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With the pitchers and catchers warming up, we will do the Central Division this week and finish up with the East next time.

NL Central: This division has been extremely competitive in the past year. A wildcard team could come from any of the rest of these teams except for the Cubbies. Sorry, Jerry. Here’s my rating in order of finish.

St. Louis: The best description for the Cards is they are solid. They needed an outfielder and added Peter Bourjus. Their starters are solid, their bullpen is solid. The have the best catcher in baseball with Yadie Molina and a manager, Mike Matheny, who keeps everything calm and on an even keel.

Cincinnati: The Reds have Joey Votto at first, still have Brandon Phillips so far at second. They are adding an impact player in Billy Hamilton, who moves into centerfield; expect him to steal a lot of bases. Finally, there’s Aroldis Chapman with his 100-plus mph fastball closing out games. Plus manager Bryan Price is in his first year at the helm.

Pittsburgh: My “Bucco’s” change very little from last year but probably suffer a big loss in AJ Burnett who was their ace and clubhouse leader. Was 2013 their first winning season in over 20 years a prediction for the future or the exception? Andrew McCutcheon needs to repeat his MVP season; look for the promotion of Gregory Polanco in mid-season. Pitcher Gerrit Cole is a rising star.

Milwaukee: Another team with big question marks. First, what kind of player will Ryan Braun be now that the PED’s are in his past? Second, the Brewers spent a lot of money to add Matt Garza to their rotation. Is he healthy enough to play a full season?

Chicago: Cubs fans will come out, and good for them. They would have filled the stands even if finishing second in the Tanaka sweepstakes, losing out to the Yanks. The Cubbies have a great farm system and will be a team to contend with down the road, but not this year.

AL Central: This is going to be a fun division to watch. Detroit is clearly the class, but places 2 to 5 are up for grabs.

There are a lot of young players looking to make statements that they belong in the big leagues.

Detroit: The best starting rotation in baseball? Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez are as good as you will find. This year the bullpen got a big boost with the addition of Joe Nathan who fills the closer role they lacked last year. The loss of Prince Fielder puts Miguel Cabrera at first base and gives the rookie Nick Castellanos a chance to win the third base spot. Fielder is a loss but the biggest setback is the retirement of future Hall of Fame manager “Smoking” Jim Leyland.

Cleveland: The year of the tribe? Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, two very good young hurlers, think so. Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis, who lead the young lineup think so. Asdrubal Cabrera is one of the best young shortstops in baseball and he thinks so. This team came close last year and has the potential to be there this year. We’re on the Tribe.

Kansas City: Most expected better from KC last year but this may be the season they make some noise. Their young players, like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakis and Eric Hosmer, could all have break out seasons. The Royals need to grab a wild card spot this year to be considered a success. Last year was a major disappointment to the KC fans.

Chicago: The “Pale Hose” will celebrate the final year of Paul Konerko’s tenure. Konerko is a class act who wants to go out with a good year. The big addition to their lineup is first baseman Jose Abreu from Cuba. Expect power hitter stats from him. The lineup is good and the pitching staff is led by All Star Chris Sale.

Minnesota: The Twins spent a good bit of cash upgrading their pitching staff. They added Phil Hughes, a free agent from the Yanks, and Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins/Dodgers. The lineup moves Joe Mauer to first base and Kurt Suzuki moves in to the catcher’s role.

Next week: The preseason windup plus, hopefully, some OVER/UNDER win totals.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper.  Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].

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