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Insider

Path to the playoffs for every NL Central team

Jake Arrieta needs to prove he is still a No. 1 starter. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

For the first time since 2010, the National League Central had just one team make the postseason. You might remember what happened there. It might seem easy to line up the division as the Cubs and everyone else, but two of the other four teams have reasonable paths to the playoffs.

Chicago Cubs

2016: 103-58, +252 run differential, won World Series

2017 projected record from FanGraphs: 95-67

Key moves so far: traded OF Jorge Soler to Royals for P Wade Davis; signed OF Jon Jay; signed P Koji Uehara; lost FA CF Dexter Fowler and P Aroldis Chapman

When Theo Epstein was hired after the 2011 season to run the club's baseball operations, his initial plan was clear: Build around young position players and fill in the pitching staff as needed. I think the plan worked. With that young foundation of 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant; Anthony Rizzo, who was fourth in MVP voting the past two seasons; Addison Russell; Javier Baez; Kyle Schwarber; and Willson Contreras, the Cubs will be favorites not just to repeat as NL Central champs but also to repeat as World Series champs -- something an NL team hasn't accomplished since the 1975-76 Reds.

If you're looking for motivation, that's a pretty good target: The 2016 Cubs broke the franchise's 108-year title drought. The 2017 Cubs can become a legendary, all-time great team.

The FanGraphs projection has the Cubs and Dodgers as the best teams right now, with 95 wins. That's eight fewer wins than the Cubs had in 2016, with regression predicted on both offense and defense:

Offense: 4.99 runs scored per game to 4.76

Defense: 3.43 runs allowed per game to 3.97

I'm more worried about the pitching staff. It's likely that Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester both had career seasons in 2016, and all five starters made at least 29 starts. Can this team have the same good health, let alone the same results?