The St. Louis Cardinals are coming into the 2017 season after a difficult, injury plagued season in 2016 where they carried high expectations but finished one game out of their wild card position. They will be heading into the season with lots of veteran experience and leadership, but one big name will be missing from that group. Left fielder and a Cardinal fan favorite Matt Holliday, who left this past off season for the New York Yankees, had played with the Cardinals for 7 years and was a key contributor on and off the field.
With the departure of Holliday, the Cardinals needed to acquire an outfielder with a big bat and signed center fielder Dexter Fowler to a 5 year, 82.5 million dollar contract with a full no-trade clause. Fowler is a switch hitter who has batted lead off for the 8 seasons he has been in baseball. Last year, Fowler had one of his most productive seasons batting .267 with a .393 slugging percentage and .447 on-base percentage (the highest of his career) while also smashing 13 home runs, 25 doubles and 7 triples.
St. Louis Cardinals ranked 25th in the ultimate defensive rating coming in at -28.5 runs below average while committing 107 errors which is the sixth most in baseball. There seem to be few reasons the defense shouldn’t improve this year. The addition of Fowler with his speed and average arm playing center field allows Randal Grichuk to slide over to left field where he has stated multiple times he is more comfortable. Stephen Piscotty is a good quality defender with an above average arm who was one of the bright spots of the defense last year. Aledmys Diaz, one of the Cardinals biggest surprises of last year, has been working hard to improve his defense which was already evident over the course of the past year. With Diaz and Kolten Wong controlling the middle of the infield, we should see plenty of double plays turned. The corners of the infield will be patrolled by Jhonny Peralta at third base and Matt Carpenter playing first base. Carpenter is a flexible player who can be moved around wherever the Cardinals most need him to play. The man behind the plate is Yadier Molina who is coming off one of the worst defensive years of his career. He can’t really be blamed for that as the pitchers struggled to hold runners on with slow deliveries to the plate. As this kink is worked out during the offseason and spring training, there should be no worries as to Molina struggling again in 2017.
Heading into the offseason there were many questions regarding the team’s starting rotation. The starting rotation was the Achilles heel of the team last year but should be regarded as a staff that will turn it around quickly. Jamie Garcia, a left handed specialist, was traded in the offseason to the Atlanta Braves. One of the bright spots of the rotation last year was Carlos Martinez who had a record of 16 wins and 9 losses with 174 strikeouts and an earned run average of 3.04. He is considered to be the ace of the rotation heading into the season. Adam Wainwright, a team leader for the Cardinals is one of the most feared pitchers in baseball coming off a down season in which he was returning from a brutal season ending achilles injury the season before. He has stated multiple times that their is no reason for concern and should be ready to return to the Cy Young award winning pitcher he has been in the past. Cardinal fans should be excited because this would allow them to have one of the most feared 1-2 combinations in baseball.
Alex Reyes looks to be the future ace in St. Louis
The last three spots in the rotation are up for grab as there will be a Spring Training battle between four pitchers to earn the final spots. Those four guys are Alex Reyes, Mike Leake, Michael Wacha, and Lance Lynn. Alex Reyes provides the most potential and is the number one pitching prospect in baseball. He made his MLB debut late last season on August 9th, 2016 and provided an instant spark to the rotation throwing fastballs that reached 100 miles per hour on the radar with a wicked 12-6 curveball. Reyes went on to have a record of 4 wins and 1 loss with an earned run average of 1.57 while striking out 52 batters. He should be considered a front runner to earn a spot in this year’s rotation. Mike Leake was victimized often last year by the Cardinals below average defense. But, as the season dwindled down, Leake started to pitch better as he got more confidence in his defense rather than trying to do it all himself. Leake has proved he can adapt to different situations very well which allows Matheny to use him in spot starts. He should benefit from having to earn his spot in the rotation but don’t be surprised to see Leake starting the season in the bullpen being a long inning relief guy and a double play specialist. Michael Wacha gave Cardinals fans a promising expectation with excellent skill but has dealt with a weird and unique scapula condition. The Cardinals front office and coaching staff will manage Wacha’s workload and innings better this year hoping to put less stress on his shoulder than previous years. Expect to see Wacha in the starting rotation this year but not starting every fifth day as they will give guys like Mike Leake and Luke Weaver spot starts for him. The Cardinals are welcoming back with open arms Lance Lynn who is coming off Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of the 2016 season. Lynn has thrown over 170 innings every season he has been healthy, and has the ability to be a top starter in this year’s rotation with his outstanding control and consistency. Lynn’s workload early in the season should be managed but expect him to be ready to roll at full strength around the All-Star break being a starter in a rotation that has high expectations.
