MLB season preview: Consistent Cardinals are positioned to contend again

Glance down that St. Louis Cardinals roster. Look at the pitching staff. Take a second. Ponder it. And come to the same conclusion you come to every year. Yep, there’s a chance they go another deep run.

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It’s amazing, really, how the Cardinals do this. Year in and year out, they’re contenders. Some years the young players come up through the minors and make an impact. Other years — like this year — they need to go and spend some money. But they’re always right there.

The road ahead for the Cardinals isn’t exactly easy or clear cut. Until the season proves otherwise, the Chicago Cubs are the team to beat in the NL Central (and the NL as a whole). And the Cardinals, who won 86 games last year and missed the postseason by a game, don’t quite measure up on paper. But the potential is very much there.

Otherwise, the Cards will have to punch through a crowded field of NL wild-card contenders. The Giants, Dodgers, Nats, Mets and Pirates will all be good too; maybe the Rockies too. And the Cardinals can do that, because they’re the Cardinals and those are the things we’ve grown to expect from them.

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: Dexter Fowler, Brett Cecil, John Gant
Subtractions: Jaime Garcia, Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss

The Cubs may be the class of the National League Central now, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals have to accept it. St. Louis struck early in the offseason, snagging former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler on an $82.5 million deal. The team desperately needed help in center, so Fowler filled a massive hole. Cecil’s four-year deal may be a tough pill to swallow, but he should be good in the short-term. Gant is a bit of a wild-card. It’s unclear whether he’ll start or relieve.

Holliday is the biggest loss here. While he didn’t have a great season, there might still be something left in his bat. You can’t blame the team for letting him go considering his age and the fact that he’s been injured the past two years. Garcia and Moss are still useful players, but the Cardinals have adequate replacements for both. (Chris Cwik)

Two St. Louis essentials: Dexter Fowler (left) and Matt Carpenter. (AP)
Two St. Louis essentials: Dexter Fowler (left) and Matt Carpenter. (AP)

KEY PLAYER
Jedd Gyroko had a huge power surge in 2016, his first year with the Cardinals. After hitting 16 in 2015, he nearly doubled that total last year with 30 homers. His batting average stayed nearly identical, he had almost the same number of hits, 11 fewer strikeouts, and ten *more* walks. So the biggest different between 2015 Jedd and 2016 Jedd? He managed to put more oomph behind some of his fly balls. According to Baseball-Reference, 18.2% of his fly balls were homers last year, nearly double from the year before. Can he repeat that? Probably not. But if he can get close and keep at least a little of that 2016 magic, he should be able to hit at least 20 homers, which will be an enormous help to the newly power-hungry Cardinals. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup
1. Dexter Fowler, CF (.276/.393/.447, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 13 SB)
2. Aledmys Diaz, SS (.300/.369/.510, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 71 R)
3. Matt Carpenter, 1B (.271/.380/.505, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 81 R)
4. Stephen Piscotty, RF (.273/.343/.457, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 86 R)
5. Yadier Molina, C (.307/.360/.427, 8 HR, 58 RBI)
6. Jedd Gyorko, 3B (.243/.296/.418, 30 HR, 59 RBI)
7. Randal Grichuk, LF (.240/.289/.480, 24 HR, 68 RBI)
8. Kolten Wong, 2B (.240/.327/.355, 5 HR, 23 RBI)

Rotation
1. Carlos Martinez (16-9, 3.04 ERA, 195.1 IP, 174 K)
2. Adam Wainwright (13-9, 4.62 ERA, 198.2 IP, 161 K)
3. Mike Leake (9-12, 4.69 ERA, 176.2 IP, 125 K)
4. Michael Wacha (7-7, 5.09 ERA, 138 IP, 114 K)
5. Lance Lynn (Missed 2016 season)

The Cardinals' top battery: Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez. (AP)
The Cardinals' top battery: Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez. (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Now that the Cardinals know how real the Cubs are and will continue to be for years to come, they’ll be forced to enter the season with an immediate sense of urgency. That’s something they seemed to lack at times last season, and it ended up costing them not only the division, but a playoff spot too. Assuming they can pull it back together and avoid key injuries, they should approach 90 wins again and compete for a wild-card berth. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
They continue struggling at Busch Stadium. Last season the Cardinals finished a disappointing 38-43 at home, which is mind-boggling to be honest. Meanwhile, on the road, they finished 48-33, which probably isn’t repeatable. Another rough season at home could put them back in the low 80s for wins, which isn’t good enough in a tough league. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Q: Is Aledmys Diaz, last year’s breakout star, for real?
I don’t blame anyone harboring trust issues on Diaz, concerned how his OPS collapsed by 133 points in the second half (and his homers dropped from 13 to four). And to make the story extra messy, there’s the stench of the .216 September.

[Elsewhere: Read more pressing fantasy questions about the Cardinals]

His bat will need to drive his real-life value; Diaz isn’t much of a base stealer, and he graded out as a below-average defender. I’m more likely to pay up for a designer shortstop or shop in the discount bin — Diaz is a middle-round play in Yahoo (ADP: 152), and one I’m not eager to punch. (Scott Pianowski)

BEST FOLLOW
Dexter Fowler doesn’t screw around with his Twitter account. He’s unquestionably himself, all the time.


That tweet might not seem very “interesting,” but that’s kind of the point. He’s a normal dude trying to get used to a job in a new city. He needs to know where to eat! Other pluses: he retweets his wife whenever she wonders just what the heck he’s been doing at spring training, and is really, really gratified whenever anyone tweets at him wearing some sharp new Fowler Cardinals gear. He’s just an all around decent guy. (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
If you want some ketchup spread on a Wheat Thin with a sprinkling of cheese, we guess you can try St. Louis style pizza. But if you actually want something delicious, why not opt for some St. Louis BBQ? Look, we don’t have to explain this to you by now. Most people know what sets St. Louis BBQ apart from the rest is that it’s grilled and then sauced. It’s not dry-rubbed and smoked. However they do it, it’s an innovation we can get behind. Unlike whatever that mess is they call pizza. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington NationalsSan Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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