Opposite dugout: Cardinals need bounceback season from rotation to contend

cardinals-logo.jpgManager: Mike Matheny (6th season)

Record: 2-4

Last 10 games: 2-4

Who to watch: SS Aledmys Díaz (.300/.369/.510 with 17 HR, 65 RBIs), C Yadier Molina (.307/.360/.427), RF Stephen Piscotty (22 HR, 85 RBIs), RHP Adam Wainwright (13-9 with 4.62 ERA), RHP Seung-Hwan Oh (1.92 ERA with 19 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (2-5 in 2016)

Pitching probables:

April 10: RHP Adam Wainwright vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 11: RHP Lance Lynn vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 12: RHP Mike Leake vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 4:05 p.m., MASN

* Note: Statistics from 2016

Inside the Cardinals:

The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010, and many will point to the rotation as being the key reason they couldn't contend in 2016. Despite going 86-76 to finish above .500 for the ninth year in a row and finishing second in a very tough National League Central division, it wasn't quite enough to secure a wild card spot.

And look no further than the starting rotation's ERA as to why they didn't play past the first weekend of October. The top five rotation ERAs in the NL last season were held by the five teams the made the postseason - the Cubs, Nationals, Mets, Giants and Dodgers all had rotation ERAs under 4.00. The Cardinals ranked No. 7 with a 4.33 ERA. That's not going to cut it when the division champs led the league with a 2.96 ERA and the team that finished fourth, the Brewers, are right on your tail with a 4.40 ERA.

Mike Matheny's club made some a couple offseason moves, but none that really addressed the rotation. Center fielder Dexter Fowler signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract as a free agent, and 14-year veteran catcher Yadier Molina agreed to a three-year extension that will pay him $60 million through 2020. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty signed a six-year extension worth $33.5 million with a team option for 2023 to fill the void left by Matt Holliday leaving for the Yankees in free agency.

But again, no key additions to the starting staff.

As for the pitchers they do have, right-hander Adam Wainwright will start today's series opener at Nats Park. Wainwright went 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA last season, and gave up more hits (220) than innings pitched (198 2/3) for the first time since his first season in 2007. The 35-year-old took a tough loss in his first start of the season, giving up just two runs and three hits over five innings to the Cubs. The Nats got him for four runs and six hits over seven innings in their only meeting last year.

Right-hander Lance Lynn takes the ball for Tuesday night's game while making his return from Tommy John surgery, having missed all of last year. He labored through his first start on Thursday by giving up two runs and five hits on 98 pitches in just 5 1/3 innings. In his career, Lynn is 3-1 with a 3.29 ERA against the Nationals. Wednesday afternoon's starter Mike Leake is coming off his worst season, going 9-12 with a 4.69 ERA. He's off on the right foot this season, however, giving the Cardinals eight innings of one-run ball against the Cubs despite taking the loss. Although, Leake struggled against the Nats last year, going 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts.

Offensively for the Cards, shortstop Aledmys Díaz looks to be the future of the franchise. Named an All-Star and finishing fifth in last year's NL Rookie of the Year Voting, Díaz slashed .300/.369/.510 with 17 home runs and 65 RBIs. Third baseman Matt Carpenter is always a threat to come up clutch for the Cardinals, hitting 21 home runs with 68 RBIs last season. And second baseman Jedd Gyorko led the team with 30 longballs in 2016.

And for those of you who are interested in meaningless spring statistics: yes, the Cardinals went 7-0-1 against the Nationals in spring training.

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