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         The pitching dominated NL Central got even more dominating as Houston, Chicago and St. Louis all made moves to improve their teams. Meanwhile the other three teams got even more worse than last season. While Cincinati made strides at improvement, Milwaukee lost Richie Sexson and Geoff Jenkins reamins on the trading block. Pittsburgh as attempted to improve, but are stuck with players like Jason Kendall. The division is divided in half, and there will be two races, one of first place and one for last place. Houston and Pittsburgh are my favorites.
 
The Cubs have it going there way in the division. On the vege of acquiring Mddux to a young but amazing staff. They already have Sosa and a strong offsense. The curse might end this season, but it probably won't because the Astros may turn out to be even stronger.
The Cardinals led by a big middle of the lineup power offense have a chance to get back in the playoffs in 2004 as most likely a wild-card. There staff just doesn't meet up to the Astros and Cubs , but is still tremendous. A solid bullpen plus a good defense makes this team very good all around.
The Astros have never won a series in the playoffs, but that could change with an amzing and revamped staff, a great pen even without B. Wagner. Their power-hitting lineup with Biggio at the top stays the same, but is aging. Still, the Astros should claim the Central Pennant.
The Pirates with a small payroll and the heavy contract of Jason Kendall are going nowhere. The young lineup may feature 3 or 4 future all-stars. maybe in 2006, but for now a good, young staff, makeshift bullpen wil probably not do much good.
The Brewers with a very low-budget do have an ok offense and strong young staff, but they need time to devbelop. In a couple of years with a couple veterans they could start to contend. But right now most of the players are unproven and are built around Geoof Jenkins, who should be gone after this season.
The Reds were awful last year and didn't do that much to be unawful. They dod have a very strong young core and a veteran captain. but even with Griffey, this team isn't going to contend for now. The rotation and pen are question marks that will probably remain that way all year.
CENTRAL - RACE W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA STRK L10
x- Chicago Cubs 88 74 .543 - 44-37 44-37 725 683 Lost 1 6-4
Houston 87 75 .537 1 48-33 39-42 805 677 Won 1 4-6
St. Louis 85 77 .525 3 48-33 37-44 876 796 Won 2 7-3
Pittsburgh 75 87 .463 13 39-42 36-45 753 801 Won 1 4-6
Cincinnati 69 93 .426 19 35-46 34-47 694 885 Lost 1 4-6
Milwaukee 68 94 .420 20 31-50 37-44 714 873 Lost 1 3-7

2004 NL CENTRAL PREDICTED FINISH:

ESPN Image

Team-by-Team Outlook:
(Players in BOLD are offseason acquisitions)
 
Chicago Cubs:Sammy Sosa belted his first home runs since returning from the DL on June 18.
Manager:Dusty Baker
Lineup:                      
           -2B   Patterson-CF Sosa-RF -LF         Ramirez-3B  Lee-1B      
Garciaparra-SS Barrett-C    
Rotation:
             Maddux     Clement    Zambrano   Prior             Wood
Bullpen:
             Leicester    Hawkins-R  Remlinger-L Wellemeyer Mercker Rusch           
Dempster  Mitre        Wuertz    Farnsworth Will Ohman John Koronka
Bench:
           Bako-L     Martinez(DL)   Walker     Goodwin    Macias
Grieve       Perez        Dubois
Added: Hitting coach Gene Clines, 3B coach Chris Speier
Lost: 3B Coach Wendell Kim, Mike DiFelice, Calvin Murray, Moises Alou, Mark Grudzielanek
Offseason Grade: Coming in March

