Reds got from ace Johnny Cueto last October.

While the Nationals' decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg was so heavily debated, it was the absence of Cueto that had the biggest impact.

With a healthy Cueto, the Reds probably knock off the Giants in the first round of the playoffs and very well may have won it all.

I like them to cruise to an easy Central title while the Braves and Dodgers win tight races in the East and West.

For the wild cards, I'll take the Nationals and Giants, with the Cardinals (as always) best positioned to prove me wrong.

progers@tribune.com

Phillies bounce back

Keith Groller

Morning Call

The window of a golden era is rapidly closing on the Phillies, but it isn't pinching fingers just yet. As long as Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can stay reasonably healthy, this could be Philly's most well-rounded club since 2008. Expect the Phils to return to the top of the NL East, but both the Braves and Nats should be good enough to secure wild-card slots.

The loss of the Astros to the AL makes it tough for two NL Central teams to reach the postseason, so it's winner-take-all between Cincy and St. Louis. The Reds will prevail.

On paper, the Giants are still baseball's best. But something always goes wrong when you're trying to repeat. If LA can substitute heart for hype, the Dodgers will unseat their rivals for West honors.

kgroller@tribune.com

Giants working on dynasty

Juan C. Rodriguez

Sun Sentinel

From west to east, let's go with Giants, Cardinals, Reds, and Nationals.

The defending World Series champion Giants are working on a dynasty thanks to a starting staff that includes a past Cy Young winner in Tim Lincecum and a pair of Cy Young candidates in Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.

The Cardinals have Adam Wainwright atop their rotation again and already have shown they can win without Albert Pujols. Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos appear impervious to their hitter-friendly home ballpark in Cincinnati. New leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo easily should score 100 runs. The Nationals have two of the game's young stars in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

jcrodriguez@tribune.com