JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals enter what could be their most pivotal season in years, following a third-place finish and two consecutive postseason-free Octobers.
Here is how St. Louis plans to get back there beginning Thursday, when the club opens the regular season against the Mets in New York.
Projected Opening Day lineup
- William Fowler, RF
- Tommy Pham, CF
- Matt Carpenter, 1B
- Marcell Ozuna, LF
- Yadier Molina, C
- Paul DeJong, SS
- Jedd Gyorko, 3B
- Kolten Wong, 2B
- Carlos Martinez, SP
• The top of the Cardinals' lineup should be one of the best in the Majors. Manager Mike Matheny flip-flopped Fowler and Carpenter at times last season, but he prefers the switch-right-left-right arrangement this creates, as well as the idea of the on-base heavy Carpenter and RBI-proven Ozuna hitting back-to-back. If the Cardinals hit, don't expect this order to change much.
• The club's late-inning situation remains much less written in stone. Even with Luke Gregerson on the disabled list, the club will not name a closer until one emerges from its jumble of relievers to grab the role outright. Until then, the Cardinals plan to finish games with a strategy based on matchups. Right-hander Dominic Leone and lefty Tyler Lyons are expected to get the bulk of the early save chances.
• Besides navigating the late innings, one of Matheny's biggest challenges will be finding enough at-bats for Jose Martinez, who broke out as one of the team's best hitters last season in a limited role. How does Martinez, a bat-first, corner-type fielder, fit in this season on a team with three everyday outfielders and no obvious platoon options? The answer depends on how versatile Carpenter's shoulder and back allow him to be. If Carpenter can move around like he has in the past, the Cardinals can probably shuffle Martinez, Gyorko and Wong in a way that allows each to play on a quasi-regular basis.
• Gregerson: By and large, the injury bug spared most of Cardinals camp. Gregerson was the exception after signing a two-year deal over the offseason. He entered spring looking to compete for the club's closer job, but he hardly pitched due to oblique and hamstring issues. The latter strain will require him to miss the season's first few weeks.
• Adam Wainwright: The Cardinals' longest-tenured player is facing a similar problem. Wainwright -- like Gregerson -- -also strained his left hamstring during conditioning drills. The club placed Wainwright on the DL on its final day in Florida, spoiling what had been a bounceback spring for the 36-year-old right-hander.
Alex Reyes: The Cardinals' No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is healthy and throwing, nearly 14 months removed from Tommy John surgery. The club hopes he can return sometime in May. How he's deployed remains to be seen, but officials are intrigued by the idea of Reyes in a hybrid bullpen role, at least in the short term. Reyes' electric right arm, back at full strength, could reshape the race for the National League Central crown.