Cardinal fans should be excited as the bullpen is finally healthy heading into the 2017 season, as with the rotation few bright spots emerged from the 2016 campaign. The ninth inning belongs to closer Seung Hwan Oh the Korean phenom who will be asked to save 35-40 games this year. Trevor Rosenthal who will be entering Spring Training with a new look. The Cardinals are planning on stretching him out as to hope one day he will become a starting pitcher, but as for now expect to see Rosenthal plugged in as the 8th man guy giving them a dynamic duo in the back end of games. Left handed specialists Kevin Siegrist and Brett Cecil will be called upon in tough late game situations. Siegrist and Cecil won’t just be limited to these situations as the both of them can be stretched pitching multiple innings, these guys can face left handed and right handed batters. Luke Weaver another young pitcher in the organization Cardinal fans should be excited about over the next couple years, will handle the long inning duties. He will be asked to pitch multiple innings if the starter gets hurt or is having a rough outing and they decide to pull him. Right handers Matt Bowman and Jonathan Broxton will be asked to pitch in all situations throughout, if that is to face one batter in the 6th inning or multiple batters in a different position in the game.
Signing Fowler, who normally bats lead off, allows the Cardinals and manager Mike Matheny more flexibility with their lineup and allows Matt Carpenter to be moved to the 3rd slot. This lineup change is huge for this year’s team as it will provide more scoring opportunities for a team that struggled for runs last year. Fowler is in store for another productive season, improving on his numbers from last year raising his batting average around .285 hitting 15 homers and knocking in 75 runs. Matt Carpenter should have another all-star year at the plate, batting around .300 slugging 20 plus home runs and tallying his most productive year in the runs batted in column. The young and promising star Aledmys Diaz will bat 2nd providing valuable plate appearances. If he stays healthy, he should thrive batting between two of the leagues top contact hitters and lowering his strikeout rate from 2016.
Batting in the cleanup spot will be Stephen Piscotty who will be looking to improve his numbers from the 2016 season, Piscotty will benefit from batting behind Carpenter which will allow him to have more scoring opportunities and provides big hits for this year’s team. Piscotty should see his home run and RBI numbers jump quite a bit.
Yadier Molina will bat 5th as Matheny will be asking him to be more selective than he was in the 2016 season. The always promising catcher also figures to be involved in more hit and run situations. Molina should bat around .300 again in 2017 knocking in more runs.
Jhonny Peralta will bat 6th rebounding from a wrist injury that never fully healed giving him problems all year. Peralta should be ready to roll entering Spring Training giving Cardinal fans optimism that he will be back to his 20-25 home run and 70-85 runs batted in days.
Randal Grichuk will bat 7th where he looks to improve on an impressive end to last season, in which he slugged 24 home runs knocking in 68 runs. Grichuk should see his home run total jump to around 30 while knocking in 80 runs. He will keep improving at the plate as he keeps getting more at bats and playing time He is a young talent with this being only his third full season. Kolten Wong will bat 8th this year. Wong has spent most of the offseason working with coaches and former players to simplify and improve his swing. Wong has worked on making better contact rather than trying to hit with power and crush every ball he hits. If Wong is able to do this, Cardinal fans should be very excited as he is a quality player and could become the player they paid him to be.
In recent years, the Cardinals have relied on their bench and role players. Fans shouldn’t expect anything different this year as they have built a quality bench with some really good role players. Utility infielder Jedd Gyorko is expected to be the leader among these players. Last year, he hit .243 with 30 home runs and 59 runs batted in. Cardinal fans shouldn’t expect quite the same power numbers from Gyorko but you can count on him to be one of the best role players in baseball again in 2017.
Left handed first baseman Matt Adams and utility infielder Greg Garcia will be expected to contribute when called upon. Adams will be a power bat off the bench that will be inserted late in games for his stellar defense. Garcia also one of the team’s best defensive players will be called upon late in games for not only his glove, but also his speed on the base paths. Outfielder Tommy Pham, looking to recover from an injury filled season, will be called upon for his defense and speed. Pham also has a power bat and is a player who could step up as an everyday player if called upon to do that role.
Catcher Carson Kelly is a young rising star who has quickly risen through the minors catching the eye of many scouts and Cardinal fans. Kelly has a strong arm with a good quality bat who will learn a lot from Molina over the next couple years before he is called upon to be the everyday starting catcher. Kelly will allow Molina to get more off days this year keeping his legs fresher through the dog days of July, August, and September benefiting the Cardinals as they are ready to make a playoff push.
Cardinal fans should have high expectations heading into this season, but don’t expect them to hover around 100 wins like they have in recent years. Expect them to be around 85 wins fighting for the National League Central division title, or putting up a good fight becoming a playoff team in one of the wild card positions if they don’t win the division. This is good overall fundamental team with tons of veteran leadership and young, talented, developing players. The Cardinals are a winning franchise and fans shouldn’t expect anything different this year.