The Cardinals descended to a new low point in their low-energy season, with the home team dunked to 20 games below .500 after a 4-1 dud of a loss to the Padres on Monday at Busch Stadium. The latest but familiar surrender left the submissive Cardinals crawling with a 56-76 record. Their .424 winning percentage is the worst for the franchise through the first 132 games of a season since 1955.

The Cardinals have lost four consecutive games, scoring four total runs in 36 innings. Their carcass has been kicked around for losses in 10 in the last 12 games. They’re 12-23 since “National Scotch Day” on July 27. (Watching this team, you’d better make it a double.) With 30 games left on their schedule, the 2023 Cardinals already have lost more games in a season than the 2022, 2021, 2019 and 2018 teams that preceded them.

The Cardinals won’t be playing postseason baseball this year, so we can add ‘23 to the historical ledger.

Let the record show …

In a five-season period that began in 2011 and ended in 2015, the Cardinals competed in 61 postseason games and won 32 times.

In the subsequent eight-season stretch from 2016 through 2023, they’ve appeared in 15 postseason games and won only four times.

I believe this is known as a “decline.” Sure, Cardinals ownership and baseball management had been lapsing into complacency and haughtiness, but this season is a lot uglier than expected.

How did the Cardinals crop their own wings and flutter into the abyss of 2023? Since the fellers are 20 games under .500 as I typing this, here are 20 reasons for their failure:

1. Hubris. The Cardinals have won so often through the years, chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and manager Oliver Marmol believed the team was much better than it really was. The Cardinals had a lazy postseason that lacked ambition. Other than signing free-agent catcher Willson Contreras, they did nothing else to improve the roster. From the early stages of the 2023 season, the repercussions of their cockiness were severe.

2. The virtual absence of any meaningful accountability. I’ve been through this a few times already, so let’s play the song again: the owner has publicly praised Mozeliak and has said – firmly – that Mozeliak will continue in the job for at least two more seasons after signing an extension in spring training. Mozeliak is filled with praise for the job being done by Oli Marmol, and the manager in turn heaps praise on his coaching staff. This is confusing. If all of these vitally important baseball men are so wonderfully fantastic at their jobs, then why are the Cardinals producing their worst record (for now) since 1955? How does your team get better and correct flaws when all of these VIP baseball guys are scratching each other’s back?

3. Personnel blunders – which is a substantial part of the new “Cardinal Way.” Otherwise known as “The Wrong Way.” It’s not just the usual outfielder miscalculations which have become a yearly occurrence – or the constant creation of positional logjams. How do you sign Contreras for five years and $87.5 million and then act surprised to discover that he lacked Yadier Molina’s catching-savant skills behind the plate? How can you be so oblivious about a catcher that resided in your own division and caught 80 games against you from 2016 through 2022? This front office has, in one form or another, traded or given up on starting pitchers Sandy Alcantara and Zac Gallen and outfielders Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia. A sequence of terribly damaging choices leads to a disastrous failure.

4. The inability to draft and fully develop premium starting pitchers. If you don’t want to pay the going free-agent rates for elite starting pitchers then you’d better be astute in the process of growing your own. In a sequence of MLB drafts from 2015 through 2022, five pitchers chosen by the Cardinals have started 111 regular-season games. But 73 of those starts – just under 67 percent of the total – were made by Dakota Hudson. The others were taken by Jake Woodford (16 starts), Andre Pallante (10), Jordan Hicks (8) and Zack Thompson. Hudson is 31-17 in his starts as a Cardinal. Woodford, Pallante, Hicks and Thompson are a combined 8-14 in their 38 starts. In fairness to Thompson, he has real potential to develop into a mid-rotation starter.

5. Bill DeWitt Jr. shying away from big free-agent contracts for starting pitchers. This is related to the previous item about the internal failure to develop starting pitchers. The most the Cardinals have invested in free-agent starters was five years and $80 million for Mike Leake, and four years and $44 million for Steven Matz. These weren’t top-of-the-rotation guys. The investment in Leake was a bust. The gamble on Matz is looking shaky, but the lefty has two years left on his deal.

