The Cardinals came into 2023 with a strong chance to repeat as NL Central champions. However, poor pitching played a key role in a 91-loss campaign for St. Louis, the first time that’s happened in franchise history since 1990. Here’s our recap of the Cardinals’ 2023 season.
For as poor as the Cardinals’ 2023 season was, one positive was the fact that St. Louis did get offense. St. Louis did rank 19th in runs scored, but the Cardinals finished in the top 12 in home runs and ten players hit double digits in that category.
Oddly enough, the youngsters stole the show. Nolan Gorman hit 27 home runs and posted a .805 OPS. Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan both proved to be key contributors and Jordan Walker put up very good numbers in his rookie season. Walker hit .276/.342/.445 with 16 home runs and 37 extra-base hits across 117 games.
There weren’t many positives from the Cardinals pitching, which we’ll get to in a second. However, the likes of Jordan Hicks and Jordan Montgomery — both of whom were traded in the summer — as well as Steven Matz all performed well in 2023.
The “Cardinal Way” has long put an emphasis on good fundamentals & fielding, coupled with good pitching. It’s how St. Louis managed to stay such a formidable team in the 2000s and 2010s. However, things clearly went awry in 2023.
St. Louis pitchers ranked 24th in ERA (4.79) and 20th in opponent’s batting average (.279). Compare that with the Cardinals’ numbers from 2022 (.247 opponent’s AVG, 3.79 ERA) and one can see a sharp departure.
Jack Flaherty had an uneven 2023 in St. Louis before he was dealt to Baltimore, while Miles Mikolas‘ ERA spiked up to 4.78. Jake Woodford did not do well in the rotation early on in the season. As for Adam Wainright, he did get his 200th career win but also owned a 7.40 ERA in his final season and gave up 20 home runs over 101 innings.
Some of that blame was put on catcher Willson Contreras, who appeared to have a rough time acclimating himself with the Cardinals’ pitching staff in his first season and replacing a steady presence in Yadier Molina.
Offensively, OF Dylan Carlson continued to regress after a pretty solid rookie campaign in 2021. Carlson had just five home runs and a .651 OPS through 76 games, a far cry from 2021 when he hit 18 and posted a .780 OPS. Fellow outfielder Tyler O’Neill also had a turbulent season and hit just .231/.312/.403 across 72 games.
Lastly, neither Paul Goldschmidt nor Nolan Arenado could replicate their stellar 2022 campaigns. Goldschmidt failed to hit the 30-home run plateau in a full season for the first time since 2016. Arenado, meanwhile, posted his lowest OPS (.774) of his career aside from 2020 and failed to capture an NL Gold Glove for the first time in his career.
What to Look For in 2024
Despite a poor 2023 campaign and a selloff in the summer, the Cardinals are still in a position to contend. St. Louis does have a nice mix of young and veteran hitters and the Cardinals’ offense was not bad last season. And more importantly, the presence of Arenado, Contreras, and Goldschmidt makes it tough for St. Louis to pivot in direction.
However, pitching will be the defining aspect of the Cardinals’ offseason. John Mozeliak has gone on record to state that the front office is looking to add on that front and the Cardinals will likely need at least two big names to get back on track.
The good news for St. Louis, though, is that this year’s market is laden with pitching.