• Cardinals' 2017 regular-season schedule
And though the Hot Stove season is just beginning, it's never too early to start looking ahead to next year. So consider this an extra early Opening Day preview. Parts of it will change over the next five months, but this will give you an early idea of what could be for the Cardinals in 2017.
The Cardinals are scheduled to open the 2017 season on April 3 with a home game against the Cubs, who will come in as the defending World Series champs. Though the Cardinals won nine of 19 regular-season games against the Cubs last season, they finished 17 1/2 games behind them in the National League Central standings.
The Cubs will enter 2017 as the division favorites again, and this three-game series will give the Cardinals an early opportunity to measure themselves against last season's 103-win team. Jon Lester, an NL Cy Young Award candidate in 2016, is likely to draw the Opening Day start for Chicago.
OPENING DAY STARTER
The Cardinals have opened each of their last four seasons behind Adam Wainwright. However, there's likely to be a new Opening Day starter selected in 2017. That would be Carlos Martinez, who emerged as the club's most consistent and dominant starting pitcher last season. Martinez led his rotation mates with a 3.04 ERA, a 1.224 WHIP, 174 strikeouts and 20 quality starts.
OPENING DAY LINEUP
Using only players currently on the Cardinals' roster, here is what the team's April 3 lineup could look like:
1. Matt Carpenter, 1B
2. Aledmys Diaz, SS
3. Stephen Piscotty, RF
4. Randal Grichuk, CF
5. Jhonny Peralta, 3B
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Kolten Wong, 2B
8. Tommy Pham, LF
9. Martinez, RHP
In reality, the Opening Day lineup will look much different. The Cards will seek to add a center fielder this winter, so don't plan on Pham being an everyday player to start 2017. Furthermore, if St. Louis can acquire a center fielder who doubles as a leadoff hitter, it will consider moving Carpenter into the third slot in the lineup. That would likely drop Piscotty into the cleanup spot.
THREE REASONS TO BE EXCITED
• A full season of Alex Reyes: The Cardinals' top prospect proved in September that he is deserving of a rotation spot, and he'll likely win one in spring. Though the club will have to monitor Reyes' workload, the 22-year-old right-hander looks like a front-line starter in the making.
• Increased experience: The Cardinals' young position players should be better equipped to handle the grind of a full season in 2017. Diaz and Piscotty just wrapped up their first full seasons in the Majors. Grichuk hopes to use the offensive traction he found late in the year as a springboard to future success.
• On the mend: Several potential contributors missed significant time in 2017 due to injury, and getting them back will address depth concerns. Lynn and Marco Gonzales will be returning from Tommy John surgery. Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons could also emerge as key pieces after injury-plagued years.