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It could be division championship or bust for St. Louis' playoff hopes in 2015

If the St. Louis Cardinals hope to make the playoffs in 2015, they're likely going to have to do it the old fashioned way: By winning their division.

With improvements to the San Diego Padres in the National League West and to the Washington Nationals and New York Mets in the National League East, wildcard playoff berths might be difficult to come by in the upcoming season.

The Padres basically completely overhauled their team this off-season with huge additions to the offense and pitching. Meanwhile the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite the loss of Hanley Ramirez, and the San Francisco Giants, who will have to find offense lost in the free agent defection of Pablo Sandoval, both have plenty of pitching to contend for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Nationals added former Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to an already imposing pitching staff to make them a lot of pundits' choice to represent the National League in the World Series. While the Atlanta Braves have faded in a rebuilding period, the Mets' pitching staff is good enough to make New York a factor in the wild card race and the Miami Marlins have improved a promising young club with some veteran additions.

On the bright side, besides a splashy move on the part of the Chicago Cubs to sign free agent pitcher Jon Lester, the National League Central Division seemed to be stuck in reverse over the winter.

The Wee Bears are incrementally improved. But they have a shallow rotation and an inexperienced -- but highly touted -- offense. So it seems they're still a year or two away from truly being competitive.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds subtracted pitching while the Pittsburgh Pirates lost their on the field leader in catcher Russell Martin.

So, the path to the playoffs could be a clear one.

But there will probably be only one route available, winning outright.

St. Louis needs to get over its trend over the last couple of seasons of playing down to the level of the competition. It would also be nice to get off to a fast start instead of having to fight until the last day of the season to try to win their division like last year.

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