MLB | National league

Deep Cardinals figure to be in the running again

How they’ll finish from top to bottom in the National League:

1. Cardinals (100-62): After winning their fourth pennant in the past 10 years St. Louis has young talent all over the roster and a deep farm system. Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller were the young guys who made big impacts last year. Second baseman Kolton Wong and top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras — when he is called up — will be those guys this year.

2. Dodgers (95-67): It sure is nice to have a big budget and all that TV money. It seems all that could stop the Dodgers from repeating as West champions and making a push for the World Series are injuries or Yasiel Puig’s disruptions.

3. Nationals (92-70): Doug Fister’s arrival from Detroit only makes what was already a top-notch rotation deeper and better. A healthy Bryce Harper appears ready to make a run at the MVP trophy.

4. Braves (90-72): Injuries and departures to the starting rotation could force Atlanta out of the playoff picture. The offense, which didn’t get much out of B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla and still finished fourth in runs scored, is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting.

5. Reds (86-76): They look like the most vulnerable playoff team from a year ago after losing leadoff hitter Shin Soo-Choo to Texas and not doing much in free agency. Staff ace Johnny Cueto made only 11 starts, and Todd Frazier, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick underperformed.

6. Pirates (85-77): A team that won 94 games, ended a long playoff drought and lost a tough divisional series to the Cardinals in five games returns pretty much intact. But the Pirates scored only 634 runs last season, sixth-fewest in the NL despite Andrew McCutchen‘s MVP campaign. They might need some of their young talent in the farm system to step up and deliver.

7. Giants (80-82): There has been little turnover from the 2012 World Series team, and the hope is players who had lousy 2013 seasons will turn it around. But the reality is that the Giants are getting older and not necessarily better.

8. Padres (76-86): The West was the only division with just one winning team. The Padres at least had a winning second half and went 16-11 in September — all that with a banged-up lineup. With health, and Andrew Cashner at the top of the rotation, they should improve.

9. Brewers (75-87): Ryan Braun’s return from his PED suspension should help Milwaukee improve after posting its worst record since 2004. Carlos Gomez’s 8.9 wins above replacement rating in 2013 equaled Mike Trout’s in the AL. Khris Davis in left field, makes the Brew Crew outfield exciting.

10. Diamondbacks (74-88): After back-to-back 81-win seasons Arizona got Mark Trumbo for added pop. But ace Patrick Corbin was lost for the season, and there isn’t much in the way of starting rotation depth.

11. Phillies (71-91): The win totals have gone from 102 to 81 to 73 as injuries, age and missed games have increased. The team scored only 610 runs in 2013, its fewest since 1988.

12. Marlins (70-92): They had the worst offensive team in the NL a year ago and lost 100 games. Only nine players on the team’s Opening Day 25-man roster are back, led by two of the best young stars in baseball in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.

13. Mets (69-93): No Matt Harvey on the mound this year, but there’s hope for the future with Zach Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. There will be growing pains though.

14. Rockies (68-94): Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can’t seem to get through seasons anymore without injuries. Reigning NL batting champion Michael Cuddyer is due for regression as he hits age 35. A third last place finish in a row seems in store.

15. Cubs (65-97): About the best thing you can say about the North Siders is that their farm system is ranked second by Baseball Prospectus. Outside of Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Welington Castillo, the foundation for the future will still be in the minors.

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