As the 2017 fantasy baseball season approaches, we take a look at the biggest news and story lines from each club. We’ll feature one team each weekday … and we’ll finish up on Feb. 15, the first day all teams will have their pitchers and catchers on the field for workouts.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ five-year streak of playoff appearances came to an end last season as they fell one game short of a wild-card playoff. It wasn’t for a lack of offense, however, as the Cardinals increased their scoring by almost a full run per game — 0.82 to be exact — over what they did in 2016. Six different players hit at least 20 home runs (although two won’t be back). The biggest question for the upcoming season is whether or not the pitching will rebound.
2016 at a glance
Record: 86-76 (2nd in NL Central)
Hitting: 5th (4.81 R/G)
Pitching: 12th (4.08 ERA)
OF Dexter Fowler
SP John Gant
Fowler gives the Cards a true leadoff man they didn’t have a year ago. (That he comes over from their arch-rival, the Chicago Cubs, makes it even sweeter.) Fowler’s .coming off a career-high .393 on-base percentage and his 366 career mark should help keep the offense humming along.
Gant is one of the players the Cardinals acquired from the Braves for left-hander Jaime Garcia, but he isn’t likely to be part of the opening day rotation.
Players to watch
1B/2B/3B Matt Carpenter
SS Aledmys Diaz
SP Carlos Martinez
Due to some missed time with an oblique injury, Carpenter didn’t quite match his 28 home runs from 2015, but he did post the exact same .505 slugging percentage. Now 31, he’s morphed from a slap-hitting leadoff man to a complete No. 3 hitter. Eligible at three positions, he’ll play mostly first base this year.
Diaz was an instant sensation, hitting .423 over his first month in the majors and taking over as the everyday shortstop. He finished with an excellent .300/.369/.510 line — though he missed all of August and part of September with a thumb injury, making his counting stats look less impressive.
With Adam Wainwright turning 35, Martinez has emerged as the staff ace. He won a career-high 16 games and kept his ERA right around the 3.00 level for the second consecutive season. However, his strikeout rate declined from 9.2 K/9 to 8.0 K/9 — despite a slight uptick in velocity. No reason to worry though; he’s still just 25.
2B/SS/3B Jedd Gyorko
OF Stephen Piscotty
Through his ability to play several positions, Gyorko found a way to fairly regular playing time and responded with a 30-homer season. He doesn’t get on base or run very well, but someone with his power and versatility is a valuable weapon for fantasy owners.
Piscotty showed glimpses of a breakout season, showing decent power (22 HR) and leading the team with 86 runs scored. Throw in a solid .343 OBP and he’ll hit in the middle of the order.
Closer: Seung-hwan Oh
Next: Trevor Rosenthal
Rosenthal led the majors in 2014-15 with 93 saves, but injuries sapped his effectiveness and he lost the closer’s job. Fortunately, Oh was there to take over. “The Final Boss” as he was known in Korea and Japan was almost impossible to defeat, racking up 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA, while striking out 103 batters in 79 2/3 innings (11.6 K/9). He’s a borderline top-5 closer, while Rosenthal could return as a setup man … or get a shot in the starting rotation.
Kolten Wong will get the opportunity to be the everyday second baseman after being moved to the outfield at one point last season. He was plagued by shoulder problems, which contributed to a poor showing at the plate. If he struggles again, Gyorko could play second and Jhonny Peralta would start at third. The Cards also have utilityman Greg Garcia, who saw action in at least 20 games last year at second, third and short.
The Cardinals have a number of options for the back of the rotation. In addition to Rosenthal, they have veteran Michael Wacha attempting to return from a shoulder injury and Lance Lynn coming back after missing all of last season due to elbow surgery. If any of those pitchers falter, there are a couple of excellent young arms waiting to get their shot.
SP Alex Reyes
SP Luke Weaver
OF Harrison Bader
Armed with a fastball that can touch triple digits complemented by a nasty curveball, Reyes first gained national attention as the starter for the World team in last year’s All-Star Futures Game. Less than a month later, the right-hander made his MLB debut at the age of 21. In 12 appearances with the Cardinals, including five starts, he averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Despite missing the first two months of last season with a broken wrist, Weaver, 23, made his MLB debut in August after only one start at Class AAA. Basically a fastball/changeup pitcher, he’ll likely start the season in the minors as he looks to develop a breaking ball that can keep hitters honest.
In his first full professional season, Bader, 22, advanced all the way to Class AAA and then was one of the top players in the Arizona Fall League. He can play all three outfield spots, which will help him fit in when he’s ready for the majors.
Projected batting order
1. CF Dexter Fowler
2. SS Aledmys Diaz
3. 1B Matt Carpenter
4. RF Stephen Piscotty
5. C Yadier Molina
6. 3B Jedd Gyorko
7. 2B Kolten Wong
8. LF Randal Grichuk
1. RHP Carlos Martinez
2. RHP Adam Wainwright
3. RHP Mike Leake
4. RHP Alex Reyes
5. RHPs Michael Wacha/Lance Lynn