The St. Louis Cardinals will return to the postseason as a wild card, but lose to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series.
It would be easy to write about how 2017 is the year for the St. Louis Cardinals and that they’ll embark on a smooth journey that culminates in their twelfth World Series Championship. While I believe the Cardinals will be an improved team this season and that they’ll return to the playoffs after missing the promised land by one game in 2016, the Chicago Cubs are still really, really good.
In the current wild card format that was implemented in 2012, winning the division is of greater importance than it ever has been. The two wild card teams are left to compete in a do-or-die play-in game. The reward for victory? Meeting the league’s top team for a best-of-five division series.
In order for the Cardinals (as a wild card) to meet the Cubs in the NLDS, the Cubs would have to have the best record in the National League and the Cardinals would have to win the wild card game.
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The Cubs won 103 regular-season games in 2016, eight better than the next best team in the Senior Circuit, the Washington Nationals. They have a bit of a different look entering this year than they did when they won the World Series (no Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, or Aroldis Chapman), but they still have a vast swath of talent up and down their roster.
Former Cardinal Jon Jay and Albert Almora replace Fowler in center field, a full season of Kyle Schwarber more than makes up for Soler’s absence, and Wade Davis (who was traded from Kansas City for Soler), replaces Chapman at the back end of the bullpen.
On paper, the Cubs are the team to beat in 2017. They’re the defending World Series Champions and now the class of the National League. The Cardinals, on the other hand, along with the San Francisco Giants, have been the class of the National League for the first half of the current decade.
St. Louis shouldn’t be counted out of the mix this year, though. They’re laser-focused on returning to October baseball after missing the postseason for the first time in six years. They’ve revamped the roster and have pushed for a fresh, upbeat personality as a team. The addition of Dexter Fowler certainly goes a long way in that pursuit.
The Cardinals hope that their re-branded attitude and the chip from being division underdogs translates into success on the field this season. They’ll be a improved team from 2016, but the Cubs are looking for ways to improve as well. The Cardinals will be good, but the Cubs will be better.
Losing to the Cubs in the NLDS back in 2015 was painful for Cardinals fans. If the Cubs do it again in 2017, after winning the World Series in 2016, it will have been a rough three years for Cardinal Nation. Let’s end with a dose of optimism, though: predictions, while they are made honestly, are often times wrong, right?