After an alarming 48 hours and two losses to the mighty Dodgers to open the season, the Cardinals settled down, pulled their game together, began to establish an identity and won three of their next four games. It was a nice recovery, and the Redbirds, 3-3, will come home no worse than 3-4 pending the outcome of Wednesday’s afternoon game at San Diego.

On Tuesday the Cardinals won their second straight game from the Padres, 5-2. In an important followup to Monday’s 6-2 victory at Petco Park, the Cardinals trailed 2-1 after four innings and rallied for a 5-2 coup.

No matter what happens in the third game against the Padres, the Cards will come home to Busch Stadium for Thursday’s festive home opener with a 1-1 split in their first two road series. Many opponents will look shaky against Los Angeles this season, especially at Dodger Stadium.

And after they dropped three of four games to the Dodgers, I wanted to see how the Cardinals would respond. Would they shake it off, mentally reset, and focus on nothing but the next assignment? Yes. That is what they did.

Unlike last season, the Cardinals wouldn’t allow losing to become a disease. They lost seven of their first 10 games in 2023, and struggled to 91 losses. They lost early and they lost often. To quote the late Yogi Berra: “It’s getting late early.” And that summed up the 2023 Cardinals. The Deadbirds.

It’s 2024 and it’s still very early. The Cardinals have played less than a week of baseball. I can sit here and repeat that a thousand times. IT’S EARLY. But I’m not rushing to conclusions about this team.

The season is a 162-game test, and the truth is always revealed over time. Not days, not weeks, but months of baseball. After the 2023 Cardinals zombied through the worst and most embarrassing performance by the franchise in a full season since 1990, I wanted to see signs that the ‘24 Cardinals learned from the immediate past before leaving it behind.

Last season the Cardinals were afflicted with emaciated starting pitching, clown-show defense, woeful baserunning and clubhouse contamination. The organization had to deal with a massive cleanup to ready themselves for a fresh start. And in the dawn of the new season there are positive indications. Will these flickers turn into a trend?

It’s too soon to know. But this is what I’m looking for: reasons to believe that this season will be better than the last. That list would include a healed defense, alert and opportunistic baserunning, more consistency from starting pitchers, and steadfast spirit.

I’m looking for something that was best described by the ancient and beloved English author Jane Austen: “That sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself.”

(Wait a minute: It’s still early in this column, and I’ve already quoted Yogi Berra and Jane Austen? What? Huh? Is something wrong with me? No, just the usual: I’m happily cuckoo.)

In the two victories at Petco the Cardinals got the starting pitching they needed, which in turn enabled the bullpen to become a bulwark. The Redbirds continued to play clean and impressive defense. Their baserunning created runs.

You can call it small ball. You can call it manufacturing.

I like to call it smart baseball.

Tuesday, we were treated to several appreciation-worthy scenes:

+ Third inning: The speedster rookie Victor Scott doubled, was sac-bunted to third by Michael Siani, and accelerated home on a sacrifice fly by Masyn Winn. That’s how the Cardinals got their first run of the evening off tough Padres starter Yu Darvish.

+ Eighth inning: eyeing an opportunity from his perch on third base with the bases loaded, Brendan Donovan ran tall in the path to home plate on a slow roller by Nolan Arenado and disrupted the sightline of San Diego catcher Sal Campusano. Flustered by his attempt to track the throw from third, Campusano moved forward to get a better view, caught the ball, but failed to backtrack to touch home plate. Donovan scored and the Cardinals led 4-2.

+ Eighth inning: moments later, with the bases still jammed and a lefty reliever on the mound, rookie catcher Ivan Herrera pinch-hit for Alec Burleson and lofted a sacrifice fly to right. Now it was 5-2 Cardinals. Here’s the best part of the kid’s at-bat: Herrera got the job done on an 0-2 count. That’s beautiful stuff.

The Cardinals scored two runs in the eighth with a single, two walks, a ground ball, a heads-up run play by Donovan to force an error by Campusano, and their second sac fly of the night.

This game had a perfect bunt by the rookie Winn. The sac flies by rookies Winn and Herrera. Scott’s sprint speed. Baserunning chicanery by Donovan.

“Those little things add up over 162 games and our guys are locked in on them,” manager Oli Marmol told reporters after Tuesday’s win. “There’s a lot of different ways to win a ballgame.”

You can also win a game when starter Miles Mikolas gives up two runs in six innings and held the Padres off until the Cardinals could generate sufficient action offensively. You can win with the starting pitcher setting up the bullpen for a normal, stress-free assignment. It was Kyle Gibson on Monday, and Mikolas on Tuesday.

You can also win with a big fly – a two-run homer walloped by Willson Contreras – to go with the sac flies and other small-ball amusements.

You can win a game with right fielder Jordan Walker making a stretched-out catch on Monday, left fielder Michael Siani making a diving catch on Tuesday, and shortstop Winn flashing elite defensive skill.