Cincinnati Reds:Dave Miley earned a one-year deal with an option for 2005 from the Reds this winter.
Manager:Dave Miley
Lineup:          
            Jimenez-2B  -SS  Pena- CF Kearns-RF   Casey-1B   Dunn-LF    
LaRue-C     Castro-3B  
Rotation:
              Harang      Acevedo   Claussen     Hudson     Valentine
Bullpen:
            Hancock    Reidling      Wagner   Norton         White    Kozlowski
Van Poppel  Graves        Wilson  Todd Coffey Brian Shackelford
Bench:
           Valentin        Lopez    Bragg         Freel      Machado
Spring Training NRIs:
Romano
Added: Ben Kozlowski,
Lost: Jacob Cruz, John Vander Wal, Aaron Myette, Mike Matthews, Juan Padilla, Corky Miller, Barry Larkin
Offseason Grade: Coming in March

Houston Astros:Roger Clemens is a leading contender to start Opening Day.
Manager:Phil Garner
Lineup:               
           Biggio-RF  Bruntlett-SS Bagwell-1B  -2B     Berkman-LF Beltran-CF 
 
Ensberg-3B Ausmus-C     
Rotation:
             Clemens      Oswalt         Backe
Bullpen:
            Harville           Lidge    Springer      Gallo        Wheeler
                
Munro          Qualls         Taveras   Redding       Duckworth  Oliver           Miceli
Pettitte        Hernandez
Bench:
         Vizcaino      Palmeiro       Lane     Lamb       Chavez        Burke           Alfaro
                
Tremie     Everett
Added:
Lost: Jeff Kent,
Offseason Grade: Coming in March

Milwaukee Brewers:Junior Spivey poses with fans at the "Brewers On Deck," the team's FanFest.
Manager:Ned Yost
Lineup:                   
      Podsednik-CF -SS Branyan-2B   Jenkins-LF   Helms-3B Overbay-1B
 
-RF   -C
Rotation:              
               Sheets     Davis      Santos        Liriano       Obermueller   Capuano
Bullpen:
           Kolb            Vizcaino   Bennett       Wise      Hendrickson  Kieschnick
 Glover      Narron       Derrick Turnbow
Bench:
        Moeller           Clark         Hall     Magruder      Ginter          De La Rosa
Spivey
Spring Training NRIs:
Matt Erickson
Added: Derrick Turnbow,
Lost: Craig Counsell, Gary Bennett,
Offseason Grade: Coming in March

Pittsburgh Pirates:
Manager:Llyod McClendon
Lineup:
         Redman-CF  Wilson-SS Kendall-C   Bay-LF  Macowiak-3B Wilson-RF
Ward-1B    Castillo-2B
Rotation:                
           Brooks        Fogg        Perez           Vogelsong  
Bullpen:
            Mesa       Meadows     Torres      Gonzalez
player photo           player photo
Grabow     Van Benschoten Wells       Snell
Bench:
         Nunez         Hill          Alvarez        Wigginton Cota        House       
Sanchez       Alavrez  Ronny Paulino
Added:
Lost: Nelson Figueroa, Mark Corey
Offseason Grade: Coming in March

St. Louis Cardinals:Chris Carpenter is tied for the team lead with eight victories.
Manager:Tony LaRussa
Lineup:
              Womack-2B  Walker-LF Pujols-1B Edmonds-CF Rolen-3B Renteria-SS 
 Sanders-RF Matheny-C
Rotation:
                  Williams        Marquis      Morris       Suppan
Bullpen:
                 Isringhausen King           Eldred          Calero
        
Tavarez         Haren          Kline         
Bench:
             Anderson     Luna           Mabry            Cedeno      Taguchi      Seabol
Added: Butler, Suppan, Sanders, Tavarez, Lankford, Anderson, Brown, Prieto, Quinn, Mabry, Rust, King, Marquis, Wainwright
Lost: Tino Martinez, Drew, Marrero, Hitchcock, Fassero, Vina, Perez, Cairo, Stechshutle, DejEan, Nunally, Tomko, Palmeiro, Yan
Improved: Bullpen, Rotation
Downgraded: Lineup?
Offseason Grade: 6 out of 10, did a good job improving while lowering payroll, did lose guys like Drew but still should contend, another starter could help

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