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Saint Louis Cardinals Season Review

Nolan Gorman hits a home run during a Spring Training game for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Although just one season removed from a 92-win, division-winning campaign, 2023 was a lost season for the Saint Louis Cardinals.

The St. Louis Cardinals entered 2023 expecting to repeat as NL Central champions, but instead they collapsed to 71 wins. After selling at the deadline, the front office has been reevaluating their roster and building up the pitching staff. The Red Birds have more to do to get back to their usual winning ways.

Injury Bug

Of the 25 Cardinals credited with a plate appearance in 2023, only four played in 120 games or more: 3B Nolan Arenado (144), C Willson Contreras (125), 1B Paul Goldschmidt (154), and UTL Tommy Edman (137).

UTL Brendan Donovan, CP Ryan Helsley, and OF Tyler O’Neill all spent time on the 60-Day IL, and OF Lars Nootbaar spent considerable time on the injured list as well, landing himself on the 10-Day three separate times. Arenado, 2B Nolan Gorman, Edman, OF Dylan Carlson, Contreras, CP Giovanny Gallegos, SP Matthew Liberatore, SP Steven Matz, and SP Adam Wainwright were all placed on either the 10- or 15-Day injured list at some point in 2023.

(Full Injured List via Fox Sports)

This lack of consistency and absence of lineup regulars undoubtedly limited the Cardinals offensive output, and their unremarkable rotation did them no favors, either. Despite a host of All-Stars littering the lineup, the Cardinals offense was painfully mediocre. Their pedestrian 719 runs scored placed them 19th in Major League Baseball and 10th in the National League. Their middle-of-the-road offense proved ineffective and fell far short of making up for their lackluster pitching staff, halting the Red Birds at just 71 wins.

On the Bump

The 2023 Cardinals posted a 4.79 ERA, good for 23rd in MLB. Despite how abysmal as the back end of games were for the Red Birds (4.47 bullpen ERA (23rd)), their starting rotation was even worse, sporting a 5.07 ERA (26th) of their own.

Wainwright ended his storied career almost literally limping, securing his coveted 200th win (and just fifth of the season) in his final September start, dragging a 7.40 ERA behind him. Rotation regulars SPs Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas also struggled, posting ERAs above 4.40 and WHIPS of 1.550 and 1.316, respectively.

Many Cardinals pitchers had similar stories, save for two: SP Jordan Montgomery and Steven Matz. Montgomery led the staff with his 3.42 ERA in 121 innings, with Matz second behind him at 3.86 across 105 innings of his own. Unlike Matz, Montgomery likely won’t be back in 2024. Following a mid-season swap which sent him to the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers and into free agency, Montgomery is currently looking for a new team.

The bullpen was stagnant and unproductive, with the only real contributors being Ryan Helsley and RP John King. Helsley was limited to just 33 appearances due to injury and posted a solid 2.45 ERA. John King, part of the return for Montgomery, threw 18.2 innings for the Cards to the tune of a cool 1.45 ERA and somewhat concerning 1.399 WHIP.

Silver Linings

2023 wasn’t all bad for the Cardinals though. Top prospect OF Jordan Walker made a strong impression offensively in his rookie campaign, clocking 16 home runs, driving in 51 runs, and posting a 114 OPS+ in 117 games. His 104 strikeouts and uninspiring defense (-2.1 dWAR) are causes for concern going forward, but as long as Walker is effective at the plate he should project well as a staple in the lineup for years to come.

Fellow youngster Nolan Gorman also took a step forward last season, improving his OPS by 84 points to .805 and nearly doubling his home run total, slugging 27 in 2023. While not as much of a liability on defense as Walker, Gorman did post a -0.2 defensive WAR, subtracting from his otherwise promising 2.7 offensive WAR. While he only played in 119 games due to injury, Gorman’s impressive home run total and improving peripherals are encouraging to forecast over a full and healthy season as Gorman continues to settle into an everyday big league role.

The explosion of Lars Nootbaar remains imminent. Even before making a name for himself on the world’s stage during Samurai Japan’s victory in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Nootbaar was quietly positioning himself for Major League success. An above average OPS+ in each of his first two seasons and ever improving metrics led Nootbaar to be poised for a breakout in 2023 before a slew of injuries once again limited Nootbaar to 117 games. If he remains healthy, which at this point in his career remains a big if, there is no reason Lars Nootbaar can’t break out into a bona fide All-Star in 2024.

The Cardinals will have a tough time getting back to contention, but they do have many important pieces in place to do so.

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