If you listen to the various pundits out there, the St. Louis Cardinals are predicted by many to finish no better than second to the Cincinnati Reds. Even the Post-Dispatch's Jeff Gordon is calling this a "transition" year for the Cards, as they deal with season-ending injuries to Rafael Furcal and Chris Carpenter, while also breaking in youngsters like Shelby Miller and Matt Carpenter.
While its true that the Cardinals are going through a transition phase, I do not think that should preclude them from competing for the NL Central title.
First of all, the Cardinals finished with the second best offense, in terms of runs scored, in the NL last year and I do not see them slipping any this year. Allen Craig will be hitting from day one this year and, once David Freese is healthy, Matt Carpenter will shift over to second to boost the offense at that position. The loss of Rafael Furcal hurts a little, but after his strong April and May last year, he was really a non-factor.