Moving right along with the 2010 outlook, I’ll take a look at the National League Central and American League Central divisions—always fun divisions to try to predict in March.

NL CENTRAL
1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Cubs
4. Brewers
5. Astros
6. Pirates

It should be clear that this is the Cardinals division to lose. If the Cards aren’t sitting on top of the NL Central come October, then something when drastically wrong in the injury department. St. Louis took the division last year by 7.5 over the games in 2009. In their 2010 projections, Baseball Prospectus has the widest gap between first and second place with the Cardinals predicted eight games ahead of the Cubs. And why not? The Cardinals were able to hold onto Matt Holliday in the offseason, who could have a monster year hitting in the same lineup as Albert Pujols for an entire season. Pujols is coming off a 47 homer, 135 RBI season with a ridiculous OBP of .443, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again because all he’s done in his career is put up superstar numbers. On the pitching side, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter look to be in the prime of their careers as they finished 3 and 2 in the running for the Cy Young in 2009, respectively.

The rest of the division is sort of spinning its wheels with the exception of the Reds, which could be a surprise team this year. The Reds threw a lot of money at Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman with hopes that he can be another piece in what could become a solid rotation. Joey Votto is on the cusp of taking the next step to the elite hitters while Jay Bruce needs to rebound for this team to challenge the Cardinals. I still like them in second place, but the 2-4 teams can be group in any order as they could all be within a couple of games of each other at season’s end. I’m not sold on the Cubs this year considering they weren’t very good last year, so I’m predicting a step back from them with guys like Alfonso Soriano appear to be breaking down.

The Brewers have two studs in the lineup in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but the rest of the starting nine is a bunch of a question marks. Can Braun and Fielder carry this team back to the postseason? As for the Astros, I think they will end up in last place (at least I hope), but they always seem to perform better than my expectations every single year so I have no idea what to expect from them. I have the Pirates in last place and will have more on that in a separate Pirates preview post later this week.

AL CENTRAL
1. White Sox
2. Twins
3. Tigers
4. Indians
5. Royals

I thought about this one for a while—Twins or White Sox? This AL Central will be another tight race, which is what we have come to expect from this division. Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit will once again come down to the wire, but as much I hate to write it, I think the White Sox will this division title.

I’m high on the Twins lineup, their moves this offseason and their pitching staff, but when it came time to make a decision the loss of Joe Nathan stood out for me. To think that a closer committee can fill the kind of production and consistency that Nathan provided the Twins over the years is illogical. This is a huge loss and can’t be overshadowed. And the White Sox will pitch, they have plenty of capable arms in a rotation stocked with the likes of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd plus the bullpen is solid as well.

In Motown, there was a lot of attention paid to the Tigers cutting payroll especially with the Granderson trade, but I think the Tigers could actually be better this year than in 2009. Max Scherzer is primed for a breakout season in his third season and teamed with ace Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, this could be a formidable rotation for years. A couple of questions I have with the Tigers is starting two true rookies (Austin Jackson in center field and Scott Sizemore at second base. Only four teams in MLB history have made the postseason with a rookie starting in CF. The numbers don’t lie, it’s just hard to win with rookies starting especially one that is slated to lead off and play center field. They will definitely be in the hunt though.

As far as the rest of the division is concerned, they’ll be on the outside looking in. I think the Indians will be better than most people expect to see. Grady Sizemore will rebound, Asdrubal Cabrera is primed for a breakout campaign and a couple of other young players in Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta will have chances to stand out for the Tribe. The pitching will struggle and that will likely be the downfall of the Indians in 2010. The Royals will be improved and they won’t go into too many slumps with Zack Greinke on the mound every fifth day, but they just don’t have enough fire power to contend this summer. A positive sign for 2010 and the Royals future would be Alex Gordon to shrug off a disastrous, injury-filled 2009 season to break out and be the complete hitter the Royals thought they were getting with the second overall pick in 2005.

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