Dec. 30, 2016
Busch Stadium - January 2, 2017 NHL Winter Classic. April 2, 2017 - MLB Opening Day
The field at St. Louis Busch Stadium has taken on an 'arena' and not by the hand of Mother Nature. An ice rink set-up for the upcoming NHL Winter Classic. The St. Louis Blues hosting the Chicago Blackhawks to begin the Blues "50th Anniversary" year in the professional hockey league, January 2, 2017.
Four months later to the day, April 2, 2017, the outdoor competition of winter will be a memory. The MLB will begin their season with the featured Sunday Night Baseball game - the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Chicago Cubs. Both 'arenas' are celebrated rivalries. Both are enjoyed by fans for the love of their sports.
Being a part of the Twitter craze, I picked up on one message from that of Easton Leonard, @The_Easton (great follow, by the way). He had asked the question, "Cardinal fans, if the Redbirds go into the season with the roster they have today...how many wins in 2017? #STLCards" Replies included 85 games+. My response, 98 ~ with the Cubs coming in at a close second, 97.
Well, that raised some eyebrows evidently and a few laughs of "she's gotta be crazy", I think. My reasoning, not from stats and numbers, but from a heartfelt feeling about our Cardinals.
Number One, let me just clarify that I don't believe the Cubs are just going to lay down and not be a strong team. They have talent and skill, which was proven last season. Not only did they handily win the NL Central Division Title, the first to clinch in both leagues; but, as all know, they went on in a hard fought battle to see victory as the 2016 World Series Champs. Yes, they have made some changes in this off-season, but basically the same team will return. With their added power bat from Kyle Schwarber, who returns after a season ending injury (April 7) in 2016. I don't see the Cubs in repeat mode being a "run away train" with 103 wins. The young players are now known, it's a new season and opposing teams will be ready for them. In my opinion, just in the NL Central alone, teams will be geared to hand them some losses. Not only the Cardinals; but, I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates still have a score to settle. I don't look for the Cubs pitching to be as strong as last season. Many factors they must repeat and that is hard to do - season to season. One of those changes, the Cubs won't have their lead-off hitter - Dexter Fowler.
Number Two, the Cardinals have added a key player, CF Dexter Fowler, signing him for 5 Yrs/$82.5 MM. They released veteran LF Matt Holliday, who had very little playing time last season due to injury, against the Cubs run for the gold. Reportedly, Randal Grichuk will be moved to left field from center to make way for Fowler and Stephen Piscotty to remain in right field. And, the Cardinals making some infield moves as well. Matt Carpenter to first, with Jhonny Peralta and Jedd Gyorko competing for 3B. I look for Aledmys Diaz to be much stronger and improved as shortstop. And, the Cardinals seemingly holding onto the faith of their second baseman, Kolton Wong, to be improved at the plate. He definitely can be a force in the field, "IF" he gives up some of his 'hot dog' ways. Additional maturity growth, in my opinion. However, with the finish of the Cardinals 2016 season, none were happy about missing postseason by one game AND being 17.5 games in second behind the northenders of Chicago. They will be working very hard to improve the infield performances; and, in my opinion, they will accomplish the feat.
In 2017, I feel the Cardinals will be determined not to be embarrassed again.
Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, even though cleared last season to play after his 2015 Achilles injury, will be fully recovered and be a force on the mound. Starting pitcher Lance Lynn, returning from TJ surgery, will be back. I look for him to be solid in the rotation after a full year for recovery and rehab. I foresee starter Carlos Martinez in strong competition with Wainwright as "Ace". But, do believe, Martinez will be second to take the mound. Mike Leake, one season under his belt with the Cardinals, I look for his strength as an inning eater to return, much as we had seen from him when he pitched against St. Louis while with the Cincinnati Reds. Rookie Alex Reyes, definitely a strong arm; but, has yet to prove himself for a full season. Even with that said, I look for him to be in the #3 spot. Our bullpen, now that all are (or should be) healthy, will be ready to take on the season. Lefties Kevin Siegrist, Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons; possible, Marco Gonzales. Right handed pitchers, Matt Bowman, Luke Weaver, Trevor Rosenthal, Jonathan Broxton and Michael Wacha (?). I hold on Wacha, his rare shoulder injury resurfacing last season, whether or not he will be ready to return as a starter? Or, will the Cardinals place him in the bullpen? Seung Hwan Oh, once again, as the Cardinals closer.
Yes, I do feel the Cardinals have a very good chance to close their season with 98 wins. To be, once again, the NL Central Champs. Crazy? I may be. However, I believe in our team. AND, in my opinion, they will once again be a force to contend with at home to match a great road record this coming season. That one factor will increase their wins for 2017.
There has been talk about the Cardinals bringing in another power bat. Rumors flood the pages of cyber-reporting to fill the off-season, which has been pretty quiet since the 2017 free agent pool pickings was slim to none. So shaking the tree of speculation has been necessary to fill baseball pages. There is still time between now and Spring Training, February 13 - only 45 days away - for the Cardinals to pick-up what GM John Mozeliak has referred to as complimentary piece(s). Who that may be, fans won't know until an announcement is made. "IF" an announcement is made.
APRIL 2, 2017 ~ "FEATURED" MLB SUNDAY NIGHT BASEBALL
What I am looking forward to is taking my seat on Opening Day, Sunday Night Baseball, at Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals begin a brand new season in 2017. Yes, I sure will be there ~ even if it's in my overcoat and mittens! And, I expect to see Cardinals Adam Wainwright to face Cubs Jon Lester. Great match-up.