Three weeks to go until Opening Day. Time is moving quickly. The Cardinals soon will be on the lawn at Dodger Stadium to take on the fully accessorized, celebrity-dotted team and its $319 million payroll. The four-game series begins Thursday, March 28 at 3:10 p.m. STL time.

As spring training blossoms forth, there are questions on my mind. I will present ten of them here, straight from my brainbox. And just so you know, I don’t have spasms over spring-training results and stats.

Just a preliminary note … obviously the team’s baseball health is something to monitor. The Cardinals are dealing with three injury-watch sitiations: Center fielder Tommy Edman’s wrist, left fielder Lars Nootbaar’s rib cage, and starting pitcher Sonny Gray’s hamstring.

OK, onto the questions.

1. Should we be concerned about the offense? Many of you are telling me it’s been dull down in Jupiter. Nope. Last season, through July, the Cardinals ranked in the top seven in the majors in wRC+, OPS, batting average, onbase percentage, slugging and home runs. Injuries hit the lineup hard over the final two months – Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, etc. – and the offense decreased accordingly. This should be one of the better attacks in baseball. The FanGraphs projections have the Cardinals averaging 4.82 runs per game; that would be fourth in the NL and eighth overall. However … I’ll get to another part of the offense later in this composition. Oh, and outfielder Lars Nootbaar is hurting (again) so we have to see what develops there. Here we go again.

2. Is there an emerging trend that generates excitement? Yes. Again, I’m not focusing on the stats. But this is abundantly clear: the Cardinals have a collection of new bullpen munitions that should amp up the team’s swing-miss and strikeout capability. I’m referring to Keynan Middleton, Andrew Kittredge, Riley O’Brien, Nick Robertson, Ryan Fernandez, Gordon Graceffo and Wilking Rodriguez. The bullpen depth appears to be appreciably better than what we’ve seen in recent years. But as always, these guys will be judged based on what they do during the regular season.

3. Should we worry about the rotation? Yes. And no. First of all, I wouldn’t lose sleep, go on a starvation protest diet or search my pillow for signs of disturbing hair loss over Sonny Gray’s hamstring.

In this matter I’m an outlier commentator in our metropolis because of my research-based optimism over Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and Miles Mikolas. If the St. Louis defense provides better support this season – which should be the case – Gray and the starters will likely outperform your expectations.

It’s all about the innings. As I relayed to you a while back, the Cardinals had a .583 winning percentage last season when a starting pitcher covered at least six innings in a game. And when that didn’t happen, the team’s winning percentage was .353. But the Cardinals came up terribly short on six-inning starts last season. The 2024 rotation will increase – substantially – the number of 6+ innings starts this season. This matters.

I didn’t mention lefty Steven Matz for a reason: he must prove he can stay healthy to endow the Cardinals with 27-32 starts. Should Matz have a repeat of 2022 and 2023, the extended injury issues will lead to trouble. The Cardinals can overcome minor disruptions to the rotation. But if Matz goes down (again) and another starter joins him and takes out a 60-day lease on the Injured List, the thin starting-pitching depth will endanger the health of the team’s win-loss record. I like the way Matz and the Cardinals have adjusted his ramp-up for the start of the real baseball. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

I’m fine with Zack Thompson as a sixth starter … but I won’t fake having enthusiasm over other backup options. Not this early; perhaps later in the season when we’ve seen a few of them pitch at Triple A Memphis. I don’t want to hear too much about Matthew Liberatore. The young lefty has time to prove he’s worthy of a rotation spot but what if the Cardinals need him to be snappy-good right away? Even though it’s an inadequate sample size, Liberatore’s 5.72 ERA in 18 career MLB starts is a buzzkill for me.

4. Do the Cardinals have enough in reserve? We’re talking about the position-player roster. The bench is limited. I have much respect for Matt Carpenter and Brandon Crawford. And I do think they’ll provide a different type of value by taking some of the proactive leadership responsibility from Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. Both Crawford and Carpenter will tend to internal issues that must be addressed. That was a problem in 2023. So here come two salty and smart veterans who bring a combined 26 major-league seasons, 3,106 regular-season games and 99 postseason games to the clubhouse.

