Forecast: National League preview

National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals

David Schoenfield: The most well-rounded team in baseball, the Cardinals enter 2014 without any obvious weaknesses. The thing to like best about them is the depth across the 25-man roster, a big improvement from last year's World Series team, when a weak bench was exposed. The Cardinals lost Carlos Beltran to free agency and traded David Freese, but they have guys ready to step in. Kolten Wong and Mark Ellis will play second with fourth-in-the-MVP-voting Matt Carpenter moving back to third. Peter Bourjos was acquired to improve the defense in center, and rookie Oscar Taveras will be ready soon enough to take over right field. The rotation has plenty of depth behind ace Adam Wainwright and second-year righties Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. The bullpen is deep behind 100 mph closer Trevor Rosenthal. OK, if we're going to nitpick, the team's power could be an issue as it ranked just 13th in the NL in home runs in 2013. Still, the Cards are heavy favorites in the Central and a good bet to return to their third World Series in four years.

Jerry Crasnick @jcrasnick: File the Cardinals under an "embarrassment of riches." They have the best top-to-bottom lineup in the National League and the game's best two-way catcher in Yadier Molina. The bullpen is filled with gas throwers, and the rotation is so deep that Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez were staging a spirited competition for the No. 5 spot late into spring training. Jhonny Peralta will help lengthen out the batting order, and he's going to be better in the field than his reputation suggests. If Peter Bourjos can make enough strides at the plate to warrant 500 at-bats in center field, he's going to give the Cardinals a big lift with his defense and baserunning. One interesting development in camp: While mega-prospect Oscar Taveras was testing the Cardinals' patience with his halfhearted conditioning and questionable effort, former Stanford outfielder Stephen Piscotty made a big impression in Florida with his solid all-around play. If the Cardinals need to dip into the minors for a bat this summer and Taveras thinks he'll be the guy, he might be in for a wakeup call.

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