Good afternoon. I’m back again, toting another suitcase of optimism in advance of the 2024 season. I’m not trying to distribute false hope. But I do believe there are reasons to expect the Cardinals to play winning baseball and return to the postseason.

If the hypotheticals are reasonable and rational, there’s nothing crazy about discussing best-case scenarios. And that’s my little project: offering 10 reasons why you should feel better about the 2024 Cardinals. I’m writing about them one at a time. But I’ll also include a Yeah, but! caution after each happy-talk opinion.

Here’s my latest Optimism Report …

Reason No. 3
Bounce-back seasons
By Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado

Sorry to bombard you with numbers but you should look at this set of stats that show how the Goldschmidt-Arenado tandem performed in 2023. It was a comedown from their excellent tag-team productivity in 2022, when the Cardinals won 93 games and the NL Central title.

In 2022, Goldschmidt finished first and third (respectively) in the National League MVP balloting. They played strong defense. Offensively they posted excellent profiles. Among MLB players that had at least 500 plate appearances, Goldschmidt ranked third in OPS+, with Arenado coming in at No. 7 in the category. In Wins Above Replacement (WAR), both Cardinals finished in the top five: Arenado third, and Goldschmidt fifth.

I didn’t expect them to repeat their splurge in 2023 — that was unrealistic — but both Cardinals had disappointing seasons when measured against their established career standards. Goldschmidt’s 120 OPS+ was the second worst in his 11 full big-league seasons. Arenado’s 109 OPS+ was his lowest in a full season.

In 2022, Goldy and Arenado combined for an average OPS+ of 164. But in 2023, their combined average OPS+ was 114.5.

Last season their combined average OPS was 49.5 percent down from 2022.

That’s alarming. But I don’t think it will happen again.

And I’ll explain my view later in this column.

First, here’s a specific comparison of their combined numbers for 2022 and 2023.


2022: .305
2023: .267


2022: .380
2023: .340


2022: .555
2023: .452


2022: .935
2023: .792


2022: 65
2023: 51


2022: 218
2023: 173


2022:  +25
2023:  +4


2022: 14.2
2023: 6.3


2022: .299
2023: .257


2022: 149
2023: 110


2022: 13.3
2023: 5.4


2022: Goldschmidt won the award, and Arenado finished third in the tabulations. They combined for 612 MVP voting points.

2023: No votes for Goldschmidt, no votes for Arenado, no voting points as a duo.

The aging curve impacts every hitter at some point. Slower bat speed. Slower reaction time and movement on defense.

But I’m not predicting doom or gloom for 2024.

I believe Goldschmidt and Arenado can deliver more offense in 2024. Goldschmidt really hasn’t lost any skill defensively at first base. And while Arenado had an uncharacteristically mediocre showing at third base — only 1 defensive run saved — he made adjustments and improved as the 2023 season went on. That tells me we’ll see Arenado impress with better defensive form in 2024.

I’m well aware of their ages. Goldschmidt will play the 2024 season at age 36, and Arenado turns 33 on April 15. So perhaps their drop-off in numbers was just part of an aging process that leads to decline. Perhaps I’m being stubbornly resistant to accepting the decline theory.

But I have my reasons for optimism. Goldschmidt’s underlying factors were positive in 2023. At the plate his hard-hit rate, exjt velocity, barrel rate, sweet-spot contact, and line drive percentage were up from his 2022 MVP campaign. At times Goldschmidt seemed vulnerable to four-seam fastball heat — but according to the metrics, Goldschmidt should have had a .526 slugging percentage against four seamers in 2023. (That’s based on the quality of contact.) Goldy’s bat speed was still there. And he spent a lot of time on bat-speed training exercises at the acclaimed Driveline Baseball lab. Going forward Goldschmidt can help himself by pulling more pitches. Hitting more pitches to the opposite field worked against him in ’23.

Arenado was jounced by back pain in 2023, and that could explain his relatively minor dips in hard-hit rate, barreling pitches, and connecting on the sweet spot. That said, ‘Nado’s average exit velocity remained the same in 2023. He punished four-seam fastballs. He had a plus performance against sliders. His in-zone contact rate (92%) was the third-best of his career. Problems? Well, Arenado hit the ball on the ground too often in 2023, and he chased too many pitches outside the strike zone. But both of these flaws can be corrected with the usual tweaking.

The 2023 season was hell for Arenado. He was frustrated and demoralized by all of the losing, and mad at his own struggles. The back pain made it worse. But Arenado has to clear his head and reset for 2024. The Cardinals can’t have him stomping around and going through extreme mood swings. He has to become a better leader. Hopefully, he realizes that. Goldschmidt is entering the final season of his St. Louis contract, so he has a lot at stake in 2024.

For Goldschmidt and Arenado, the ZiPS forecast at FanGraphs projects a 2024 season that would look similar ’23 season. And that includes a combined 6.3 WAR that represents a moderate uptick from 2023. But I expect the Cardinals to have an enhanced environment in 2024, and that should be good for the collective soul and be beneficial to their two cornerstone hitters.

The first baseman and third baseman won’t get back to their collective offensive performance from 2022. But they’re capable of doing more than being just under 15 percent above average in OPS+ — their combined percentage in 2023. If Goldschmidt and Arenado can spike for an combo OPS+ that’s around 30 percent above league average, the improvement would make a difference.

Yeah, but! … 

The aging curve leads to another downturn for both players.

Back pain bedevils Arenado. Again.

The Cardinals don’t get much better as a team. Such disappointment could lead to turmoil and big changes. That could set off a beehive of nonstop trade talk with buzzing bloggers writing 65,000 columns that propose 650,000 trade-package ideas.

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 bonus 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. We’ll be recording a fresh podcast on Monday, Jan. 22. 

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.