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Chicago Cubs: Can the St. Louis Cardinals contend in the NL Central?

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Mar 17, 2017; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) hands manager Mike Matheny (22) the ball as he leaves the game against the New York Mets during a spring training game at First Data Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2017; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) hands manager Mike Matheny (22) the ball as he leaves the game against the New York Mets during a spring training game at First Data Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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It’s almost that time of the year, Opening Day. Can the St. Louis Cardinals realistically contend with the Chicago Cubs in 2017? Let’s take a look.

In 2016, no team came even close to giving the Chicago Cubs a run for their money in the National League Central.

Chicago finished the season with 103 wins, with the St. Louis Cardinals being the closest team after them, with 86 victories. Both Chicago and St. Louis made some moves this past offseason. Dexter Fowler made his way from the Cubs over to the Cards. Jon Jay, a former Cardinals outfielder, signed with Chicago. The Cubs lost Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, but got another legitimate closer in Wade Davis from Kansas City.

The Cubs roster will have a few changes, but the core group will  be the same.

Looking at the St. Louis position players

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Believe it or not, there is a chance the Cards could contend for the NL Central title in 2017.

The Cardinals have a solid center fielder in Dexter Fowler  this season. With that, Randal Grichuk will move over to left field, which is an upgrade from Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss defensively.  You’ll have Stephen Piscotty over in right, who brings a powerful bat and some great defense. Piscotty had a very good season last year, swatting 22 bombs and hitting .273. He will only get better from this point on, given he’s only 26 years old.

Fowler was a rock in center field for the Cubs last year, and you’ll see a lot of the same from him in a Cardinals uniform. I strongly believe he could be a vital part of the Cardinals this year as their leadoff man.

Grichuk showed some great power last season with 24 bombs but only hit .240. The Texas native is also quite young at 25 years old. You could expect 20 plus homers from both corner outfielders Grichuk and Piscotty in 2017, and hopefully a higher batting average from Grichuk. With Fowler leading the outfield in Center, they look pretty solid.

The infield is a mix of both new and old. Jhonny Peralta will man the hot corner, and brings lots of experience. He is getting older, so he’s not as productive at the plate as he once was. Young shortstop Aledmys Diaz is a vacuum.

The combo of Diaz and Kolten Wong up the middle is legit, but they will have to cut down the errors as a whole. St. Louis committed 107 errors in 2016. Matt Carpenter will play first, but is also able to play anywhere in the infield. They also have Matt Adams who is able to play first.  Yadier Molina will once again be behind the plate, and we know what he’s capable of behind the dish.

The talent is there in the lineup. It’s just a matter of cutting down the errors and producing at the plate, as a whole.

Pitching

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Chicago Cubs /

Chicago Cubs

St. Louis suffered a huge loss when Alex Reyes went down with an elbow injury early in spring training. Reyes will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2017 season. This guy was a blue chip prospect. Although he only pitched 46 innings last season in the bigs, he was lights-out. Reyes is still the future of this organization on the mound.

Flamethrower Carlos Martinez will be their number one entering the season. In 2016, Martinez looked great with a 3.04 ERA and a 16-9 record.  Crafty righty Mike Leake will be the number two. A contact pitcher, Leake will rely on his defense to make the routine plays.  Adam Wainwright is the vet of the rotation, and although he’s on his last legs, the big righty is still effective.

Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn will round out the rotation. Wacha had a very rough 2016, with an ERA over 5. Lynn missed all of 2016 due to – you guessed it – Tommy John.

The bullpen consists of arms like Trevor Rosenthal, Seung-hwan Oh, and the newly-acquired Brett Cecil. Rosenthal and Oh will compete for the closing role, but both bring electric stuff on the mound. Cecil is a quality lefty who can be a long reliever for the Cards.

Consistency will be key for the staff this season. The pitching staff had a ERA over 4.00 as a team last season. That will have to improve that number if they want to contend with Chicago.

Will they compete with the Cubs?

I still think the Cubs will take the division. They have everything they had last year, the young talent, the vets and the pitching staff. John Lackey and Jon Lester are getting older, but still have the ability to put forward some quality starts. Jason Heyward can’t be any worse offensively than he was last year. I believe he will do more offensively in 2017 because he’s put a lot of work into perfecting his swing.

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The Cardinals have lots of young talent and some key veterans. For them it’s a matter of cutting down the errors and receiving consistent performances from their arms, whether its from the pen, or the rotation.

Will they win the division? No. But i do think they will be a lot closer to the Cubs than last year. Both teams have tons of quality players. It’s just a matter of who is going to come to play everyday.

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