6. The 2023 rotation was poorly conceived, lacking in quality, precariously thin and busted early. This season STL starting pitchers were ranked 26th in the majors with a 4.89 ERA (through Monday) and were 23rd with a quality-start percentage of 30%. The best teams in the NL Central – Brewers and Cubs – are tied for fifth in MLB with a quality-start percentage of 44%.

7. Marmol and his coaches allowed the defense to crash and the fundamentals to lapse. The Cardinals turned a strength into an obvious weakness in 2023, failing to address the flagrant defensive flaws until it was too late to matter. Despite some recent improvement the Cardinals still have the worst defensive efficiency rating among the 30 big-league teams – turning batted balls in play into outs at a rate of 66.6 percent. As baseball analyst Joe Sheehan pointed out, this is in line to be the Cardinals’ worst defensive efficiency rating in a season since 1930. The Brewers and Cubs rank first and ninth (respectively) in the majors for defensive efficiency. When your pitchers are low on swing-miss stuff and strikeouts, you MUST put a good defense behind them. But the people in charge inexplicably and inexcusably let a critical part of the team deteriorate. And despite the mealy-mouth excuses you may hear, this is inexcusable.

8. Poor situational hitting: This season the Cardinals have been among the top seven teams in the majors for onbase percentage. Until recently they’ve done a good job of creating an abundance of run-scoring opportunities. The problem? Only 28 percent of those baserunners have scored. That percentage ranks 29th in the majors; only Oakland is worse. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals have left the most runners on base (962) than any team in the majors. And because of the stagnation, the Cardinals have dropped to 17th in the majors with an average of 4.47 runs per game. There are a number of factors for this:

They’re batting .247 with runners in scoring position, ranking 21st in the majors. That RISP average (.219) is horrible since the All-Star break. For the season, the Cardinals have the worst batting average in MLB with the bases loaded (.176.) That’s even worse (.147) in the second half.

Compared to last season (and even before that) the quality of their baserunning has declined in a harmful way. The Cardinals rank 21st in the majors in extra-bases taken percentage (40%.) They are one of the weaker teams percentage–wise at scoring from second base on a single.

The absence of disciplined, focused situational hitting becomes more obvious when you realize that the Cardinals rank 25th in the majors in sac flies, and are 28th in percentage of productive outs (23.3%). And only four teams have grounded into more double plays than St. Louis.

9. Bullpen ablaze: The front office took a risk by coming into the season with a vulnerable bullpen, doing nothing to reinforce it last winter. And the team has been burned by the neglect. The Cardinals have blown 37 leads this season which is the fifth-highest total in the majors; only the White Sox, Rockies, Royals and A’s have coughed up more leads. The Cardinals have also squandered six leads in the ninth inning, tied for the third-most in MLB. Their team save percentage (53%) ranks 25th.

10. Oli Marmol isn’t an effective manager. Too many defensive lineups — a root cause of the defensive chaos. Questionable bullpen handling. The defense, the baserunning and the fundamentals have eroded under his watch in 2023. His team doesn’t play consistently hard. He’s created unnecessary controversy (Tyler O’Neill, Willson Contreras) which a manager shouldn’t do. Last year’s misleading success caused ego inflation that hasn’t served Marmol well in 2023.

11. The Cardinals made a mistake with Adam Wainwright. It isn’t that they brought him back for 2023. Here’s the problem: they stayed with him for another season after choosing to ignore obvious warning signs. Wainwright lost it late last season, pitching to a 7.22 ERA in his last six starts. That was a precursor to his sad and regrettable 2023. Wainwright has a 7.88 in his last 24 starts and can’t fight off hitters with swing-miss stuff or strikeout power. Having Wainwright back was influenced, in part, by management’s chance to generate extra revenue during his Hero Tour.

