Cardinals 2017 preview: St. Louis' youth the key for smooth transition

After watching rival Cubs win World Series, the Cardinals find themselves in an unfamiliar transition period.

Years of dominating the National League Central came to an end last season for the Cardinals.

The rival Cubs finally won another World Series with abevy of young players and a dominant rotation. The Cardinals are now making a transition to more youththemselvesand will need some hitters to grow up quickly in order to compete against the best teams.

St. Louis has an imposing rotation and solid bullpen led by fast-risingSeung Hwan Oh. It will be important for Michael Wacha to rebound after taking a step back in 2016and for Adam Wainwright to remain a reliable No. 3 starter.

Though the Cubs are still the favorites — to win the whole thing — St. Louis fans shouldn't give up on thisCardinals team, despite losing longtime favorite Matt Holliday.

St. Louis Cardinals schedule 2017

The Cardinals begin the season April 2 with an intriguing home matchup against the Cubs that starts a three-game series.

St. Louis' most important early-season series — after that Cubs series — is at home against the Pirates from April 17-19. Both could be in a fight for a playoff spot all season.

St. Louis Cardinals roster

Cardinals projected opening day lineup

1.Dexter Fowler, CF
2.Aledmys Diaz, SS
3.Matt Carpenter, 3B
4.Stephen Piscotty, RF
5.Yadier Molina, C
6.Jhonny Peralta, 3B
7.Randal Grichuk, LF
8.Kolten Wong, 2B

Cardinals projected rotation

1.Carlos Martinez, RHP
2.Mike Leake, RHP
3.Adam Wainwright, RHP
4.Michael Wacha, RHP
5.Lance Lynn, RHP

Cardinals projected bullpen

Closer:Seung Hwan Oh, RHP
Setup:Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
Setup:Jonathan Broxton, RHP

Cardinals fantasy baseball sleeper

Carlos Martinez, SP — There is no question Martinez is a priority player in any fantasy format. He has dominant stuffand could get even better. The question, however, lies within his upside. Is he a No. 1 starting pitcher for a fantasy teamor is he a No. 2 or 3? It's never smart to reach on pitching, but Martinez's payoff could be monumental.

Cardinals top prospect(s)

Alex Reyes, SP — Ready to join the Cardinals rotation after a few promising MLB performances last season, Reyes saw his 2017 season stripped from him because ofTommy John surgery. Once he's healthy, Reyes will again fight for a spot in St. Louis' deep rotation.

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