St. Louis Cardinals - 97-65 in 2013, 4.8 runs scored per game (3rd in MLB), 3.7 runs allowed per game (5th in MLB): It's hard to see the Cards being any worse than they were last year, with a big offensive upgrade at short (Jhonny Peralta over Pete Kozma) and a big defensive upgrade in center (Peter Bourjos over Jon Jay; Cardinals pitchers don't allow very many fly balls but the team has below-average fielders in left and right). Still, that ridiculous .330 batting average with runners in scoring position, by far the best since World War II (there aren't accurate statistics before then)? No way they keep that up. Prediction: Fewer runs scored, same number allowed, 94-68.
Pittsburgh Pirates - 94-68, 3.9 runs scored per game (20th in MLB), 3.6 runs allowed per game (2nd in MLB): Definitely the sport's feel-good story last season, but they haven't done anything to improve last year's club, they lost their workhouse starter (A.J. Burnett) via free agency, and it's hard to see the bullpen (2.89 ERA, third best in the majors) staying this good. Prediction: Same number of runs scored, more allowed, 86-76.
Cincinnati Reds - 90-72, 4.3 runs scored per game (12th in MLB), 3.6 runs allowed per game (4th in MLB): I honestly didn't know the Reds pitchers were that good last year. They'll have to replace departed Bronson Arroyo's 202 innings in the rotation and hope for continued health for Homer Bailey and Mat Latos; the Reds were the only NL team with three pitchers with 200+ innings pitched. On offense, the departure of Shin-Soo Choo, second in the NL in on base percentage (to teammate Joey Votto), means that only two players in the lineup (Votto and right fielder Jay Bruce) had an OBP above the league average of .315 last year. With flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman (provided he recovers from last night's scary injury) and speedster Billy Hamilton (provided he can get on base), this will still be a fun team to watch. Prediction: Fewer runs scored, more allowed, 83-79.
Milwaukee Brewers - 74-88, 4.0 runs scored per game (19th in MLB), 4.2 runs allowed per game (17th in MLB): The Brewers are kind of a trendy bounceback pick, but other than a likely full and productive season from Ryan Braun, I don't see much improvement in the lineup. There are still big questions at first (though it can't be worse than last year) and second, and third baseman Aramis Ramiriez turns 36 in June and missed 70 games last year. The addition of Matt Garza to the rotation helps. Prediction: More runs scored, fewer allowed, 79-83.
Chicago Cubs - 66-96, 3.7 runs scored per game (28th in MLB), 4.3 runs allowed per game (18th in MLB): The Cubs have a strong farm system but most of the prospects won't be at Wrigley this year. I'm predicting improvement largely because I don't think first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.233/.323/.419 slash line) and shortstop Starlin Castro (.245/.284/.347) can't be that bad again, can they? Prediction: More runs scored, same number allowed, 70-92.