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St. Louis Cardinals Preview

Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

With the second team in the National League Central, I will be doing the arch-rival of the defending World Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.  Boy, did the Cardinals really manage to take away a huge part of the Cubs' lineup in free agency, outfielder Dexter Fowler.  However, I don't believe the heart of the Cardinals is Dexter Fowler now, I don't believe it was Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday, I don't believe it is having a consistently dominant rotation.  I believe the core of the Cardinals is the man behind the plate, the man who controls what the pitchers do, and is the leader of the team, Yadier Molina.  With him on the roster, the Cardinals always have a shot at being champions of the baseball world.

PROJECTED ROTATION: Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Alex Reyes
Despite the struggles of Adam Wainwright last season, his past success makes him the clear ace of this rotation.  Carlos Martinez was the best pitcher for the Cardinals last season, which is why I'm making him the number two starter.  Part of the reason the Cardinals weren't as dominant last season as in years past, however, is the rotation struggled.  Newcomer Mike Leake needs to prove he belongs in the future of this team, or the trio of top prospect Alex Reyes, number two prospect Luke Weaver and young pitcher Michael Wacha will ensure he is gone.  Lance Lynn should come back to his old self after spending last season on the DL.

BULLPEN: Trevor Rosenthal (CL), Seung Hwan Oh (CL), Kevin Siegrist, Brett Cecil, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Bowman, Miguel Socolovich, Michael Wacha
Rosenthal's struggles were another big problem the Cardinals encountered last season, but the emergence of the Korean Seung Hwan Oh helped ease that issue.  Both should compete for the closer position, and I would assume Rosenthal will bounce back and eventually overtake the Korean.  New addition Brett Cecil is a quality middle reliever, and Kevin Siegrist had a great season last year as well.  Jonathan Broxton had closer potential, and should be a helpful addition to this bullpen.  Bowman and Socolovich are favored to round out the pen, and sixth starter Michael Wacha is likely not going to start the season in Triple-A.  Sam Tuivailala, prospect Luke Weaver, and Marco Gonzales are the main competitors for a roster spot.

CATCHERS: Yadier Molina, Carson Kelly
Catcher hasn't been an issue in St. Louis since 2004, when Yadier Molina first came into the league.  Molina is still one of the best catchers in the game, and is the best at controlling the rotation from behind the plate in the game.  He is the lifeblood of this team.  Carson Kelly is one of the better prospects in the Cardinals farm system, and he should be favored to win the backup job to Molina.  Non-roster invitee Eric Fryer is the main competitor for a roster spot.

INFIELDERS: Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, Aledmys Diaz, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams
I think Matt Carpenter can play essentially every spot in the infield, and right now he is slated to be the first baseman for the Cardinals.  Due to the emergence of rookie sensation Aledmys Diaz, veteran run producer Jhonny Peralta had to move to third, which caused the move for Carpenter to first.  Unfortunately for Matt Adams, that pushes him to the bench and likely the trade block.  I also don't believe the second base spot is guaranteed to anybody either, as I believe Jedd Gyorko earned the job, but the Cardinals organization still believes in Kolten Wong's potential.  To me, it's a toss up, but only because they haven't given up on Wong.  Greg Garcia is also vying for a job.

OUTFIELDERS: Stephen Piscotty, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham
Stephen Piscotty has shown flashes that he could be the best hitter in this lineup, but as of now he hasn't been able to put a full season together to show that he can do it on a regular basis.  For the other corner outfielder, Randal Grichuk, his situation is a little bit more dicey, as he has struggled to keep his starting job due to an extremely inconsistent bat.  The good news is that the Cardinals returned the favor to the Cubs over the Jason Heyward signing and brought in Dexter Fowler to leadoff the lineup and play center field.  Tommy Pham can play all three outfield spots, and has pop in his bat, making him a quality fourth outfielder.  Jose Martinez and Anthony Garcia are going to compete for a job, but neither are big league ready yet.

LINEUP: Fowler (CF), Diaz (SS), Carpenter (1B), Piscotty (RF), Peralta (3B), Gyorko (2B), Molina (C), Grichuk (LF)

I don't think the Cardinals have enough power hitters in their lineup to just count out Gyorko just because Kolten Wong has more potential, which is why I have Gyorko in the lineup.  The Cardinals struggled with injuries all over the place last season, but that probably won't happen to that effect this year, and expect a closer resemblance of the 2015 ballclub.  It's hard to pick against the Cubs for winning the division, but I can see St. Louis as better than both the Dodgers and Nationals.  I'm not going that far yet, but I'm going to guess St. Louis will get around 92 wins and another playoff berth.