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VOL. 132 | NO. 69 | Thursday, April 6, 2017

Cardinals Conceding Nothing to Anyone in 2017

By Don Wade

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The Chicago Cubs made history in 2016 by winning the World Series and breaking a 108-year draught. The St. Louis Cardinals made a little minor history by missing the playoffs after getting there five straight years and six of the last seven seasons.

Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty (55), who recently signed a six-year contract extension, says missing the playoffs by one game last season still weighs on the team, but provides motivation for this year.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

While the Cubs left them way back in their rearview mirror in the National League Central Division standings (at 86-76 the Cardinals were 17.5 games behind), St. Louis missed a wild card berth by a mere game as the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants went 87-75.

“We learned a lot about last year,” said outfielder Stephen Piscotty, a former Memphis Redbird that the Cardinals just signed to a six-year, $33.5 million contract. “We missed the playoffs by one game, so that’s a great lesson in itself. It shows you how important each game is.”

Veteran starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, speaking to The Daily News before last week’s exhibition game with the Redbirds at AutoZone Park, said: “You miss by one game, you think about a lot of stuff that you could have done personally to get you there.”

Wainwright, 35, is aiming for a bounce-back season. He was 13-9 with a 4.62 earned run average last season and gave up a league-high 220 hits in 198.2 innings. Opponents batted .287 against him, the highest mark of his career.

But as the Cardinals pointed toward the new season, he was optimistic about the club overall and the pitching staff; Carlos Martinez is now that staff’s clear ace.

“Everybody’s very excited for this year, maybe more than I’ve seen in a long time,” Wainwright said. “There’s a lot of people in here with a lot of stuff to prove. I expect us to be the best pitching staff in the game. I’ve been telling people that till I’m blue in the face almost.

“I’m obviously biased, but I just think none of us – minus Carlos – pitched last year how we should have and are going to this year.”

Manager Mike Matheny is also not limiting Martinez. He was 16-9 last season with a 3.04 ERA and batters hit just .233 against him.

Asked how good he could yet be, Matheny said: “I tell him the exact same thing. He shouldn’t be satisfied unless he’s the best pitcher in the game of baseball. I believe he’s got that kind of ability and still untapped.”

On defense, the Cardinals made 107 errors last season. Only five teams made more. Even when not making errors, they were often failing to make plays that should have been made.

The addition of Dexter Fowler in center field surely helps, but at shortstop Aledmys Diaz had just a .961 fielding percentage and let a lot of plays go.

Seung Hwan Oh had a 1.92 ERA and saved 19 games as the Cardinals’ closer in 2016. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras introduced him to the 2017 season with a game-tying home run on opening night. But confidence in Oh and the bullpen overall is high.

Part of that is having two lefthanders in Kevin Siegrist (2.77 ERA in 2016) and Brett Cecil (3.93 with Toronto).

“It has a nice balance of firepower,” general manager John Mozeliak said of the bullpen. “When you go to Siegrist and Cecil, you have the ability to interchange them. So it’s easier to keep them fresh.”

The Cardinals are hopeful that Fowler leading off and first baseman Matt Carpenter hitting third will key a lineup where a lot of roles will be defined as the season progresses.

“The lineup is a conversation we don’t even like to have,” Matheny said. “Because if guys start thinking they need to fill a certain spot in the lineup, then we’re missing something. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about us as a team.

“Guys need to trust the fact there will be different times in the season when you struggle and sometimes maybe a different spot in the lineup can help. Just don’t take such ownership to that.”

Matheny won’t disagree that the way last season ended was hard to take – being so close – but that’s also a conversation he doesn’t really want to have.

“We want to win everything, ever year,” he said. “Every game. We obviously want to be involved in October baseball. We want to win our division. We want to be the best team in baseball.”

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