That said, it would be nice to have a reasonable degree of confidence in their ability to contribute solid offense. If we take their 2023 seasons, and combine their numbers to produce a composite hitter, this is what it looks like: 557 plate appearances, 471 at–bats, .169 batting average, .292 onbase percentage, .316 slugging percentage, and .608 OPS. These two left-handed batters also combined for 23 doubles, 12 homers and 69 RBI.

They weren’t effective against right-handed pitching. Carpenter had a .615 OPS vs. RH last season; Crawford was even worse with a .583 OPS against them.

When Tommy Edman (wrist) is cleared for regular-season regularity, that slots Dylan Carlson into the fourth outfielder role. And he hasn’t provided a meaningful impact as a big-league hitter since the second half of the 2021 season. I think I’m pretty realistic about what to expect from a team’s bench. But for all the heft in experience, the STL bench looks light on productivity. We’ll see.

Alec Burleson probably deserves to make the opening-day roster but will likely return to Triple A Memphis. I think we’ll be talking about bench-related issues a lot this season. Last year backup shortstop Paul DeJong had 12 homers and a .463 slugging percentage during the first three months of the season – and still got savaged by fans online. We can expect more of that this season here in Grievance America.

5. Who’s the most electrifying presence in camp? Center field prospect Victor Scott. He’s really fast. He’s the organization’s best base-stealing talent since Vince Coleman. His extreme speed makes a simple bunt exciting and adds strategy to a lineup approach; Scott batted .708 on his 28 bunts in the minors last season. Scott can turn routine ground balls into singles. He forces mistakes by hurrying fielders. His power is developing, he’s tough to strike out and is excellent defensively. Scott’s star is rising at age 23. Keith Law (The Athletic) put him at No. 55 on his Top 100 Prospects list for 2024. “The floor here seems very high,” Law wrote.

6. Are the Cardinals too old? By my count they have 10 players who are – or soon will be – at least 33 years old. And the list includes Arenado and Goldschmidt, all five starting pitchers and the two seniors on the bench. The fair answer is wait-and-see. If the Cardinals have a good season and return to the playoffs, we’ll be praising them for their wise judgment. If the Cardinals have a second consecutive losing record in a full season since 1958-1959, then prepare for a raging hellfire of hate.

7. What about the fundamentals that you squawked about all of last season? There’s a lot of teaching and learning being done on the fields O’ Jupiter – without the chaos of 2022’s camp – and that’s why I have reason to expect improvement on defense and the baserunning. I’ll say it again: if this team is sloppy again in 2024, it’s a problem for the manager and coaches. But manager Oli Marmol plans to have more defensive stability in 2024 by having players (mostly) stay at one position without asking them to move around so much. That will help. The one obvious exception is super utility dude Brendan Donovan.

8. What can we expect from Jordan Walker? He’s bigger and stronger and physically intimidating. “Important fact,” Tom Verducci wrote at Sports Illustrated. “Walker is only 21 years old. Last season he slashed .276/.342/.445 with a 114 OPS+ even with mechanical issues. He is going to be a monster hitter.”

9. Masyn Winn? He was the starting shortstop late last season, he’s the starting shortstop now, and he’ll be the team’s starting shortstop for the longest stretch of seasons since Edgar Renteria.

10. Most intriguing young player in camp? My choice would be Won-Bin Cho. The young outfielder from South Korea, 20 years old, already is No. 9 on the list of the Cardinals’ Top 30 prospects via MLB Pipeline.

“He had a limited run in the Florida Complex League that first summer (2022) before taking to full-season ball last year with Single-A Palm Beach, where he was a solid performer,” MLB Pipeline notes. “Cho slashed .270/.376/.389 with seven homers and 32 stolen bases over 105 games, finishing with an above-average 114 wRC+ in the pitcher-friendly FSL.

“Don’t be overly alarmed by Cho’s slugging percentage just yet. The left-handed slugger topped out with an 111.1 mph exit velocity – equal to the 2023 max EV of Adley Rutschman, Mac Muncy and Eugenio Suárez – and considering the 6-foot-1 outfielder is barely in his 20s, there could be more in the tank as he matures.”

Thanks for reading …


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.

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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.

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.