St. Louis Cardinals
Last season: 100-62 (1st)
Last World Series: 2013 (Lost to Red Sox)
Postseason potential: Since 2000, the Cardinals have made the postseason 12 times, including the past five seasons. Betting against them isn’t wise, but the deep and talented Cubs could force them to take the wild-card route in 2016. What makes the Cardinals scary, however, is that they won their third straight division title despite No. 1 starter Adam Wainwright missing most of the season due to injury. Mike Leake replaces John Lackey in the rotation behind Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, who combined to go 31-14 with sub-3.40 ERAs. Former TCU third baseman Matt Carpenter anchors a veteran lineup that too often relied on its pitching.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
Last season: 97-65 (3rd)
Last World Series: 1945 (Lost to Tigers)
Postseason potential: The Cubs’ hype entering this season is for good reason. They finished in third place last year, a game behind the second-place Pirates — who they promptly beat in the wild-card game before taking out the Cardinals in the NLDS and eventually being swept by the Mets in the NLCS. Their lineup is stacked with sluggers and their rotation, led by Cy Young winner and former TCU ace Jake Arrieta, is deep with veteran hurlers, including Jon Lester and John Lackey (from the Cardinals). Hector Rondon (30 saves) is a reliable closer.
Last season: 98-64 (2nd)
Last World Series: 1979 (Beat Orioles)
Postseason potential: While the Cardinals and Cubs get most of the preseason ink, the Pirates remain a steady contender for the division title with the best outfield in the majors — including center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.292 BA, 23 HR, 96 RBIs). Third baseman Jung Ho Kang proved to be as talented as he was in the Korean Baseball Organization, hitting .287 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs in his first season in the majors. Ace Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano are excellent, but the rest of the rotation is troubling. Closer Mark Melancon led the majors last season with 51 saves.
Last season: 64-98 (5th)
Last World Series: 1990 (Beat A’s)
Postseason potential: Nothing says starting over like dealing your two best pitchers, which is what the Reds did in 2015 when they traded Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. That means a young rotation will learn on the job, including former TCU left-hander Brandon Finnegan. Right-handers Anthony DeSclafani and Michael Lorenzen are the returning innings leaders but had ERAs of 4.05 and 5.40. First baseman Joey Votto (.314, 29 HR, 80) could use some help from second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Jay Bruce. Leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton (57 steals) is a weapon-in-waiting if he improves his on-base percentage (.274).
Last season: 68-94 (4th)
Last World Series: 1982 (Lost to Cardinals)
Postseason potential: Since losing the ’82 World Series, the Brewers have made the postseason twice (’08 and ’11). That is unlikely to change this season despite a lineup filled with many talented, young players. Jimmy Nelson, a second-round pick in 2010, showed signs of becoming a rotation leader and threw a team-high 177 1/3 innings last season. Former MVP Ryan Braun had a respectable season (25 homers, 84 RBIs) but has yet to return to his pre-2013 suspension form.