Winter Came: 2017 St. Louis Cardinals

Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again. 

Sorry, St. Louis Cardinals, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.

You got close, posting a winning percentage over .500 once again, but that wasn’t good enough in a surprisingly tough National League Central.

In order to overtake the promising young Chicago Cubs and the upstart Milwaukee Brewers, the Cardinals needed to be better than just good. And while the team has bright spots, injuries and decline at some key positions kept them out of the postseason for the second straight year.

With their problems more defined, the Cardinals can focus on improving an already solid roster in the offseason. They have talent in the minors and the resources to make significant moves on the free-agent market. Things didn’t work out in 2017, but the Cardinals will be back.

Let’s take a deeper look at the year that was in St. Louis:

The 2017 Cardinals will not make the playoffs. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
The Cardinals posted their tenth consecutive winning season, which is something to be proud of even though they missed the postseason. Like always, it appears they discovered another diamond in the rough in Paul DeJong. The rookie hit 24 homers in his first 104 games. Outfielder Tommy Pham enjoyed a breakthrough as well, topping 20 homers with a batting average north of .300. On the pitching side, St. Louis got 140 combined starts from the preferred top five starting pitchers. That counts as a positive given past injury issues. (Mark Townsend)

THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
Of the Cardinals preferred starters, Adam Wainwright was clearly the least effective. We wouldn’t rule out a bounce back next season, but we wouldn’t bank on it either after he just turned 36. Only Matt Carpenter played more games for St. Louis than 35-year-old Yadier Molina. It highlights Molina’s durability and solid production, while also putting focus on the lack of both around him. Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty all missed time with injuries or were demoted due to poor performance. There’s plenty of talent here, but also plenty of red flags suggesting this team’s best days are well behind them. (Mark Townsend)

THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
Here is something that’s always cool, no matter who you are and what time you root for — hitting a home run in your very first big-league at-bat. Only one player did it in 2017, and it was Paul DeJong of the Cardinals.

DeJong ended up laying 108 games for the Cardinals this season, and in that time, he hit 25 homers total with 65 RBIs. Not bad, rook, not bad. (Mike Oz)

WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
The Cardnals have missed the playoffs two years in a row now, but they’re in a strong position going into the offseason. Their lineup is due for some tweaking, and they seem ready to do what it takes. What they seek, more than anything, is consistency. And in some areas, the solution is apparent. For example, in the bullpen, they could sign late-season acquisition Juan Nicasio to a contract and keep him in St. Louis. But as far as run-production goes, they will need to look outside. The rumor is that they’ll chase third baseman Josh Donaldson in the offseason, and that’s what they should do. They need a slugger in that lineup, and Donaldson certainly fits the bill. Acquiring him from the Blue Jays won’t be cheap, but the Cardinals have enough depth in their minors to survive that kind of trade. Putting Donaldson in their lineup will go a long way toward fixing what ails them. (Liz Roscher)

A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
The Cardinals always seem to have someone of consequence coming up through their system. Some of their future contributors got a head start in 2017, including Carson Kelly, Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra. All should see more time in 2018, though Kelly might be limited unless Yadier Molina finally starts taking days off.

They’ll be joined by outfielder Tyler O’Neill and, more importantly, pitcher Alex Reyes. The 23-year-old was considered one of the best, if not the best, pitching prospect heading into 2017. Tommy John put off his arrival another year. It’s unclear how much Reyes will be able to pitch coming off the surgery, but having him in any role is a major boost for St. Louis. He’ll be among one of the most intriguing youngsters to watch next season. (Chris Cwik)

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!