For the better part of the last decade, the St. Louis Cardinals have been a model of consistency. That was until they faltered last year at the hands of the Chicago Cubs and missed the postseason for the first time since 2010. For the most part, the Cardinals' success has flown under the radar thanks in large part to teams and fans underestimating them since they don't exactly boast a star-studded roster.
The Cardinals finished last season with a record of 86-76, which was good enough for second in the NL Central but bad enough to keep them 17.5 games behind the first-place Cubbies. Many believe there are several question marks surrounding the lineup being projected for the 2017 season, including but not limited to the production of the bottom part of the order (Jhonny Peralta, Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong), the ability for Dexter Fowler to build off of or at least replicate his career year in 2016, and several pitching issues that I will touch base on later in this article.
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The Cardinals have very obvious best- and worst-case scenarios. The best-case scenario for this team of misfits is that the pitching staff returns to form -- both Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright should be completely healthy after missing time last season due to injury - and the lineup, which is without Matt Holliday (for the first time since 2009), finds a way to produce just enough offense to sneak them into the postseason - likely via the wild-card. The worst-case scenario features the rotation falling apart at the seams and the lineup simply not producing nearly enough runs to win tight ball games. I wouldn't be shocked if the narrative went in either direction.
The Cardinals will open the regular season on April 2 with a three-game home series against the defending-champion Chicago Cubs before taking on the Cincinnati Reds for three games. Carlos Martinez is set to start opening day, and he will be opposed by Jon Lester. The Cardinals come into this season as relative long shots to win the World Series (+2500), +1100 to win the NL Pennant and +550 to win the NL Central. Their win total has been set at 84.5, with both sides checking in at -115. Matt Carpenter is currently +6600 to win the NL MVP. All odds are courtesy of Bovada.
As I mentioned already, the Cardinals will be without their long-time leader in Matt Holliday. He chose to chase the money and sign with the Evil Empire in New York. Last season, Holliday appeared in 110 games and batted .246 with 20 homers and 62 runs batted in. While those numbers may not jump out to you, the Cardinals did very little to replace those numbers. Yes, they were able to land Fowler, who will bat leadoff, but he will be hard-pressed to replicate his numbers from last year. Fowler hit for a .276 average with 13 homers, 48 RBIs and 84 runs scored. He also boasted a .394 OBP, which was a career best.
The lineup behind him features Yadier Molina in the two-hole and Matt Carpenter batting third. Carpenter will need to have a good season if the Cardinals are to have success. Last season Carpenter was plagued with injuries but still managed to hit .271 with 21 HRs and 68 RBIs. Should he remain healthy, Carpenter has the power to top 30 homers and reach 80-90 RBIs.
Batting fourth in the lineup Jedd Gyorko, with Aldemys Diaz batting fifth and Stephen Piscotty occupying the six-hole. Piscotty is another key piece to the puzzle, and he will need to carry the momentum from his 2016 season into this year. Piscotty hit .273 with 22 dingers and 85 runs batted in. Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong round off the batting order, with the pitcher scheduled to hit ninth.
As I'm sure you've noticed, the offense will essentially make or break the season. This lineup has the talent to succeed, but there are always injury concerns and inconstancy to contend with.
Cardinals 2017 Projected Rotation & Closer
There are a lot of questions surrounding the starting rotation for this upcoming season. For starters, once a bonifide ace, Adam Wainwright struggled mightily last season after returning from an achilles injury that kept him out all of 2015. He pitched to a career-worst 4.62 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. The other issue surrounding Wainwright is his age. He will turn 36 this season, so one can only wonder how likely a bounce-back season is once a pitcher is several years removed from his prime. I say not very likely. Another candidate for a bounce-back type season is Lance Lynn, who missed all of the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Lynn was solid in 2015 posting a 3.03ERA to go along with a 12-11 record.
The most important part of the rotation is Carlos Martinez. Martinez is now the ace of the pitching staff and has electric stuff that can be very effective throughout the year. Martinez ate up 187 innings last year and posted a record of 12-9 with a 3.32 ERA. I'm a big believe in Martinez as I drafted him in my fantasy draft in the Top 20 picks. The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are occupied by Mike Leake and Michael Wacha. It will be interesting to see how Leake manages pitching in such a hitter-friendly park such as Busch Stadium.
The bullpen features several big-time relief pitchers such as Johnathon Broxton, Trevor Rosenthal and Brett Cecil. Cecil had an outstanding season last year, pitching for my beloved Jays, and the Jays will rue the day he left via free agency. The closing duties fall on the shoulders of Seung-Hwan Oh, who will be in his second full MLB season. Oh was solid last season, posting a record of 6-3 with 19 saves and an ERA of 1.92.
Cardinals 2017 Predictions
FanGraphs projects St. Louis to finish with a record of 84-78, which would be good enough once again for second in the NL Central. I can't find many reasons to be optimistic about this ball club, but the Cardinals have been such a consistent team for such a long period of time that it would be dumb for me to count them out before the calendar turns to April. If I had to play their team total, I would lean "under" for one reason -- I don't believe in the pitching staff.
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