With an 0-2 start after two bummer losses at Dodger Stadium, the Cardinals have replenished hope. In winning three of the last four they’ve shown a determination to take the frustrating lessons from 2023 and turn those weaknesses into qualities. Yeah, it’s early. It’s also never too soon to play good, fundamentally sound baseball. Intelligent baseball. Resourceful baseball. Cardinals baseball — the way it should be.

AS THE ROTATION TURNS: That’s four positive starts in a row by the Cardinals’ prematurely maligned rotation. In winning three of the last four, the Cardinals got 22 and ⅓ innings (with only six runs allowed) by Lance Lynn, Steven Matz, Gibson and Mikolas. That’s a 2.41 ERA over the last four starts. And the Cardinals are tied for first in the NL with two quality starts.

THE VALUE OF DEEPER STARTS: The Cardinals are 2-0 this season when getting a quality start, and 2-0 when a starter provides six or more innings. And these outings came against two lineups (Dodgers, Padres) that can deliver bushels of runs.

Two related statistics:

1) Since Oli Marmol took over as manager in 2022, the Cardinals have a superb winning percentage of .625 when a starter goes 6+.

2) With Marmol as manager the Cardinals have a .696 winning percentage in Quality Starts. In all other games the winning percentage is .406.

IMPROVED BASERUNNING: Through Tuesday the Cardinals led the majors with 18 extra bases taken by advancing runners. (No other MLB team had more than 11 XBT.) The leaderboard: Nolan Gorman leads the NL with four extra bases taken, Paul Goldschmidt is tied for second with three XBT. Arenado, Scott, Donovan, Walker, Contreras, Matt Carpenter, Brandon Crawford and Alec Burleson have combined for 11 XBT.

Shoddy and uninspired baserunning was a serious flaw for the 2023 Cardinals. The improvement is obvious. In addition, St. Louis is only one of four teams that hasn’t had a runner thrown out on the bases this season. Marmol’s club is displaying enhanced baserunning acumen early in 2024.

DEFENSE MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Through six games the Cardinals have improved their defensive efficiency by 25 percent from 2023. And in defensive runs saved above average – prorated to 1,200 innings – the early-bird Cardinals ranked fourth among the 30 teams through Tuesday. These are welcome trends.

COOL STAT: Through six games, when Victor Scott II reached base, he’s gone on to score a run 80 percent of the time. Imagine the damage this young man will do once he starts getting on base with greater frequency.

A LOOK AT THE OFFENSE: The overall statistics are bah-humbug. Through Tuesday the Cardinals ranked 21st in batting average (.212), 24th in onbase percentage (.274), 26th in slugging (.310), 25th in OPS (.585) and are tied for 21st with four home runs. At 27.3 percent, their strikeout rate is excessive. But after averaging two runs per game in their 0-2 start in Los Angeles, the Cardinals have averaged 5.2 runs during their 3-1 stretch through Tuesday.

BRENDAN DONOVAN, PROPELLANT: As the Cardinals won three of their last four games going into Wednesday, their leadoff man has led the resurgence. In the four games he had seven hits and two walks, three extra-base hits, six RBIs and five runs scored.

WILLSON CONTRERAS, BLASTER: His first home run of the season, a two-run shot, put the Cardinals ahead to stay in Monday’s 6-2 win. Excellent, timely hitting by the STL catcher. OK, so why not do it again? Sure. Done. His second home run of the campaign, another two-run shot, gave the Cardinals the lead for good in Tuesday’s 5-2 win Tuesday. Contreras has two hits this season and both have gone deep.

Among MLB hitters with at least 150 plate appearances since July 1 of last season, Contreras ranks fifth in batting average (.339), second in onbase percentage (.440), third in slugging (.619), and second in OPS (1.059). And his park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) is No. 1 in the majors over that time, just ahead of Mookie Betts. Contreras has performed 88 percent above league average offensively (per wRC+) since last July 1.

MORE OF THE LITTLE THINGS: Through Tuesday the Cardinals were tied for the MLB lead with three sacrifice bunts, ranked third with four sac flies, and had the third highest percentage (43.5%) in productive outs.

YOU CAN’T BLAME THE YOUTH: Through six games 63 percent of the team’s hits, 60 percent of the runs scored, and 52% of the RBIs were contributed by Cardinals that have played less than three full major-league seasons.

BULLPEN: After the weekend turbulence in Los Angeles, a rejuvenated St. Louis bullpen crew took advantage of lengthier starts by Gibson and Mikolas to put the Padres away on consecutive nights. Gio Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Andrew Kittredge and JoJo Romero collectively pitched five shutout innings, faced 18 hitters, and allowed just three hits and a walk.

CLUBHOUSE CONFIDENTIAL: “The guys are sticking around, talking baseball more than ever. I love it,” manager Marmol said, via text message on Wednesday morning.

WHERE THE BOYS ARE: One more in San Diego. Zack Thompson starts for the Cardinals today, opposed by San Diego’s Joe Musgrove. The Redbirds are 2 and ½ games behind first-place Pittsburgh in the NL Central division. Through Tuesday the NL Central and AL East were the only two divisions that had every member sitting at .500 or better.

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.

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.

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.