With Opening Day inching closer and closer, ESPN released their 2017 Power Rankings for each MLB team yesterday. The Cardinals were placed 11th on the ranking, and were projected to tie the Mets for the 2nd Wild Card spot with a 85-77 record.

Even though an 85-win season would be the worst-record for St. Louis since 2007’s sub .500 campaign, these projections should excite the Cardinals, especially when it comes to the projected results of the other NL Central teams.

Although the Cubs are projected to lead the majors with 98 wins, the Pirates, Brewers, and Reds are all expected to have down years. These three teams are projected to record 83, 74, and 73 wins, respectively. The Brewers and Reds even bottom-out the power-rankings, both placing in the bottom-6 teams.

Cardinals’ Dominance Over Rivals

So why should the Cardinals be excited about the poor seasons three of their division rivals are expected to have? Because the Cardinals can rack-up some easy wins over the 19-games that they’ll play against each rival. Over the past 3 seasons and 228 inter-division games that the Cardinals have played, St. Louis has recorded a win percentage of .583.

But even better, when only accounting for rivals who finish the season with 83 or less wins, the Cardinals win percentage shoots up to .605. If the Cardinals’ competitive nature against big-rivals continue, we should expect the St. Louis to cash in against their weak opponents.

But then comes the fresh-off-the-World-Series Cubs and their projected 98 wins. Over the past two seasons, there have been 3 instances where a NL Central rival finishes the year with 97 or more wins: The 2015 and 2016 Cubs, and the 2015 Pirates.

Against those three elite-teams, the Cards won 30 of the 57 games played. That’s right, the Cardinals had more wins than losses against 97+ win division rivals in the past two years. So even against a highly talented 2017 Cubs squad, the Cardinals should expect to win around half of the 19 games.

(Red signifies that the team recorded 97+ wins for that season. Green signifies that the team recorded 83 or less wins for that season).

What to Expect

Between the easy games against the Pirates, Brewers, and Reds when the Cardinals should win about 60% of the games, and the difficult games against the Cubs when the Redbirds should win around 50%, St. Louis should have about 44 wins out of their 76 division games.

If this is true, then in order to get to that 85-win projected mark, the Cardinals will have to win only .477 of non-division games.

Because of the Cardinals dominance at beating up on the lower-skilled rivals, while continuing to compete against their elite-rivals, I think that the projects have undershot St. Louis’ true potential for 2017.

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry @ USA Today Sports