St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols takes batting practice...

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols takes batting practice during spring training at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2010) Credit: MCT


Prediction: 1st

Outlook. Matt Holliday didn't come back as a bargain, but for $120 million over the next seven years, the Cardinals ensured that they'd be very competitive in 2010. With a nucleus of Holliday, Albert Pujols and starting pitchers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, they're clear favorites to win the division again.

Spotlight on. Pujols. The Cardinals have a $16 million option on him for 2011, which they'll certainly exercise; nevertheless, tension looms over the long-term future of the 30-year-old. If he puts up a characteristically monster season, that tension intensifies.

Final word. They win the division and fall to the Phillies in the NLCS.

2009: 91-71, First place.

Manager: Tony La Russa, 15th season, 1,232-1,034, .544; 31st overall, 2,552- 2,217, .535, five pennants, two World Series titles.

GM: John Mozeliak.

Last playoff appearance: Last season, lost to L.A. in NLDS, 3-0.

Projected lineup

2B Skip Schumaker
SS Brendan Ryan
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
RF Ryan Ludwick
CF Colby Rasmus
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese

Projected rotation

RH Chris Carpenter
RH Adam Wainwright
RH Brad Penny
RH Kyle Lohse
LH Jaime Garcia


Prediction: 2nd

Outlook. This team has the feel of a group clumsily put together. The lineup is comically tilted to the right side (six of eight regulars hit righty), Carlos Silva is hanging around after coming from Seattle and the bullpen is shaky. Add the annual "Is this the year?" pressure, and it looks discouraging. However, the Cubs do have an impressive amount of top-shelf talent in a winnable division.

Spotlight on. Manager Lou Piniella is in the last year of his deal. It seems like new owner Tom Ricketts would like to retain him.

Final word. With a rebound by Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs fight through September, but fall short of the playoffs.

2009: 83-78, Second place.

Manager: Lou Piniella, fourth season, 265-219, .548; 22nd overall, 1,784-1,639, .521, one pennant, one World Series title.

GM: Jim Hendry.

Last playoff appearance: 2008.

Projected lineup

SS Ryan Theriot
RF Kosuke Fukudome
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
CF Marlon Byrd
LF Alfonso Soriano
C Geovany Soto
2B Mike Fontenot

Projected rotation

RH Carlos Zambrano
RH Ryan Dempster
LH Ted Lilly
RH Randy Wells
RH Carlos Silva


Prediction: 3rd

Outlook. Give GM Doug Melvin credit for plugging holes. He added veteran free agents Doug Davis and Randy Wolf to a starting rotation badly in need of help, and also hired former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson. Throw in franchise players Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and there should be enough here to at least make things interesting.

Spotlight on. Fielder. He's now two seasons from free agency, and the Brewers have said they'd like to keep him. Folks also will focus on his in-game conduct, which has been an item of discussion this spring.

Final word. They'll climb back over the .500 mark, yet they won't duplicate their 2008 playoff run.

2009: 80-82, Third place.

Manager: Ken Macha, second season; fifth season overall, 448- 362, .553.

GM: Doug Melvin.

Last playoff appearance: 2008.

Projected lineup

2B Rickie Weeks
SS Alcides Escobar
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
3B Casey McGehee
RF Corey Hart
C Gregg Zaun
CF Carlos Gomez

Projected rotation

RH Yovani Gallardo
LH Randy Wolf
LH Doug Davis
RH Dave Bush
LH Manny Parra


Prediction: 4th

Outlook. They are the team that never rebuilds, that always - under own- er Drayton McLane - op- erates with an eye on the present. More often than not, they have honored that mission statement, and hope this season rests on new manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. But there isn't exactly a great deal of talent here.

Spotlight on. Roy Oswalt needs seven wins to tie Joe Niekro for the franchise record of victories (144). If he passes Niekro, and if Houston doesn't contend? Expect more rumblings of a trade.

Final word. The Astros stay competitive for the bulk of the season, but they don't have the pitch- ing depth to keep up.

2009: 74-88, Fifth place.

Manager: Brad Mills, first season.

GM: Ed Wade.

Last playoff appearance: 2005.

Projected lineup

CF Michael Bourn
2B Kazuo Matsui
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
RF Hunter Pence
3B Pedro Feliz
C J.R. Towles
SS Tommy Manzella

Projected rotation

RH Roy Oswalt
LH Wandy Rodriguez
RH Brett Myers
RH Bud Norris
RH Felipe Paulino


Prediction: 5th

Outlook. With nine straight losing seasons, but in the same division as the historically bad Pirates (17 straight such campaigns), the Reds might be baseball's least noticed bad team. While they have some interesting players in Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, they don't even come close to looking like a contending team. Especially with manager Dusty Baker, who is well past being regarded as good at what he does.

Spotlight on. LHP Aroldis Chapman. The Reds paid the Cuban refugee $30 million to join them. Chapman experienced back problems late in the spring.

Final word. Make it an even 10 years of futility.

2009: 78-84, Fourth place.

Manager: Dusty Baker, third season, 152-172, .469; 16th season overall, 1,314-1,213, .520, one pennant.

GM: Walt Jocketty.

Last playoff appearance: 1990.

Projected lineup

CF Drew Stubbs
SS Orlando Cabrera
1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
3B Scott Rolen
RF Jay Bruce
LF Jonny Gomes
C Ramon Hernandez

Projected rotation

RH Aaron Harang
RH Bronson Arroyo
RH Johnny Cueto
RH Homer Bailey
LH Travis Wood


Prediction: 6th

Outlook. Pretend that someone handed you the Pirates' roster without telling you the team. Without bias, you'd pro- bably say, "Hey, at least the lineup has some po- tential, and the bullpen could be all right." The starting rotation? Yeesh. For Pittsburgh, under third-year president Frank Coonelly and GM Dave Littlefield, pro- gress has been very methodical, but present.

Spotlight on. 3B Pedro Alvarez, the prospect from the Bronx's Horace Mann High School, the second overall pick of the 2008 amateur draft, isn't quite ready yet.

Final word. Bless those Pirates fans who hang with 'em. The payoff, in a winning season, could come next year.

2009: 62-99, Last place.

Manager: John Russell, third season, 129-194, .399.

GM: Neal Huntington.

Last playoff appearance: 1992.

Projected lineup

2B Akinori Iwamura
CF Andrew McCutchen
RF Garrett Jones
C Ryan Doumit
1B Jeff Clement
LF Lastings Milledge
SS Ronny Cedeno
3B Andy LaRoche

Projected rotation

LH Paul Maholm
RH Ross Ohlendorf
LH Zach Duke
RH Charlie Morton
RH Daniel McCutchen

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