The defending world champion Chicago Cubs are nearly prohibitive favorites to win the World Series again in 2017. But the St. Louis Cardinals have an organization and a roster that will not concede anything to the Cubs without a fight.
In 17 seasons this century, the St. Louis Cardinals have made it to the postseason 12 times and won the National League Central Division nine times. In addition they have played in four World Series, winning twice (2006, 2011). In 136 seasons since 1882 the Cardinals have won 11 World Series championships. St. Louis is a proud franchise and they know how to win. They will not roll over for anyone.
In 2016 the Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year drought by winning it all. Not long ago the Cubs were known affectionately as the “lovable losers.” Not anymore. In 2017 the Cubbies are being called a potential dynasty, the best team in baseball, 3-1 favorites to repeat as World Series champions.
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The Cardinals need more runs
Most people who cover baseball think the Cubs will dominate the Central Division again this year and then waltz through the playoffs and into another World Series. But don’t tell that to the Cardinals. The Redbirds think that they have the pitching and experience to compete with and even beat the Cubs.
In 2016 the St. Louis Cardinals hit 225 home runs, the second most in team history. This season they want to be more productive run scorers. In 2013, the last time they made it to the World Series, they only hit 125 home runs, but they scored four more runs than in 2016. Mike Matheny has exhorted his team to be more aggressive base runners. He wants them to take the extra base more often and give themselves more chances to score easy runs. The Cards are hoping that by adding Dexter Fowler to the top of the lineup they will improve their on-base percentage as well.
Let’s take a position by position look at the Cardinals and the Cubs and see how well the two teams match up. (Positions are ranked from 1 to 10 with 10 being the best in baseball.)
Catcher – Molina vs. Contreras/Montero
Yadier Molina remains the consummate field general in all of baseball and his experience and plate discipline make him a dangerous hitter in big situations. Willson Contreras has shown signs of being an excellent big league catcher with some power but is not right now a match for Molina. Advantage – Cardinals (10 – 6)
1st Base – Carpenter vs. Rizzo
Anthony Rizzo has three consecutive seasons of more than 30 home runs and is a slick fielding defensive star. Matt Carpenter is a gritty player who gives you a good at bat every time up and plays a good first base. Advantage – Cubs (9 – 7)
2nd Base – Wong vs. Zobrist
Ben Zobrist was one of the prizes of the 2016 free agency season and responded by being the 2016 World Series MVP. He is a solid bat at second base and a good fielder. Kolten Wong is the prototypical major league second baseman and an excellent fielder. Advantage – Cubs (8 – 6)
Shortstop – Diaz/Peralta vs. Russell
Addison Russell showed good pop in his bat in 2016 with 21 home runs. He also has excellent range in the field and a great arm. Aledmys Diaz has some power and battles you at the plate while being an excellent defender. He was named to the 2016 National League All-Star team. Advantage – Cubs (8 – 7)
3rd Base – Gyorko vs. Bryant
Kris Bryant won the National League Most Valuable Player in 2016 and is one of the superstars in all of baseball. Jedd Gyorko came over to the Cardinals in December 2015 from San Diego and has given St. Louis solid play at third base with excellent power. Advantage – Cubs (10 – 7)
Kyle Schwarber broke onto the scene in 2015 before being hurt for all but two games in 2016. He surprisingly came back to participate in the World Series, batting .412 with an OBP of .500. Randal Grichuk is one of the Cardinals’ good young players. He hit 24 home runs in 2016 and has shown the ability to extend at bats and play a solid left field. Advantage – Even (6 – 6)
Center Field – Fowler vs. Jay
Dexter Fowler was the Cubs’ leadoff hitter in 2016 with an OBP of .393. He is an excellent defender and a solid bat at the top of any lineup. Jon Jay patrolled center field for the Cardinals from 2010 to 2015 before being traded to San Diego in 2015. He is off to a fast start with the Cubs, batting .347 with a .458 OBP. Advantage – Cardinals (8 – 7)
Right Field – Piscotty/Grichuk/Adams/Martinez vs. Heyward
Jason Heyward is one of those players who looks like he will break out at any moment. He is a great defender and has a great arm. The Cardinals have shuffled the deck since sending Stephen Piscotty to the 10-day DL. Piscotty is the key to the St. Louis lineup and he plays an excellent right field. Advantage – Even (7 – 7)
Starting Pitching – Leake, Lynn, Wacha, Martinez, Wainwright vs. Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, Lackey, Anderson
The Cubs’ starting rotation carried them though the playoffs and to the World Series championship in 2016. The staff that the Cardinals have assembled in 2017 matches up well with the Cubs staff. When you throw in Yadier Molina behind the plate and Mike Matheny in the dugout, you have a toss up when it comes to advantage. Advantage – Even (8 – 8)
Bullpen – Oh/Rosenthal/Broxton vs. Davis/Rondon/Edwards
Wade Davis had big shoes to fill in replacing Aroldis Chapman. He has done it perfectly thus far, pitching to a 0.00 ERA in 13 innings with seven saves. The rest of the Cubs pen has been solid. Seung-hwan Oh has held off Trevor Rosenthal to retain the closer role with the Cardinals, pitching to a 3.95 ERA with six saves in 2017. The Cardinals have several live arms in the rest of the bullpen. Advantage – Cubs (8-7)
Of course the Cubs are considered the favorites to win the National League Central and then the World Series, but the gap between the Cubs and the Cardinals is not as great as some think. Over 162 games Chicago should take care of business but if St. Louis can figure out a way to score more runs they will compete right to the end. If the Cardinals can stay close in the Central, their experience in big games since 2000 may pay off in a big way. Stay tuned.