The offseason is winding down for the Cardinals. The St. Louis pitchers and catchers report to spring-training headquarters in Jupiter on Feb. 15. The position players check in on Feb. 20, and the first exhibition game (vs. Washington) is set for Feb. 25. It’s happening quickly.

And it’s a good time (again) to inspect the Cardinals.

Here’s what I’m doing for my next two columns:

Part I: The Worry Beads List. Five reasons why you should be concerned about the 2023 Cardinals as they check into Jupiter.

Part II: The Pom-Pom List: Five reasons why you should feel upbeat and confident about your favorite team’s outlook for ‘23.

Obviously these little exercises are being written based on the current roster. Other than to say that top prospect Jordan Walker will make his big-league debut this season, I can’t see into the future. So if the STL front office makes additional moves in the coming weeks – or later in the season – the perspective could change.

I’ll start off with the concerns. Later today (Feb. 6), I’ll follow up with the areas of comfort.

Five Reasons To Get Out The Worry Beads:

1. Ownership and management didn’t do enough to elevate the roster in a way that puts the Cardinals among the most elite teams in the majors. The signing of free-agent catcher Willson Contreras was terrific … but is that all there is? After raising expectations in anticipation of a significant payroll increase, the Cardinals backed off and economized.

2. A vulnerable starting rotation. Yes, they’re doing it again. Last season the Cardinals’ starting pitching ranked 9th among the 15 NL teams in WAR, ninth in ERA, ninth in FIP and 13th in strikeout rate. And we can subtract Jose Quintana, who was their No. 1 starting pitcher over the final two months after being acquired from the Pirates. In Quintana’s 12 regular-season starts for STL he had a 2.01 ERA and the team went 9-3. And as the Game 1 starter against the Phillies in the NL wild-card series, Quintana pitched 5.1 shutout innings. With “Q” eligible for free agency, the Cardinals showed no interest in bringing him back, and he signed with the Mets on a reasonable two-year deal. The front office is banking on injury-rebound comebacks from Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz and will lean on Adam Wainwright, 41, to come through for a final time. It could work – but after seeing the Cardinal rotation fall apart with injuries in each of the last two seasons, it isn’t easy to feel confident.

3. Potential chaos on offense. Some of the possibilities: more injuries and/or disappointing performances from outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. Second-year slugger Nolan Gorman fails to progress after fading late last season. Contreras struggles to hit for power at Busch Stadium, a place where he slugged .396 and homered every 33 at-bats as a Cub. A regression from second-year super-utility guy Brendan Donovan. A down year for outfielder Lars Nootbaar; the Cardinals are expecting so much from him. And then there’s a projected bench of Andrew Knizner, Paul DeJong, Gorman and Alec Burleson. (Shakes head and moves onto the next item.) 

4. The bullpen appears to be light. The front office is happy with the pieces in the bullpen. The Cardinals better hope that the bosses are right. I think many of us see too many question marks including the established presence of a shutdown lefty reliever if Genesis Cabrera goes off the rails again. The answer could be Zack Thompson; he was outstanding as a rookie reliever in 2022 but has pitched only 34.2 innings in the bigs. And I cringed at a roster projection (from The Athletic) that listed Drew VerHagen and Dakota Hudson as members of the St. Louis bullpen … with Thompson and Jake Woodford excluded. Worst-case scenario would be a substantial injury to closer Ryan Helsley. How many 100 mph fastballs can he throw without distress?

5. Matching the massive production provided by the 1B and 3B positions in 2022. Let’s start with this: first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was chosen as NL MVP last season, and third baseman Nolan Arenado finished third in the voting. Among NL players, Goldschmidt and Arenado were second and third, respectively, in WAR – combining for a huge 14.4 wins above replacement.

Let’s add this: last season the Cardinals were absolutely dominant offensively in combined offense from the 1B and 3B spots. Goldschmidt, Arenado and others that took swings at the two positions combined for 161 park–and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), which translates into 61 percent above league average offensively. The next MLB team in the rankings at first-third combined were the Dodgers, at 38 percent above league average offensively.

The St. Louis 1B-3B mashers led the majors in runs batted in (232), batting average (.305), slugging (.545), onbase percentage (.377), OPS (.921), doubles (92) and were second in homers. They also had the third-lowest strikeout rate among 1B-3B groups.

Two questions:

A) Can Goldschmidt and Arenado come close to repeating their fantasti 2022 seasons? That’s asking for a lot … unreasonably so.

B) Can the Cardinals replace the offense that Albert Pujols cranked out when playing first base in 2022? So many people continue to go half-crazy in fretting over the DH spot minus Pujols. What’s being overlooked is what “The Machine” did when in the lineup at first base last year: 82 plate appearances, 8 homers, 22 RBI, a .342 average, .402 OBP, .726 slug and 1.128 OPS. Goldschmidt and Pujols combined for a monster set of numbers as the hitters with the two-highest numbers of plate appearances as first basemen last year.

As I keep writing – feel free to ignore it, of course – Pujols took only 36 percent of the team’s plate appearances at DH last season. His overlooked impact – which was profound – occurred when he was written into the lineup at first base. Pujols was a preposterous 113 percent above league average offensively when used at first base.

The worst-Case Scenario:  The Milwaukee Brewers exceed expectations, win the NL Central, and leave the Cardinals lunging for a wild-card spot that is no guarantee.

I’ll be back with Part II – The Pom-Pom list – in a few hours.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at or the 590 app.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.


Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 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. 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.