Predicting Cardinals' 2017 record

Coming off a career-best year in terms of OBP, Dexter Fowler should make an already-good Cardinals lineup even better. David J. Phillip/AP Photo

Reason for optimism: After a confounding two-year power outage, the St. Louis offense returned to top-tier league form in 2016.

Reason for pessimism: All that offense still left the team 17.5 games behind the hated Cubs, possibly foretelling years of inferiority.

On the surface, the near-term future looks bleak for fans of the Cardinals -- at least through the lens of a team that has been to the playoffs in all but five seasons since 2000, while capturing a National League-best nine division titles in that time. Their hated rivals, one state to the east, followed up their 2015 NL Division Series victory over St. Louis with last season's domination of the entire National League and, of course, a World Series crown. St. Louis had a playoff-worthy +67 run differential and still finished more games out of first place (17.5) than in any season since 1999.

Dig a little deeper though and perhaps things aren't that gloomy.