- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Capsules of National League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:


St. Louis Cardinals

2013: 97-65, first place (lost World Series to Boston).

Manager: Mike Matheny (third season).

He’s Here: SS Jhonny Peralta, CF Peter Bourjos, INF Mark Ellis, OF Randall Grichuk, OF Oscar Taveras, RHP Jorge Rondon, assistant batting coach David Bell.

He’s Outta Here: OF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Freese, RHP Edward Mujica, RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Jake Westbrook, OF Adron Chambers, OF Brock Peterson, RHP Fernando Salas, RHP John Axford, INF Ryan Jackson.

Projected Lineup: 3B Matt Carpenter (.318, 11 HRs, 78 RBIs, .392 OBP; led MLB with 199 hits, 126 runs and 55 doubles), SS Jhonny Peralta (.303, 11, 55 in 107 games with Tigers), LF Matt Holliday (.300, 22, 94, .389 OBP), RF Allen Craig (.315, 13, 97, MLB-best .454 average with RISP), C Yadier Molina (.319, 12, 80), 1B Matt Adams (.284, 17, 51 in 108 games), 2B Kolten Wong (.153, 0, 0 in 59 ABs), CF Peter Bourgos (.274, 3, 12 in 175 ABs with Angels).

Rotation: RH Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA, 223 Ks, NL-high 241 2-3 IP), RH Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78 in 15 games, 9 starts; NLCS MVP), RH Shelby Miller (15-9, 3.06 in 31 starts, led MLB rookies in wins), RH Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97), RH Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 in 37 games, 15 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Trevor Rosenthal (2-4, 2.74 ERA, 3/8 saves), RH Carlos Martinez (2-1, 5.08 in 21 games, 1 start), RH Seth Maness (5-2, 2.32, 16 GIDP in 62 IP), LH Randy Choate (2-1, 2.29 in 64 games), LH Kevin Siegrist (3-1, 0.45, 39 2-3 IP, 17 hits, 50 Ks, 18 BBs).

Hot Spots: The pitching staff is brimming with young arms, with Wacha, Miller, Rosenthal, Martinez, Maness and Siegrist all coming off big rookie debuts. Kelly won the fifth spot in the rotation during spring training and Martinez was put in the bullpen as the setup man. The trade of Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP, to the Angels opened a spot for Wong, a first-round pick in 2011, with Carpenter moving from second base to third. Ellis is a viable veteran alternative at second if Wong falters.

Outlook: A team that’s been to the World Series twice in the last three years looks primed for another postseason run. St. Louis is deep enough to perhaps postpone the debut of Taveras, a top minor league prospect, and keep monitoring the workload for all those young arms. Wainwright finished second in NL Cy Young Award balloting and Wacha missed a no-hitter by one out in his final regular-season start, then was sensational in the postseason. Jaime Garcia is a question mark coming off shoulder surgery but there’s an abundance of backup starting options. Peralta fills the biggest void, replacing the light-hitting combination of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso. Bourjos adds a much-needed base-stealing threat and is considered among the top defenders in center field. After missing 2013 due to reconstructive elbow surgery, Jason Motte returns in the bullpen.


Pittsburgh Pirates

2013: 94-68, second place (beat Reds in wild-card game, lost to Cardinals in division series).

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