The St. Louis Cardinals as a franchise and a fanbase are accustomed to a certain level of success. The franchise has eleven World Series titles, nineteen National League Pennants, and they have the fourth-best winning percentage in all of baseball.
The team's recent history hasn't been the most rewarding for fans. Since the 2014 season, the Cardinals have only nine total playoff victories, they missed the playoffs four times in that span, three consecutive years between 2016 and 2018, they've won the division only four times, and the furthest in the playoffs that they've gone is the NLCS in 2019, a year in which they were swept by the Washington Nationals.
Benjamin Hochman of the Post-Dispatch posits that "winning" used to mean division titles and National League Pennants. Now, success, at least to the front office, seems to require just finishing over .500. For a mid-market team, this seems logical. It's tough to compete financially with teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco Giants. See the Seattle Mariners' General Manager Jerry Dipoto's quotes about aiming for a 54% winning percentage as a case study.
What will constitute a "successful" season in 2024 for the Cardinals? After finishing in last place in the National League Central with a 71-91 record, realistically the team can only go up. Does improving their record by ten games to finish at .500 account for success? What about making the playoffs as a Wild Card team? Does a divisional crown in a weak division mean anything for fans?
It's a tall task to improve your record by fifteen games in just one offseason. We must remember that last year the Cardinals were projected to win almost ninety games by multiple outlets. The offense and defense were going to carry most of the weight, and that part of the roster remains mostly intact. The pitching staff and bullpen are better, so should we use last season's projections as our baseline, or should we see 2023 as the beginning of a freefall?
In my mind, this team is more than capable of winning more than eighty-five games. The division is probably theirs to lose with the Chicago Cubs and possibly Cincinnati Reds. A divisional title, something they've only held twice in eight seasons, would be a success. However, for the season to be truly successful, the Cardinal should win at least one playoff series.
They'll likely be in the Wild Card round, as the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers are projected to win significantly more games next year, giving them byes in the first round of the playoffs. If the Cardinals can win the Wild Card round and hold their own against the juggernauts in Atlanta and Los Angeles, next year should be considered a success. It would be great to see another National League pennant in 2024, but I don't see the Cardinals overcoming the uber-talented Dodgers or Braves.