MLB.com Columnist

Fred Zinkie

Tale of the fantasy tape: Cubs vs. Cardinals

Which National League Central rival has superior fantasy assets?

Tale of the fantasy tape: Cubs vs. Cardinals

Though the Cardinals seized the National League Central crown every year from 2013-15, the Cubs have since gained the advantage -- defeating St. Louis in the '15 NL Division Series before winning both the division and the World Series last season.

Before these teams write the next chapter in their storied rivalry, we can get a head start on assessing them by comparing the fantasy value of their key players for the upcoming campaign.

• 2017 Fantasy Player Preview: Cubs | Cardinals | Full rankings

Zinkie on Cubs-Cardinals rivalry

Catcher: Once a top-tier fantasy backstop, Yadier Molina now lacks the power to be more than a late-round option in one-catcher leagues. Wise owners will prefer the services of Willson Contreras, who should produce a solid batting mark and roughly 20 home runs.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Contreras, C, CHC

First base: Although Matt Carpenter has added more power without sacrificing his stellar on-base skills in recent seasons, he is not quite on the same level as Anthony Rizzo. Having posted three consecutive 30-homer seasons and two straight with more than 100 RBIs and 90 runs scored, Rizzo deserves consideration at the tail end of Round 1 in 2017 drafts.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Rizzo, 1B, CHC

Second base: Both clubs have unsettled situations at the keystone position. The Cardinals are expected to go with Kolten Wong, who has the necessary power-speed mix to warrant a speculative late-round pick in mixed formats but owns a lifetime .248/.309/.370 slash line. The Cubs will counter with Javier Baez, who could be a five-category asset if he can keep his strikeout rate in check. St. Louis will also give some playing time to Jedd Gyorko (30 homers in 2016), while Chicago will mix in Ben Zobrist. Based on Baez's upside, Chicago gets the fantasy edge here.

Winner: Cubs

Shortstop: In Addison Russell and Aledmys Diaz, each club has a high-upside youngster who could make a major impact this season. This position is declared a draw, with Russell (21 homers, 95 RBIs in 2016) and Diaz (17 homers, .300 average in '16) each representing a fine mid-round option in mixed formats.

Winner: Push

Outlook: Diaz, SS, STL

Third base: The Cubs hold a sizable advantage at the hot corner, as Kris Bryant ranks among the top 5 overall fantasy assets. The reigning NL MVP Award winner, Bryant (39 homers, 121 runs scored in '16) could provide more fantasy value by the All-Star break than Jhonny Peralta or Gyorko will deliver across the entire campaign.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Bryant, 3B, CHC

Left field: Randal Grichuk has 30-homer potential, but his ability to reach fantasy stardom -- and stay on the Cardinals' big league roster -- has been hindered by a lack of plate discipline (lifetime 0.2 BB/K ratio). Expected to go with a combination of Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs have the advantage here. Zobrist offers steady production (18 homers, 94 runs, .386 OBP in 2016), while Schwarber could rebound from an injury-shortened '16 season to produce 30 home runs and a .350 on-base percentage.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Zobrist, 2B/OF, CHC

Center field: A stroke of Dexter Fowler's pen swung this position battle to the Cardinals. Likely to contribute a solid power-speed blend and challenge the 100-run mark after departing Chicago for St. Louis as a free agent, Fowler should be able to dent all mixed-league lineups. Meanwhile, neither member of the Cubs' expected platoon (Jon Jay, Albert Almora Jr.) can be counted on to contribute fantasy value outside NL-only formats.

Winner: Cardinals

Outlook: Fowler, CF, STL

Right field: Jason Heyward is not far removed from providing solid mixed-league value, as he hit .293 with 13 homers, 23 steals and 79 runs scored in 2015. But the 27-year-old should open the season on waivers in shallow leagues after struggling mightily in '16. Stephen Piscotty is a preferable option, having hit .282 with 29 homers, 124 RBIs, 115 runs and an .815 OPS across his first 216 big league games.

Winner: Cardinals

Outlook: Piscotty, OF/1B, STL

No. 1 starter: With a 2.74 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a 9.0 K/9 rate since the outset of 2014, Jon Lester has emerged as one of the most reliable fantasy aces. Lester has the advantage over Carlos Martinez, who will need to improve upon last year's 1.22 WHIP and 8.0 K/9 rate to join the upper echelon of big league starters.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Lester, SP, CHC

No. 2 starter: Although some concern is raised by his control regression last season (3.5 BB/9 rate), Jake Arrieta still ranks among the mixed-league aces after contributing a 2.52 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP since joining the Cubs during the 2013 season. Arrieta holds a major edge over veteran Adam Wainwright, who will look to bounce back after posting a 4.62 ERA with a 1.40 WHIP in '16.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Arrieta, SP, CHC

No. 3 starter: The Major League leader in ERA (2.13) last season, Kyle Hendricks is a borderline fantasy ace despite his middling strikeout skills (lifetime 7.7 K/9 rate) and lack of a single career 200-inning campaign. Hendricks will be long gone when owners consider tabbing low-upside innings-eater Mike Leake (lifetime 3.99 ERA, 6.1 K/9 rate) in the late rounds of 2017 drafts.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Hendricks, SP, CHC

No. 4 starter: In a matchup of reliability vs. upside, veteran John Lackey gets the nod over Lance Lynn. Lynn owns a solid lifetime 3.37 ERA and 8.7 K/9 rate, but he is putting the finishing touches on a return from Tommy John surgery. Lackey is a more dependable asset, having produced a sub-3.85 ERA with at least 10 wins and 188 1/3 innings pitched in each of the four seasons since he returned from his own Tommy John surgery.

Winner: Cubs

Outlook: Lackey, SP, CHC

No. 5 starter: Cubs fifth-starter candidates Brett Anderson (11 1/3 innings in 2016) and Mike Montgomery (lifetime 4.23 ERA as a starter) should open the season on waivers in mixed leagues. St. Louis can provide a superior fantasy option in Michael Wacha, who battled a shoulder injury and poor batted-ball fortune (.334 BABIP) last year (5.09 ERA) but finished with a 3.91 FIP.

Winner: Cardinals

Closer: In perhaps the most surprising result of this Tale of the Tape, Seung Hwan Oh gives the Cardinals a fantasy edge over the Cubs -- who counter with new addition Wade Davis. Having posted a 1.92 ERA and an 11.6 K/9 rate in his rookie season, the 34-year-old Oh already ranks among the top fantasy stoppers. Davis also has elite potential -- as evidenced by his 1.18 ERA and 0.89 WHIP since the outset of 2014 -- but he missed time last season with a pair of arm injuries.

Winner: Cardinals

Outlook: Oh, RP, STL

Setup men: Both clubs have loaded bullpens. When making late-round choices, NL-only owners would be wise to consider Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Koji Uehara of the Cubs or Kevin Siegrist, Brett Cecil and Matt Bowman of the Cards. But with neither team in possession of a mixed-league-worthy setup man, this position finishes in a tie.

Winner: Push

Final verdict: Based on the Tale of the Tape, the defending World Series champion Cubs (9-4 with two ties) appear set to hold an edge over their division rivals for a second consecutive season.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.