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Fantasy Baseball: Five Bold Predictions For The NL Central

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NL Central Bold Predictions

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The National League Central is an intriguing division from a fantasy baseball perspective due to the presence of many underrated players. Sports fans are familiar with the east coast bias but this typically refers to a lack of respect for teams out west. However, it’s hard to ignore the west with the Los Angeles Dodgers making headlines and the defending champion San Francisco Giants stationed in the pacific. As far as the National League is concerned, the central is the division that gets the least respect.

The 2013 central division may not have the flashy teams that bring the necessary attention but there are plenty of talented players for fantasy owners to take notice of. With the bottom-dweller Houston Astros sliding into the American League, there will be a new sense of parity in the central. The division is wide open and due to the talent that each team possesses, the 2013 crown is anyone’s for the taking.

Among the interesting story lines include the Pittsburgh Pirates pursuit of the elusive .500 mark, the youth movements of the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs seemingly headed in opposite directions and the Ryan Braun PED saga.

The favorite in the central is the Cincinnati Reds but they tend to be overlooked due to the fundamental nature of their ball club. Cincinnati continued to improve in the off-season and they are once again a contender to make a push toward a World Series.

Here are five bold fantasy predictions out of the National League Central.

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Andrew McCutchen will have a 30/30 season

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The responsibility of breaking the Pittsburgh Pirates streak of sub-.500 seasons rests squarely on the shoulders of Andrew McCutchen and he knows it. Pittsburgh’s improvement over the past three seasons has directly coincided with McCutchen's emergence as their star player. He finished his tremendous 2012 season with a .327 average and 31 home runs. Despite his progression, his stolen base total has slipped over those three seasons. He stole 20 bases last season but his career high is 33. McCutchen knows that he has to do whatever it takes to get Pittsburgh to the next level and that means his first 30/30 season.

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Shin-Soo Choo will lead the National League in runs

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The Cincinnati Reds finished just 21st in the league in runs last season but keep in mind that their top run producer, Joey Votto, missed two months of the season. Cincinnati also lacked a true leadoff hitter but they addressed that need in the off-season. Shin-Soo Choo has all of the qualities that team’s covet in a leadoff man: a knack of getting on base (a .381 career on-base percentage), speed (19 steals per year over his past four seasons) and patience (averages four pitches per at-bat). With big hitters lined up behind him and Choo constantly getting on base, he should cross the plate over 100 times.

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Shelby Miller will be the top rookie pitcher

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The best pitcher from the league’s best farm system just won a spot in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation. Shelby Miller has been a top-15 prospect for the past three years to go along with three major league ready pitchers. His fastball tops out in the upper-90’s and he puts people away with a wicked curveball and a great change-up to compliment his plus-fastball. Miller also has the benefit of working with the league’s top pitching coach in Dave Duncan. Miller should finish with double-digit wins while striking out close to 10 per nine innings.

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Kyle Lohse will finish with an ERA over 4.00

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Kyle Lohse has finished with impressive ERA’s each of the past two seasons, highlighted by a 2.86 ERA and 16 wins in 2012. Lohse cast his net into the free agency pool but came out empty until the end of spring training. Because he missed all of camp and only logged three innings in Spring Training, his stamina isn’t where the Milwaukee Brewers would have hoped. When money interferes with baseball, it rarely results well. Lohse has pitched great over the last two seasons but won’t warrant a roster space in fantasy this season.

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Anthony Rizzo will finish in the top-15 of the MVP voting

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs won’t be a competitor in 2013 but Anthony Rizzo will warrant the attention of MVP voters because of his significance to their club. After struggling in his initial big league stint, Rizzo took advantage of his second opportunity. Chicago needed a spark so they called up their top prospect at the mid-season mark. Rizzo answered the call by hitting 15 homers and driving in 48 runs. Rizzo displays an extreme calmness and comfort at the plate and his short swing will make him an all-star sooner than later. He could approach .300, 30 homers and 100 RBIs in 2013, numbers that will be far superior to his supporting cast.