Here’s my second of a multiple-part series previewing the 2024 Cardinals.

In the blessed new year these determined men who proudly represent the local baseball institution must work harder to restore pride and erase the hideous stain left by the team’s godforsaken 2023 season. They cannot sadden the children again. It is now time to set an example that the one and only Stan Musial would be proud of.

Don’t ask me why I’m writing like a sportswriter from the 1940s.

Not that anyone needs to be reminded … but the 2023 Cardinals staggered to the third-lowest winning percentage (.438) by the franchise in the last 72 seasons of full-schedule baseball.


The Overview: One way to compensate for pitching-related flaws is to score enough runs to cover the defect. It’s important for the hitters to stay healthier and be more consistent in 2024. It is imperative for their experienced batters have to rebound. Younger Redbirds must improve and max out on their potential.

The Cardinals had two different offenses last season:

* In the first four months they averaged 4.8 runs per game and ranked no worse than seventh in the majors in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS, home runs, wRC+ and effectiveness when hitting with runners in scoring position.

* During the final two months they averaged fewer than four runs per game and ranked between 21st and 26th among MLB teams in batting average, homers, slugging and performance with runners in scoring position. Compared to where they were over the first four months, their wRC+ – park-and-league adjusted runs created – dropped 25 percent over August and September.

The goal, of course, is to have six good months offensively and perform the way a Top 10 major-league offense should.


1. The horses have to go to the post. That’s an old Tony La Russa expression. He often used it when asked about his team’s injury problems. And it’s true; you can’t win the horse races when thoroughbreds are scratched before they leave the barn. Last season St. Louis position players collectively missed nearly 400 in-season days because of physical ailments. And that doesn’t include situations that have guys playing hurt and putting up reduced numbers through extensive periods of discomfort: An example: Nolan Arenado’s chronic aching back was a factor in his down season overall. Tyler O’Neill had his usual assortment of infirmities. Others who missed considerable time were Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson. Willson Contreras and Alec Burleson also logged some IL time. The brunt of the player-position injuries clobbered this team over the final two months. That explains the late downturn by the offense.

2. Need more from Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The cornerstones finished first and third, respectively, in the 2022 National League MVP voting. And while both players posted respectable numbers in 2023, their production decreased. Let’s have a look at their collective drop in production compared to 2022:

* A combined OPS+ that was only 14 percent above the league average. In 2022, Goldy and Arenado were 64% above league average collectively.

* 39 fewer hits for extra bases.

* 410 fewer total bases.

* 14 fewer home runs and 45 fewer RBIs.

* 66 fewer runs created.

* 21 defensive runs saved (combined) in 2022, but only four combined in 2023.

* They had 14.2 combined Wins Above Replacement in 2022; that receded to 6.9 last season.

Goldschmidt is entering his age 36 season, and Arenado turns 33 on April 16. I don’t believe it’s realistic for the two future Hall of Famers to recreate their elite-level performance of 2022. But for the St. Louis offense to prosper, they’ll have to do more in 2024.

3. Young stars, shining brighter: Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman have copious talent and a commitment to be great. Last season both ranked among the top 10 overall in OPS+ for players age 23 or younger. That’s based on at least 450 plate appearances. The Cardinals were the only team in the majors to have two players (maximum age 23) on that Top 10 list. Compared to his rookie season, Gorman nearly doubled his home-run total in 2023 and pumped up his slugging percentage by 58 points. Among MLB hitters age 21 or less last year, Walker was No. 1 in offensive WAR, slugging, onbase percentage, batting average, OPS+ and wRC+. Imagine what the team’s 2024 offense would look like if Gorman and Walker enter the realm of the prodigious.

4. A major challenge for Lars Nootbaar: simply stated, he has to fulfill the potential of the promising talent he’s displayed over the last two seasons. But he’ll have to stay in the lineup to get it done. The spring-training setback (fractured ribs) was discouraging, but we’ll see if Nootbaar can avoid additional harm once he returns.

5. Brendan Donovan’s value can grow. If “Donny” had more power, he’d be the STL version of Chase Utley. And Donovan generated more power in 2023, even if it meant a more aggressive approach and a lower onbase percentage. But Donovan can get the power/OBP synched up. In two big-league seasons, he’s played six defensive positions and won a Gold Glove. He works counts, draws walks, frustrates pitchers, doesn’t strike out much and hits to all fields. He’s been tremendous in high-leverage situations with a career .465 OBP, .500 slug and 1.045 OPS. I’d keep him at leadoff, but Donovan can pretty much hit anywhere in the lineup. When Donovan and the Cardinals made the wise decision to shut him down and have elbow surgery to be ready for 2024, the team’s offense rusted out. He’s vital to this lineup.

6. Willson Contreras: no stopping him now. Contreras needed time to reset after the Cardinals foolishly messed with his head by benching him as the catcher. A senseless controversy disrupted the peace of mind of this passionate competitor. But Contreras responded like a champ.

