Sports writer Barry Svrluga analyzed the 2014 baseball season for The Washington Post. Here is how he sees the teams lining up in the National League’s Central Division:
1. St. Louis Cardinals
97-65, won division, lost to Boston in World Series
Manager: Mike Matheny, third season.
Biggest additions: The Cardinals’ offensive black hole was at shortstop, where He Who Shall Not Be Named (Pete Kozma) has been replaced by veteran free agent Jhonny Peralta. But the more intriguing acquisition was Cuban SS Aledmys Diaz, who agreed to a four-year deal of his own. Diaz, 23, will likely start the year at Class AA.
Biggest losses: 3B David Freese, hero of the 2011 World Series, was dealt to the Angels, and postseason stud Carlos Beltran signed with the Yankees.
Guy who makes the manager look good: Over the past two seasons, only four pitchers have thrown more innings, and only four have walked fewer per nine innings, than workhorse Adam Wainwright.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
94-68, second, lost to St. Louis in division series
Manager: Clint Hurdle, fourth season.
Biggest additions: A renaissance season – first winning record since 1992 – was followed by several departures. Veteran RHP Edinson Volquez arrives to fill a gap in the rotation, but he had a 5.71 ERA last year.
Biggest losses: Pick one: OF Marlon Byrd, RHP A.J. Burnett, 1B Justin Morneau, reliever Kyle Farnsworth and C John Buck.
Guy who makes the manager look good: NL MVP Andrew McCutchen hit .322/.402/.531 over the past two years and is just 27.
3. Cincinnati Reds
90-72, third, lost wild-card game to Pittsburgh
Manager: Bryan Price, first season.
Biggest additions: Price, who takes over for the fired Dusty Baker (two division titles in six seasons). Other additions were to their bench: IFs Skip Schumaker and Ramon Santiago and C Brayan Pena.
Biggest losses: The mainstays at the top of the order in Shin-Soo Choo and in their rotation in Bronson Arroyo, who threw at least 199 innings in each of his eight seasons with the Reds.
Guy who makes the manager look good: 1B Joey Votto has led the NL in OBP four straight seasons.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
Manager: Ron Roenicke, fourth season.
Biggest additions: RHP Matt Garza received a four-year, $50 million deal and OF Ryan Braun returns from his Biogenesis suspension.
Biggest losses: Lifelong Brewer Corey Hart signed with Seattle, but really, the remarkable thing is that Milwaukee returns with a similar – read: mediocre – team.
Guy who makes the manager look good: OF Carlos Gomez must match his career year of ’13, when he hit 24 homers and slugged .506.
5. Chicago Cubs
Manager: Rick Renteria, first season.
Biggest additions: After the worst two-year stretch in franchise history, Renteria – formerly San Diego’s bench coach – replaces Dale Sveum. And when former Marlins reserves SS Emilio Bonifacio and OF Justin Ruggiano amount to offseason acquisitions, he has his work cut out for him. Jose Veras, with 26 saves in eight seasons, becomes the closer.
Biggest losses: Any minuses from the ’13 roster are pluses.
Guy who makes the manager look good: 1B Anthony Rizzo and SS Starlin Castro have to. Sveum is gone partly because they regressed. Renteria must develop the core.