St. Louis Cardinals: On Paper, the Cardinals are a Playoff Team

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

Last week, Buster Olney concluded his top ten rankings by listing the best teams in the MLB. Where did he place the St. Louis Cardinals?

If you’ve been following our coverage of ESPN’s rankings of the St. Louis Cardinals, you’ve probably noticed that St. Louis players and position groups have generally found themselves on the low end of the top ten or just outside it. While this speaks to the balance of the team, it also points to its overall strength.

So, when Buster Olney concluded his top tens by ranking the MLB teams, it was little surprise to find the St. Louis Cardinals ranked 8th.  Olney speaks to the balance of the team, noting it is a “sum-of-the-parts team, lacking that superstar-caliber player.” However, the Cardinals lineup features a player at every position who projects as average or better.

Unfortunately, being a sum-of-the-parts team also means there’s more potential for things to head south. What will happen if Aledmys Diaz or Jedd Gyorko can’t repeat their 2016 success? Or, if Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk again find themselves struggling? What if Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake don’t rebound from last year?

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For a team relying on balance, it will be difficult to absorb sub-par seasons from projected contributors. If a couple players don’t play up to expectations, it will leave a big hole. While Tommy Pham is a capable fourth outfielder, he is not a reliable starter should Grichuk struggle. While Gyorko is great as a utility infielder, he’s less special as an everyday second- or third baseman, should Peralta or Wong falter.

However, there is obviously value in having such a balanced team, as well. As shown last year, the Cardinals were able to withstand injuries to Matt Carpenter, Diaz, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Holliday and stay in the playoff race. Had a few breaks gone their way, they might have been playing in the wild card game.

The result is that the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals are a team with a relatively low ceiling, but a high floor. They are highly unlikely to win 100 games (especially in a division with the Cubs and Pirates), but also unlikely to finish below .500. This will keep Cardinals fans engaged throughout the season, as at worst the team should stay in wild card contention. At best, they compete with the Cubs for the division.

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Ultimately, the success of a season is defined by the postseason. The Cardinals are ranked 4th in the National League which indicates, on paper, that they have a strong chance to make the playoffs. But games aren’t won on paper, and every team enters April 2nd with a 0-0 record. The 2017 season should be another exciting campaign for the St. Louis Cardinals and fans.