From July 3 through the end of the regular season, this is how he measured up against MLB hitters that had at least 195 plate appearances:

.343 average, third in the majors to Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts.

.439 onbase percentage, third to Shohei Ohtani and Betts.

.627 slugging percentage, third to Corey Seager and Matt Olson.

1.065 OPS, second to Ohtani.

189 wRC+, No. 1 in the majors. That wRC+ means Contrreras was 89 percent above league average offensively over his final 50 games of 2023.

We look forward to watching him in his second season as a Cardinal.

7. The Cardinals can and should score more runs by activating a more aggressive style of baserunning. In 2021-2022 combined the Redbirds were the sixth best baserunning team in the majors based on the FanGraphs metric. Last season, their passive baserunning philosophy dragged them down to the No. 22 ranking. And they failed to take advantage of the new rules that made it a lot easier to steal bases. When on base, the Redbirds need more running and less napping.

8. Will 2024 be a turnaround season for Dylan Carlson? It’s an obvious question that’s been juiced by his power revival in spring training. I don’t care much about spring-training stats, but I’m in favor of seeing Carlson hit the ball hard – and with a purpose – under any circumstances. I don’t trust it yet, but a more confident Carlson can deepen this team’s lineup and reserve strength. And the slow pace of Tommy Edman’s wrist-surgery rehab makes Carlson even more important. He could be the starter in center field or play left field if Nootbaar is unavailable. Either way Carlson is on the team and can restart his career after two disappointing seasons. No matter how many games he starts, Carlson has to prove himself. Not occasionally … but repeatedly.

9. Rookie Victor Scott II: Will he stay or will he go? The decision will be handed down in less than a week. If he makes the big club, Scott instantly becomes the Cardinals’ best base stealer, top defensive center fielder and lead disruptor. He would also diversify the offense with rare speed that leads to bunt singles and infield hits. But Scott has played in only 284 games of baseball since graduating from high school – 121 in college, and 163 in the minors. The St. Louis front office could decide to place Scott to Memphis to hone his hitting. If I had to make a prediction, I would say this: Scott has a chance to check out all of the delightful BBQ joints in Memphis while he’s there.

10. The Scott decision will impact Alec Burleson. What is Burly’s role? It really depends on Edman’s status, and Nootbaar’s status, and Scott’s early-season home. Another consideration is the willingness to utilize Donovan – a lot – in left field. We could see that on Thursday at Dodger Stadium. And yet another consideration is the front-office fondness for Michael Siani’s defensive skills.

Burleson has done his part by posting an impressive .357/.417 /.524 slash line in his first 17 exhibition games. Should Burleson spend considerable time at Memphis, we can probably conclude one of three things: (a) the rest of their outfield is doing very well and there’s no room for him, or (b) defense really is a priority, or (c) management has the latest outfield puzzle that it cannot solve.

11. What about Matt Carpenter and Brandon Crawford? They’re here to stay in 2024 unless injuries displace one or both from the 26-man roster. The front office and manager coveted the two veterans for a reason. (Leadership, professionalism, knowledge, depth, etc.) The Cardinals are committed to making this work. You can disapprove of that, but it won’t make a difference. For whatever it’s worth, Carpenter is having a good spring and is a popular presence in the clubhouse. Crawford has been working with Masyn Winn, who is eager to learn as much as he can from the three-time All-Star shortstop and winner of three Gold Gloves. The hope, of course, is for the Cardinals to receive some positive contributions from Crawford and Carpenter in tangible ways. But this team missed the Molina-Pujols gravitas in 2023, and there’s more clubhouse-level balance in 2024. All of this could be overstated, but this is the direction taken by the Cardinals.

12. If infield prospect Thomas Saggese shreds Triple A pitching, I wonder if the Cardinals will leave him at Memphis all season, or call him up to contribute because he’s earned a shot in St. Louis. No way around this: Saggese’s short-term future could be blocked by Carpenter-Crawford. This would lead to many howling gusts from various corners of the interweb.

13. Masyn Winn was batting .200 this spring before Friday. This changes nothing. He’s the starter at shortstop. His defense and speed are exciting, and the hitting will come. If the Cardinals stink in 2024, it won’t be because of Winn batting .223 (or something similar.) Defense matters. The 2023 Cardinals reaffirmed that.

14. Forecasts: Baseball Prospectus has the Cardinals at No. 9 in the majors in projected runs scored … FanGraphs has St. Louis at No. 12 in MLB for projected WAR for hitters … Analyst Joe Sheehan lists the Cards at No. 7 in his 30-team offensive ratings … Jim Bowden (The Athletic) has St. Louis at 17th in his lineup power rankings. Obviously the opinions vary.

15. Pardon my typos. Having a bad, extremely clumsy typing day. And it isn’t easy to maintain full concentration while I’m tracking so many NCAA Tournament basketball games. Big Papa is doing the best he can.

Thanks for reading and have a swell weekend …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We recorded our season preview on Friday, March 22 and it’s available now.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.