Seven burning questions heading into the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals season

With the season beginning on Sunday, here are some questions surrounding the new-look squad.
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After months of waiting, the 2017 Major League Baseball season will start on Sunday, with the St. Louis Cardinals facing the defending champion Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals go into the season after leading the Grapefruit League with a 20-8-4 record. With the season almost in full swing, there are still a few questions that need to be answered about this year’s ball club.

Is Jose Martinez the next Jeremy Hazelbaker?

In 2016, relatively unknown outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker broke through Cardinals major league camp with a terrific spring and immediately produced at the major league level, smashing 12 home runs while providing a much-needed spark to the Cardinals’ offense. Hazelbaker was claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason, and now all eyes have turned to Jose Martinez. After only appearing in 12 games for the big league club in 2016, Martinez turned some heads this spring, hitting a stellar .380 with four home runs. Now that he is officially the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder, Martinez has the chance to prove himself like Hazelbaker did in 2016.

Can the Cardinals’ offense repeat its 2016 success?

Let’s be honest here: Nobody in their right mind expected the Cardinals to hit a National League-leading 225 home runs last year, especially after hitting a meager 137 the year before. A lot of that home run production came from some shocking places, including the 30 hit by Jedd Gyorko. With the dangerous bat of Matt Holliday now in the Bronx, the production will have to come from other sources. Randal Grichuk has 30-home run potential, as do Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty. Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong have also shown flashes of power, and even Dexter Fowler has the potential to hit 20. Needless to say, the 2016 Cardinals lineup was a scary one, and the 2017 squad has the ability to be just as terrifying.

Can the pitching staff perform like 2015?

Expectations were high for the 2016 Cardinals pitching staff after posting a historic 2.94 ERA in 2015 without its ace Adam Wainwright. Instead, the Cards’ rotation followed up its stellar season with a 4.08 team ERA in 2016. Losing Alex Reyes for the season is a major blow to the rotation, but with Lance Lynn returning from Tommy John surgery and Michael Wacha coming off of a healthy spring, Cardinals pitching can return to glory, supported by Wainwright and Carlos Martinez.

Is this a make or break year for Kolten Wong?

Right now, the $25.5 million extension given to second baseman Kolten Wong in 2016 is looking like one of general manager John Mozeliak’s worst moves in his time with the Cardinals. Ever since being called up in 2013, Wong has done nothing but underperform. In his time in the pros, the once-highly touted prospect has never hit above .262, and his power numbers have continued to dwindle. Wong has the starting second baseman job locked up for opening night at least, and 2017 will be put-up or shut-up time for Wong.

Was 2016 a fluke for Adam Wainwright, or is he over the hill?

Adam Wainwright was not himself in 2016. The 11-year veteran posted career worsts in ERA (4.62), earned runs (102) and home runs allowed (22), and looked like a shell of his former self. A huge piece to the rotation since his rise to stardom in 2007, Wainwright has a lot to prove in 2017. Now that his status as the ace of the staff has been passed on to Carlos Martinez, Wainwright has the opportunity to relax and return to form this year. If not, it may be time for the 35-year-old to hang up his cleats.

Can Seung-hwan Oh stay consistent?

One big hole the Cardinals have struggled to fill for years has been the back end of the bullpen. Since 2011, St. Louis has had seven different closers. The torch has now been passed to Seung-hwan Oh, after posting a 1.92 ERA with 19 saves in a limited closer’s role last season. In 2017, we will see if the Stone Buddha will be a familiar face in St. Louis for years to come or if he will just become another name on the long list of failed Cardinals closers.

Can the Cardinals catch the Chicago Cubs?

Of all of the questions heading into the season, the biggest by far is whether or not the Cardinals can compete with the reigning champions. In fact, the answers to all the previous questions will likely dictate the answer to this one. The Cardinals open the season Sunday night, and wouldn’t you know it, they do so against the Cubs. Chicago currently stands as the class of the NL Central, and in order to regain their reins over the division, the Cardinals will have to knock off the Cubs. The opening series will provide a look at whether the Cardinals can run with this Chicago squad.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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