Cardinals Quietly Stalking In The National League

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Despite winning 86 games in 2016, the St Louis Cardinals missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. There wasn’t anything specifically wrong with the squad, though they did struggle at Busch Stadium, but the Cards simply can’t stay pat competing in the same division as the Chicago Cubs.

The Cardinals fired the first shot of the offseason when they signed Dexter Fowler away from the Cubs to a whopping five-year, $82.5 contract.ntract . Fowler will certainly do plenty of things to help the Cards, as his presence should rectify defensive issues at centerfield and give the lineup a true leadoff hitter. With Fowler batting leadoff, Matt Carpenter will be able to move down the batting order and properly utilize his power.

However, the team also watched Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss and Jeremy Hazelbaker leave town. Those three players combined for 60 home runs and 157 RBIs last season. Filling that void in the lineup is not going to be easy. The likes of Jedd Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty will need to show more power in their bats to make up for the holes in the lineup.

The starting rotation features several promising youngsters (Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha) and dependable veterans (Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake). However, the Cards pitching was mediocre-at-best last season thanks to a myriad of injuries and just poor play. If the rotation bounces back, then St. Louis is a playoff team but another down year could mean back-to-back years without a playoff game in the Gateway to the West.

World Series +2200

The Cardinals have been in the World Series twice in the past six seasons, in 2011 and 2013. Those two teams both featured some of the most capable bats in baseball – ranking in the top five in hits and runs both season – while the rotation pitched above the MLB averages in most categories.

This Cards squad has the ability to play the sort of offense the team has demonstrated in the past. St. Louis finished the 2016 regular season inside the top five in the MLB in runs, home runs, slugging percentage and total bases. The team developed more of a dependence on the long ball last season than in recent Fall Classic runs and the departure of several key big bats may get the team back to their small ball ways.

The pitching staff, which I already mentioned was banged up, finished above the league average in ERA but fell below the median in runs allowed, home runs allowed, strikeouts and saves. If the pitching staff can at least play slightly above the league average and the Cardinals offense can continue to play the way they did last season, then they are a dark horse to win it all.

National League Pennant +1100

Let’s cut to the chase here; the Cardinals are not winning anything in the playoffs if they can’t beat good teams. St. Louis went a pathetic 23-32 against teams that ultimately ended with a winning record in 2016 compared to 63-44 to teams with a .500 record or worse. The one team with a winning record the Cards won the season series against was the San Francisco Giants – and even then, they were outscored 24-28 across the seven games.

The Cardinals beat teams they were supposed to last season, which is good. However, you can’t trust a team that goes nine games under .500 against teams with a winning record to win a series in the postseason. That’s just dumb. 

National League Central +550

It’s not going to be easy to win the division when you need to outduel the Cubs. However, the signing of Fowler helped boost the Cards lineup and damage the Cubbies. Chicago went 85-40 with Fowler in the lineup last season compared to 18-18 with him out. You shouldn’t be expecting the Cubs to regress to a .500 team but the loss may impact the standings more than you would initially think.

If the Cardinals want to win the NL Central they need to perform better within the division. In 2016, the Cards went 42-34 overall in against division rivals but that drops to 29-28 when you remove their games against the unexceptional Milwaukee Brewers. St. Louis can’t be splitting the season series with the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates if they want to win the NL Central.

OVER/UNDER Win Total 84.5

The Cardinals won 86 games last season with a middling pitching staff and a barren wasteland of defense in the outfield. One can’t imagine the rotation will be as bad as it was last season and the defensive liabilities should be fixed, which should mean that they win more games this season than last year.

Cards Not Getting Any Respect In Award Odds

St. Louis doesn’t exactly feature a roster full of household names. With that in mind, books are not expecting to see much action on Cardinals listed on futures markets or some players that are being completely ignored.

The only Cardinals player listed on the NL MVP odds is Matt Carpenter at +6600. I expect Carpenter to have a good year with his new spot in the lineup but not even listing Fowler, Gyorko or Aledmys Diaz seems like a misfire.

Piscotty is the only Cardinals to be listed in the odds to lead the MLB in home runs despite both Gyorko and Randal Grichuk both finishing above him last season.

I’m not saying these guys are locks or that they deserve to be among the favorites, but I would not be shocked if some of the younger players on this squad are hearing their name in award conversations.

2017 St Louis Cardinals Futures Odds
Market Odds
World Series +2200
National League Pennant +1100
National League Central +550
Win Totals  84.5

Odds as of March 22 at Bovada

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