ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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.
GM: John Mozeliak.
Last playoff appearance: Last season, lost to L.A. in NLDS, 3-0.
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.
Final word. With a rebound by Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs fight through September, but fall short of the playoffs.
2009: 83-78, Second place.
GM: Jim Hendry.
Last playoff appearance: 2008.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.