There is always a chance the National League champion comes out of this division, as four of the past nine participants have. And this year could be no different. The Reds have gotten better by adding Shin-Soo Choo, the Cardinals are always in the hunt and the Brewers are coming off a strong second half.

Cincinnati Reds

2012 season: 97-65 (first in NL Central; lost in NLDS)

New faces: OF Shin-Soo Choo, LHP Manny Parra, INF Cesar Izturis, INF Jack Hannahan

2013 outlook: The reigning division champs have a strong bullpen with Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Broxton at the back end, and also bolstered their lineup by trading for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and re-signing Ryan Ludwick. And they have a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto and arguably the best second baseman in the game, Brandon Phillips.

St. Louis Cardinals

2012 season: 88-74 (second, NL Central; lost in NLCS)

New faces: LHP Randy Choate, INF/OF Ty Wigginton, SS Ronny Cedeno

2013 outlook: The Cardinals didn’t miss a beat with the loss of Albert Pujols last season, so it’s hard to see them taking a step back without ace Chris Carpenter. Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday form the heart of the lineup, while Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook lead the rotation.

Milwaukee Brewers

2012 season: 83-79 (third, NL Central)

New faces: RHP Kyle Lohse, LHP Mike Gonzalez, RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Tom Gorzelanny

2013 outlook: The Brewers had a relatively quiet off-season until reaching a three-year deal with Kyle Lohse, which should make them contenders once again. Ryan Braun remains one of the top players in the game, and Yovani Gallardo has established himself as a front-line starter. They also finished last season by winning 20 of their final 31 games.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2012 season: 79-83 (fourth, NL Central)

New faces: LHP Francisco Liriano, C Russell Martin, INF Ivan De Jesus Jr., RHP Mark Melancon

2013 outlook: The Pirates have started strong the past two seasons only to falter down the stretch. They hope to sustain it this season and make the playoffs for the first time since 1992. But the thought here is they are poised for another fade, although Andrew McCutchen is one of the best players in the game.

Chicago Cubs

2012 season: 61-101(fifth, NL Central)

New faces: RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, OF Nate Schierholtz

2013 outlook: They have a plan in place under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, but this is not the year they turn the corner. They will be more competitive, though, by adding right-hander Edwin Jackson and former Rangers long reliever Scott Feldman to the rotation.

— Fort Worth Star-Telegram