Not until I started thinking about it today, but if there's any division in baseball where a surprise could occur....The NL Central is where it could be located. The Cubs and Astros are being rebuilt from scratch by sabermetrically-inclined front offices. The Cards and Brewers are licking wounds from huge losses to their offenses with the AL-bound Prince Fielder & Albert Pujols and the possibility of NL MVP Ryan Braun starting the 2012 season on the suspended list for a PED suspension. Cincinatti seems comfortable to mortgage some of their future in hopes that they finally have a "real" ace-level pitcher in Mat Latos.
That leaves the Pittsburgh Pirates....the team that always seems like they're on the right track in ending their near-20 yr Losing Season drought, but end up having something happen and it only continues. Neal Huntington is the NL-version of Kansas City's Dayton Moore. The "process" doesn't always give the results that you imagined. They try very hard to sway free agent talent into wanting to go to Pittsburgh and play in beautiful PNC park, yet it always seems that they're more likely to sign a player that is trying to redeem themselves and getting another big-money contract in the future. Erik Bedard, Clint Barmes, Jose Mijares and Casey McGeehee are their top acquisitions this offseason, thus far, and they even made a push for Free Agency's #3 SP Edwin Jackson(only to lose out to Washington).
Yet, for some odd reason, 2011's surprising push that led to ultimate disappointment for the Pirates may be the start of something for the franchise. It could be a lesson that their younger core of players needed to learn before they could make the move from "pretenders" to "contenders". Lesson is "Don't rest on your laurels, while you have success now...it could always go up in smoke in an instant".
Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchenson are very good players and the core of the Pittsburgh offense. They tasted what it was like to be a winner....for a half season. I'm sure that they'd likely trade anything to achieve that feeling again. To go from one of baseball's biggest underdogs to become one of baseball's "surprise stories" and "SHOCK THE WORLD" like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays did.
Worst to first, worst to first....Ingredients: A somewhat young core of players who want to win...CHECK. Add a few key veterans...CHECK. Hope for a "perfect storm" within the division(Losses to perennial contenders that open playoff window just enough for other teams who are unlikely to ever get shot to contend)....CHECK
If the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates make their big playoff run, I will not be at all surprised. SHOCK THE WORLD, BUCCOS!