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National League preview: Central Division

Predicted finish, records

Reds Cardinals Cubs Brewers Astros Pirates 91-7185-7784-7883-79 79-8368-94

Pennants, wild cards since 1995: 3,1.

Average payroll: $91.9 million (fourth of six divisions).

Manager with World Series rings: Tony La Russa ('09, '06).

Players with MVP awards: Joey Votto ('10), Albert Pujols ('05, '08, '09).

Pitchers with Cy Young awards: Zack Greinke ('09), Chris Carpenter ('05).

Possible high fantasy picks: Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Carlos Pena, Votto, Pujols.

2011 awards

MVP: Pujols, Cardinals. He has something to prove in free agent year. Worth considering: Votto, Braun, Starlin Castro.

Cy Young: Carpenter, Cardinals. He's still the best in this division. Worth considering: Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Edinson Volquez.

Rookie of the Year: Aroldis Chapman, Reds. He'll start again in the bullpen, but his future is as a starter.

Winner in weak field. Worth considering: Matt Carpenter, Wily Peralta, Darwin Barney.

Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker, Reds. Sure, the Reds are the favorite, but you still have to get them to the finish line. But don't ever discount La Russa making a run on the big bat of Pujols.

Nine questions


How's that Zack Greinke deal working out for the Brewers?

Uh, not so well? First, Greinke gets injured in a pickup buckets game, and then he picks the Steelers to win the Super Bowl during a fan gathering. Greinke will have to consume lots of beer and sausage to win back the hearts of the faithful — once he gets healthy.


Which pitcher will Dusty Baker overuse this season?

That's really an unfair rap, but it doesn't help that Johnny Cueto has battled arm soreness this spring. Fact is, the Reds' rotation is good enough and young enough to overcome anything.


Is this the last season for Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa with the Cardinals?

Don't count on it, unless the team collapses — and then this becomes the overwhelming storyline for the second half. Both should have extra motivation.


Can the Cardinals win without Adam Wainwright?

The best tandem (Carpenter-Wainwright) has become a solo act, but La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan always find replacements. Don't count them out.


Was that a new-manager-induced aberration when the Cubs played at a .649 clip (second best in baseball) at the end of last season?

It would seem that way, but Mike Quade creates enough good karma that the Cubs won't suffer the embarrassment of a third straight year with a player suspension.


Can the Pirates win the division?

Ha. The real question is, can they break a string of 18 straight sub-.500 finishes for Mr. Positive Clint Hurdle? (Hint, the answer is a definite no).


Who's most under the gun?

Colby Rasmus. It's time for the Cardinals center fielder to become an offensive star and defensive standout, neither of which has happened yet.


Who's on the endangered species list?

With all managers seemingly safe, that would fall to general managers Ed Wade of the Astros, Doug Melvin of the Brewers and Jim Hendry of the Cubs.


Which team is most likely to get a lift at the trading deadline?

The Cubs. If they're even halfway close, new ownership will find some money. That's just the Cubs' way: Keep spending in an effort to win once.

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