Cardinals-Spring Preview Baseball

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, above, is well aware that he has yet to earn a World Series championship ring during his six seasons at St. Louis' helm. The Cardinals will be underdogs again this year behind NL Central rivals Chicago and Milwaukee when spring training starts next week.

JOHN RAOUX, ASSOCIATED PRESS

ST. LOUIS — Mike Matheny is well aware that he has yet to earn a World Series championship ring during his six seasons as the manager of the Cardinals. It's not like St. Louis, an 11-time World Series champion, would let him forget.

When the Cardinals begin spring training next week in Jupiter, Fla., they'll do so as an underdog behind NL rivals Chicago and Milwaukee. Both the Cubs and Brewers finished ahead of St. Louis last year. The Cardinals have missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2007 and ’08.

"The World Series is what we're paid to chase and what our fans expect, and that's exactly what we want to chase and what we expect of ourselves," said Matheny, who replaced Tony La Russa.

The Cardinals were 83-79 last season after injuries to top pitching prospect Alex Reyes and free agent signing Dexter Fowler.

Reyes is expected to return this season, Fowler is healthy and St. Louis acquired left fielder Marcell Ozuna from Miami in one of the offseason's bigger moves. Ozuna was an All Star last season, hit 37 home runs and earned a Gold Glove.

Some other things to watch as the Cardinals start what they hope is a spring training that leads to a return to the playoffs:

New look: St. Louis signed right-handed starter Miles Mikolas and reliever Luke Gregerson during the offseason. Gregerson is expected to start as the closer to begin the spring, and Mikolas is likely to step right into the rotation after returning from time spent in Japan.

Rookies to watch: Reyes is still a rookie after compiling a 1.57 ERA and striking out 52 batters in 46 innings during his 2016 debut. Also worth watching for the Cardinals is outfielder Tyler O'Neill, acquired in a trade with Seattle last summer. He hit 31 home runs in Triple-A last season.

They're set: After dealing with an overflow of outfield talent last season, the Cardinals appear set in what they hope becomes one of the best outfields in the National League. Ozuna is set in left field, and Tommy Pham is a lock in center after emerging from years of injury concerns to hit 23 home runs and steal 25 bases in 444 at-bats last season. Fowler is moving to right field entering the second season of the four-year contract.

They're not: Matt Carpenter is coming off his poorest season, hitting only .241 in his first year as St. Louis' primary first baseman. The 32-year-old is expected to see action mostly at first again, but it also is possible he will serve in more of a utility role at first and third base. Incumbent third baseman Jedd Gyorko hit 20 homers last year.

On deck: Reyes' health will be at the forefront of any talk about St. Louis throughout the spring, but Adam Wainwright will be watched just as closely. The 36-year-old right-hander is entering the last year of his contract, and he's coming on an injury-riddled season in which he had a career-worst 5.11 ERA in 123⅓ innings.

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