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NL Central Division preview

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Chicago Cubs

At one point this spring, Carlos Silva was tussling with Aramis Ramirez in the Cubs dugout. At one point this spring, Silva was fighting for a spot in the Cubs rotation. By the end of spring, Silva wasn't even on the Cubs roster, losing out to young Andrew Cashner, who will be the team's fifth starter. The Cubs also decided that young Darwin Barney could be their second baseman, and that Randy Wells would be the fourth starter. They also picked a new public address announcer for Wrigley Field. And, it appears, they avoided any more fights in the dugout, although Silva did rip new pitching coach Mark Riggins on his way out the door. All in all, you'd have to say it was a productive spring. -- Danny Knobler

Knobler: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

Cincinnati Reds

The more I saw this spring -- Adam Wainwright down in St. Louis, Zack Greinke down in Milwaukee -- the more I thought Cincinnati is the solid favorite in the NL Central. The Reds have depth and talent. They led the NL in runs last year, Joey Votto is capable of winning another MVP award, Brandon Phillips is Twitter-licious, Scott Rolen still catches everything at third and Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs will only get better. Key thing here is the depth in the rotation -- though that will be severely tested early. Right-handers Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey will open on the disabled list, and Bronson Arroyo contracted mononucleosis. Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood and Mike Leake should be three reliable hands -- especially Volquez -- but the Cueto and Bailey developments thin the depth a bit. If they're short-term things, the Reds remain the favorites. -- Scott Miller

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Miller: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

Houston Astros

Early in camp, the Astros lost promising catcher Jason Castro to a season-ending knee injury. Late in camp, the Astros lost starting shortstop Clint Barmes to a broken hand that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks. This is a team that could not afford to lose players, especially not potentially good young players like Castro. But this is also a team that badly needs a new owner, so maybe this spring will be a big success, after all. In the final week of camp, the Houston Chronicle reported that Drayton McLane is close to selling the team to local businessman Jim Crane. It has already been a spring of change with the Astros, with Hunter Pence becoming the face of the team now that Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt are gone. A new owner could make things even better. -- Knobler

Knobler: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

Milwaukee Brewers

When they traded for Zack Greinke, the Brewers basically went "all-in" on this season, which is almost certainly their last year with Prince Fielder at first base. That just makes it even more worrisome that their spring was so rocky, with Greinke, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and right fielder Corey Hart all suffering injuries that will land them on the disabled list on opening day. Relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Manny Parra won't be ready on opening day, either. The Brewers were a thin team, anyway, after the winter trades for Greinke and Shaun Marcum, which is why they acquired Sergio Mitre from the Yankees in the final days of camp. -- Knobler

Knobler: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

Pittsburgh Pirates

It would be easier to watch the Pirates if Andrew McCutchen could hit leadoff and third in the order. A little easier, anyway. New manager Clint Hurdle seems to have decided to hit McCutchen third, at least to begin the year. It says a lot about McCutchen that he could probably be successful in either spot. It says a lot about the Pirates that even if they could bat him in both spots, they'd still probably be heading for a 19th straight losing season. At least the mood in Bradenton was better this spring, with Hurdle bringing some needed enthusiasm. -- Knobler

Knobler: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

St. Louis Cardinals

Albert Pujols ended contract negotiations. Adam Wainwright needed Tommy John surgery. It was a disaster of a couple of weeks for the Cardinals, at the start of spring training. Things did get better, to the point where the Cardinals again look like a strong contender in the National League Central. Kyle McClellan grabbed the vacant spot in the rotation, and looked good doing it. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook had strong springs, as well. The farm system even looked a little stronger, because Matt Carpenter had such a strong spring. And Pujols started looking like himself at the plate. There are still some concerns, because Jaime Garcia had a terrible spring, and Lance Berkman struggled, as well. But a disaster? No, it's not a disaster. -- Knobler

Knobler: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

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