12. Broken home: With Monday’s loss the Cardinals flopped to 28-38 at Busch Stadium this season and are 6-12 in their last 18 home games. Their .424 home winning percentage to this point in 2023 is the poorest in a season since the current venue opened in 2006 – and is the worst home performance by a Cardinals team in 28 seasons with DeWitt as the franchise owner. In the expansion era (1961-present) the only STL teams that had an inferior home winning percentage were the 1990 and 1970 Cardinals; both went 34-47 (.420) at the previous version of Busch Stadium. What a waste of a tremendous baseball setting. From 2006 through 2022, the Cardinals’ .589 home winning percentage ranked third in the majors behind the Yankees in Dodgers.

13. The Cardinals took the NL Central for granted. After beating up on the Cubs, Brewers, Reds and Pirates in recent times, all of that changed in 2023. The division was no longer an easy pick-up for a smug front office that didn’t take their competitors seriously – even as their rivals were upgrading their rosters through trades, signings and a rush of impact prospects. Last season the Cardinals had a .632 winning percentage against NL Central opponents. This season STL has a .389 winning percentage against NL Central competitors.

14. Injury disruptions for Lars Nootbaar. I’m not giving the Cardinals a cop-out excuse for injuries. A front office that expects Tyler O’Neill to stay healthy is a front office that lives in a place where reality does not exist. I will say that the loss of super-utility dude Brendan Donovan (elbow) hurt, but his last game was July 29 and the Cardinals already had drifted way out of postseason contention. But Nootbaar is a superb all-around talent. He hits for power, gets on base at a high rate, and plays “plus” defense at all three outfield positions. He also plays with a fiery, emotional, jubilant personality that’s good for the team. Nootbaar is an ignitor … but he’s been on the IL three different times this season and has missed 46 days. As a result Nootbaar had played in only 68 percent of the team’s games through Monday.

15. The Cardinals do not compete with an “edge.” Marmol and the players will strongly insist otherwise, but what else do you expect them to say? They must think fans are stupid. All you have to do is watch this team and look for signs of a stout competitive heart. Forget about it. They packed it in a long time ago.

16. Two-strike woes. Offensively the Cardinals rank 21st in the majors with a .171 batting average in two-strike counts. And Cardinals pitchers have yielded the second-highest batting average (.208) and highest slugging percentage (.321) when having two strikes on a hitter.

17. Jordan Walker’s season. The overly enthusiastic Cardinals brought him to the majors too soon, saw some things that bothered them, sent him to Triple A Memphis, and called him back to the big club around a month later. Worst of all, the organization failed Walker by failing to give him proper training time to play the outfield. Walker is batting .221 with a .347 slug since the All-Star break. And then there’s the defense. Last season at Double A, Walker didn’t play his first game at a corner-outfield spot until Aug. 5 – and the Cardinals immediately put him in the outfield to begin his big-league career. The irresponsible handling of Walker’s defense is the No. 1 factor in why he’s a minus 16 in defensive runs saved this season. That’s the third-worst DRS number by a major-league outfielder this season.

18. Miles Mikolas. No St. Louis starting pitcher has been more disappointing than Mikolas in ‘23. Armed with a two-year contract extension, he has a 5.49 ERA in his last 15 starts … and the team is 3-12 in those games.

19. Nolan Gorman’s inconsistency. In April-May he slugged .555 and was 46 percent above league average offensively per wRC+. Since the start of June he’s slugging .404 and is nine percent below league average offensively.

20. Paul Goldschmidt & Nolan Arenado: They both had career seasons in 2022. Goldschmidt won the NL MVP award and Arenado finished third in the voting. It was unrealistic to expect the two cornerstones to repeat what they accomplished in 2022. But in 2023 Goldschmidt’s OPS is down by a whopping 153 points from last year. And in addition to his uncharacteristic problems defensively Arenado has a 72-point drop in OPS from 2022.

There are more reasons … but that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

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, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.


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.