The 2023 Cardinals were a futile bunch, lost and loathsome from the start. It’s still a bit unsettling to look back and remember that they crested on April 2 with a 2-1 record. After winning that opening three-game series against Toronto, the Redbirds tottered to a 1-6 record in their next seven attempts at baseball.
With bedraggled feathers, the Cards fell to four games out of first place by April 10, were nine under .500 by the end of April, and never really recovered. How low could they go? They descended into the swamp for a season-worst 69-91 record on Sept. 29.
The finalized St. Louis ledger (71-91) produced a .438 season winning percentage that ranked 107th among 124 Cardinal teams since baseball’s modern era began in 1900.
The 2024 Cardinals won’t be as hopeless. A lot of things will have to go right to make a return to the postseason, and I’ve been using some of this offseason time to identify legitimate reasons for optimism.
So far I’ve listed seven areas:
+ Improved and reinforced starting pitching.
+ A cleanup of defense, baserunning and situational hitting.
+ Increased productivity from cornerstones Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.
+ An improved clubhouse vibe, with a renewed emphasis on accountability.
+ Recent historical trends in MLB.
+ The continued rise of a talented core of home-grown position players.
+ Addition by subtraction – specifically the clearing of deadwood from the pitching staff.
It’s time for Reason No. 8 …
He Survived The Hellish 2024
Learned A Lot From It
He’ll Be A Better Manager In ’24
Go ahead and laugh. I don’t mind. Marmol’s stock took a ginormous hit last season, with a large percentage of fans turning on Oli and wanting him gone.
But as I said in a recent piece on my reasons for cautious optimism, I wouldn’t write about these things unless I believed in the premise. I have much easier ways to troll readers and irate fans. When I think there are sources for optimism, I will explain them.
The 2024 Cardinals won’t be much better unless manager Marmol does his best work. His regression was one of many areas of disappointment, but I think it’s fair to say he never had much of a chance. The front office gave Marmol a horrible, scraggy and weak-minded pitching staff – ridiculously inadequate for a 162-game schedule – and no manager could have overcome that. It was goofy and laughable to expect Marmol to perform a miracle with this pitiful set of pitchers.
But there was no excuse – none – for this team’s horrendous breakdown of fundamentals in 2023. The 2022 Cardinals were sharp in their defense, baserunning and situational hitting, but Marmol and his coaches allowed these areas to slip in ‘23.
Last season we witnessed a stark decline of the defense, shoddy and uninspiring baserunning, and a lapse in situational hitting. When multiple performance indicators team go wrong with a team – and are truly correctible and fixable – well, what’s the point of having a manager and coaches if they sit and watch and fail to intervene?
One exception was coach Willie McGee and his dedicated work in teaching rookie Jordan Walker how to play right field. It took time, but Walker was much better defensively over the final couple of months. This just proved my point – yes, a manager and his staff can tune up their players’ fundamentals.
We should expect more in 2024.
And I believe Marmol is ready for the challenge.
Here are my reasons, and I’ll go with nine.
1. The front office got busy and finally upgraded the rotation. That’s significant. I’ve gone through the numbers a million times to support my opinion with facts and won’t do it again in this piece. The ‘24 Cardinals will have a more capable rotation. The innings supply will increase. There will be more of the quality starts that greatly enhance a team’s chances of winning. Unlike 2023, Marmol won’t be at a substantial disadvantage. But the front office has to help this team by beefing up the bullpen.
2. Marmol is well aware of what went wrong in 2023, offers no excuses, doesn’t push back on criticism, and believes the Cardinals deserved the outside negativity that came their way. Earlier this offseason, when I asked Marmol if he felt that any of my harsh criticisms during the ‘23 season were unfair, he waved it off. I didn’t record our conversation. But this is basically what he told me – and he was passionate about it: When your team is 71-91 and as bad as the Cardinals were, you can’t expect anyone to be happy and give you flowers. You can’t be thin-skinned or paranoid. You have to get better, starting with the manager. And that’s how you handle it, by first looking at yourself. You don’t want to be criticized? Be better. Do better.
Marmol’s attitude is excellent.
3. Yes, Marmol is well aware of the obvious need to restore the fundamental soundness that’s a traditional hallmark of Cardinals baseball. Having a full spring training – without disruption caused by an international tournament – is a benefit. The manager, coaches and players will be there in unison to get a head start on the necessary work. The continuity is a plus.
4. Marmol will have more support with increased infrastructure in the pitching department. More coaching help. More technology. More tools to utilize. Cardinals management was negligent in this area for a long period of time, and is now making the effort to catch up. That’s helpful to Marmol and pitching coach Dusty Blake.
5. Oli Marmol’s new bench coach, Daniel Descalso, will make a difference. He’s smart, observant, tough, and proactive. He’ll certainly play a role in the goal of increased accountability. The manager doesn’t do this alone; in the modern game a strong bench coach is an asset.
6. Marmol has fully embraced the additions of Descalso and consultant/coach Yadier Molina. He wanted both of them. He pushed for them. But both men aspire to be major-league managers. In theory, a successor already is in place if the Cardinals want to make a change at manager. And Marmol’s contract is set to expire after the 2024 season. Isn’t all of this a threat to Marmol? How can he be comfortable? Here’s my answer: Marmol is either the world’s best actor, or he’s truly 100 percent focused on – and committed to – wanting the valuable assistance that Descalso and Molina can provide. Marmol isn’t sweating his contract situation. He wants to win a lot of games. If he wins a lot of games, then everyone benefits including the manager. Again: a terrific attitude by Marmol.
7. More focus on the team. Everyone is happy for Adam Wainwright and his 200th career victory. He is retired now, and still cherished by the Cardinals’ family. But Waino’s turbulent course on a long, hard in 2023 was draining. Not just to him. But to everyone around him. Waino’s difficult quest for 200 turned into – pick a word – a drama, ordeal or crisis. It dominated the environment and the oxygen. The incessant conversation and media obsession with Wainwright’s epic struggles became something larger than the team itself. That’s out of the way now. The focus will be 100 percent on team baseball in 2024.
8. No more scapegoating episodes. The revised starting rotation will be mature, strong-willed, professional. They’ll provide good leadership. They won’t attempt a mutiny against their own starting catcher in a pathetic attempt to cover for their failures. Marmol mishandled the situation early 2023, but his overreaction led to enlightenment. Marmol was better for the experience. And he won’t have to deal with that garbage in 2024. The team harmony will be much higher.
9. The chance for an early response. The Cardinals have a tough early-season schedule that includes 19 of the first 31 games on the road. And 18 of the games will be played against five teams that made it to the 2023 postseason: Dodgers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Brewers. The Padres and Mets won’t be pushovers, either. The pressure is on. But Marmol craves the opportunity to get his team out of the gate and moving in the right direction. If Marmol, the staff, and the players are determined to show that they’ve flushed 2023 and are absolutely driven to redeem themselves – that’s a plus. Make an opening statement. Show us who you are. Any self-respecting manager/team should be fired up to prove themselves, and the Cardinals have a chance to do that right away. Get after it. That’s the vibe you want. The long baseball season isn’t easy under any circumstances – so why be unnerved by a difficult early schedule? Marmol isn’t.
Thanks for reading …
Have a fantastic 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 590thefan.com 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 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We recorded a fresh podcast earlier this week if you want to give it a listen.
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.
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.