One of the biggest questions heading into the 2017 season is can the St. Louis Cardinals return to the postseason after missing it for the first time since 2010? Can we consider 2016 to be a one year hiatus from October baseball? Absolutely, but here’s what must happen in order for the Cardinals to return to familiar territory.
1. Pitching and defense has to improve:
The starting rotation has all the ingredients to making this happen. I expect ace Carlos Martinez to have a big season and emerge as a contender for the Cy Young. Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake are certainly capable of having bounce back years. Alex Reyes was ranked the No. 1 right-handed pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline, and the return of Lance Lynn can be a huge boost for this team. If the starting rotation improves, that will put much less pressure on the defense.
2. Consistency to the lineup:
The 2016 Cardinals ranked second in the major and first in the National League with 225 home runs. Was that fun? Sure, but the offense was all or nothing with the home run ball. This season, they can’t rely on home runs all the time. I don’t think they will as Dexter Fowler, Aledmys Diaz, Matt Carpenter, and Stephen Piscotty will provide the offensive consistency in this lineup.
3. Must win at home and within the division:
From 2011-2015, the Cardinals had a combined record of 255-150 at home and a 226-158 record against the National League Central. The 2016 Cardinals had the best road record in the majors at 48-33, but finished 38-43 at home, their first losing home record since 1999. Their 42-34 record against the NL Central last season was their worst since 2010 (39-39). Somehow, the Cardinals finished 9-10 against the Cubs last season. Do that again and they’re in good shape and they just need to beat up on the Reds and Brewers, which they didn’t do last season.
4. Get to more than 10 games over .500:
On the last day of the regular season, the Cardinals hit a season-high 10 games over .500 to finish 2016 at 86-76. That was respectable, but of course it wasn’t enough. In fact, the last three times the Cardinals missed the postseason (2016, 2010, 2008) they had the same record of 86-76.
5. Motivation to return:
Say what you want about John Mozeliak and the front office, but I don’t think missing the postseason sits too well with this organization. They haven’t missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 2007-2008, so I think there will be plenty of motivation on this team to return to the postseason, a place they’re used to.
If all of these five situations go according to planned, expect the Cardinals to return to the postseason in 2017.
Thanks for reading,