USC
USC earns Rose Bowl berth, capping dramatic turnaround

Pittsburgh Pirates the team to beat in NL Central

Pirates picked to win NL Central, but never rule out the Cardinals

CENTRAL DIVISION

Pittsburgh Pirates

2014: 88-74, second place. Last year in playoffs: 2014.

The Pirates scored the most runs in the division last season and had the best earned-run average. None of the regulars is 30, and all but two reached double digits in home runs last year. They have the best all-around player in the league, Andrew McCutchen, and a power-hitting, versatile infielder on their bench in Jung Ho Kang, trying to become the first position player from South Korea to hit it big in the majors.

3B J. Harrison

RF G. Polanco

CF A. McCutchen

2B N. Walker

LF S. Marte

1B P. Alvarez

SS J. Mercer

C F. Cervelli

Rotation

RH G. Cole

RH A. Burnett

LH F. Liriano

RH C. Morton

LH J. Locke

Closer

RH M. Melancon

2. St. Louis Cardinals

2014: 90-72, first place. Last year in playoffs: 2014.

The Cardinals are the metronome of baseball — win, win, win, win, the only team to advance to the league championship series in each of the last four years. They integrate young players without rebuilding: Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are 23, Trevor Rosenthal and Kolten Wong 24. But Yadier Molina is 32, and he has caught at least 100 games in each of the last 10 years. John Lackey is 36, Matt Holliday 35 and Adam Wainwright 33. None of the regulars hit more than one home run in the Grapefruit League.

3B M. Carpenter

RF J. Heyward

LF M. Holliday

1B M. Adams

SS J. Peralta

C Y. Molina

CF J. Jay

2B K. Wong

Rotation

RH A. Wainwright

RH L. Lynn

RH M. Wacha

RH J. Lackey

RH C. Martinez

Closer

RH T. Rosenthal

3. Chicago Cubs

2014: 73-89, fifth place. Last year in playoffs: 2008.

The Cubs spent $25 million on Joe Maddon as manager and $155 million on Jon Lester as ace. That was the winter. The spring has not gone so well — the Wrigley Field bleachers won't be ready until May, because of construction delays, and the best player in camp won't make the team. Third baseman Kris Bryant, who hit nine home runs in 40 at-bats but will play a few weeks in the minor leagues so the Cubs can control him through 2021 instead of 2020. Miss a playoff spot by one game and this curse will be self-inflicted.

CF D. Fowler

LF C. Coghlan

SS S. Castro

1B A. Rizzo

RF J. Soler

C M. Montero

3B M. Olt

2B T. La Stella

Rotation

LH J. Lester

RH J. Arrieta

RH J. Hammel

RH K. Hendricks

LH T. Wood

Closer

RH H. Rondon

4. Cincinnati Reds

2014: 76-86, fourth place. Last year in playoffs: 2013.

This could be a summer of love in Cincinnati, with the first All-Star game there since 1988 and the possibility local icon Pete Rose could be reinstated by new Commissioner Rob Manfred. The Reds scored the fewest runs in the division last year, when Joey Votto sat out 100 games because of injury. Votto is back, but his $225-million contract limits the small-market Reds, who could not afford to keep Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, two of their top three starters.

CF B. Hamilton

3B T. Frazier

1B J. Votto

C D. Mesoraco

LF M. Byrd

RF J. Bruce

2B B. Phillips

SS Z. Cozart

Rotation

RH J. Cueto

RH H. Bailey*

RH M. Leake

RH A. DeSclafani

RH J. Marquis

Closer

LH A. Chapman

5. Milwaukee Brewers

2014: 82-80, third place. Last year in playoffs: 2011.

The Brewers had the best record in the NL on July 4. They led the division from the first week of the season through the last day of August. But they lost 22 of their last 31 games and missed the postseason. The Brewers cast their lot with Ryan Braun when Prince Fielder would not stay, and they owe Braun $117 million through 2020. His OPS: .987 in 2012, .869 in 2013, .777 in 2014. Is this about rehabilitating his thumb injury, or the aftermath of Biogenesis?

CF C. Gomez

C. J. Lucroy

RF R. Braun

3B A. Ramirez

1B A. Lind

LF K. Davis

2B S. Gennett

SS J. Segura

Rotation

RH K. Lohse

RH M. Garza

RH W. Peralta

RH M. Fiers

RH J. Nelson

Closer

RH F. Rodriguez

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