Surprisingly, the National League Central Still Plays Baseball

By Chris Hengst

No matter how hard baseball tries, they can’t seem to get rid of the National League Central. Six teams, wilting in the flyover states, while the West and East divisions in the senior circuit draw the headlines.

Tim Lincecum‘s penchant for Mary Jane? Analysts ride the story for three weeks of coverage.

Cole Hamels, the third best starter in the Phillies rotation, and his contract talks? “IS HE OR IS HE NOT LEAVING SO I KNOW WHEN TO BOO” says the City of Brotherly Love.

But the measly Central? It only garners a following when the greatest player of his generation decides he’s had enough of Cardinal red and swaps it out for California sunshine.

Nevermind St. Louis produced two World Series championship runs in six years, lost another in 2004 and watched as divisional foe Houston fell in 2005.

They still play baseball in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Houston. Well, perhaps not the latter as organically as the others but the ball is thrown and hit, usually into the stands at Minute Maid just like the rest.

ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBS each posted their 2012 predictions and wouldn’t you know it? The National League Central might as well be the Rodney Dangerfield of Major League Baseball.

49 folks at the World Wide Leader picked pennant winners. Ten chose a Central club to make the World Series. Only two, both selecting the Cardinals to repeat, figured they’d hoist the trophy over the American League.

At Sports Illustrated, yes they still offer content beyond Kate Upton, eight prognosticators used their Fall Classic foresight. One of those eight picked a Central member and again, it was the Cardinals.

CBS Sports also tabbed eight experts and two chose Central pennant winners. St. Louis and in an upset, Cincinnati as well. No word on whether the Reds could afford to travel by plane to World Series locales, considering Joey Votto‘s new contract.

Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa are no longer Cardinals. Neither is Stan Musial but that didn’t coincide with the end of the franchise.

Prince Fielder traded the brews of Milwaukee for the bankruptcy of Detroit. That sterling rotation still lives in Wisconsin though.

Chicago may not improve dramatically in year one but Theo Epstein‘s tenure means better baseball is ahead, hopefully without the pink hats this time.

Cincinnati is working on keeping Brandon Phillips, already locked in Votto and may just run away with the division if they can stop challenging the Cardinals to MMA fights.

Pittsburgh, a beneficiary of choosing in the top five of the Draft for almost two decades, even shows a little promise.

The same can’t be said of Houston but this team is headed for the American League West. That’s like leaving the Big East for the SEC.

Smart money and wise predictions force these pre-season previews to widely ignore the National League Central.

Do so at your own peril though, the division has a tendency to turn 89-game regular season winners into October behemoths.

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