It's officially time to stop comparing the 2024 Cardinals to failures of 2023

The 2024 Cardinals are nothing like their counterpart from 2023.
St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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The St. Louis Cardinals are a different team today than they were a year ago, and yet, too many fans are holding onto a false reality that this club is destined for the same kind of failure.

No, I'm not calling them some kind of World Series contender who should be a favorite to go deep into October, but this team has improved itself vastly from where they were at in 2023.

As of June 24th

Record

ERA

OPS

2024 Cardinals

40-37 (2nd in NL Central, 2nd Wild Card)

3.95 (14th in MLB)

.687 (17th in MLB)

2023 Cardinals

31-45 (5th in NL Central, 3rd worst record in NL)

4.57 ERA (24th in MLB)

.746 (11th in MLB)

Unfortunately, there is no good way to filter defensive stats based on time of year, but the Cardinals did finish 20th in baseball last year in DRS while placing 12th so far this season. Just by the eye test alone, you can see massive improvements across the board defensively for this club.

Masyn Winn and Alec Burleson have emerged as key cogs in the Cardinals lineup after being thought of as complementary pieces entering the year. Willson Contreras just rejoined the lineup and has put together All-Star-level production when he's on the field. Brendan Donovan has recovered from a cold stretch to start the year to become arguably the Cardinals' most valuable player for the ways he produces at the plate and anywhere in the field that they need him. Tommy Edman and Lars Nootbaar are set to return to the lineup soon as well to give it even more of a boost.

The experience this year with the Cardinals' starting rotation is night and day from what they had in 2023. Sonny Gray is a true ace, Kyle Gibson and Miles Mikolas consistently go deep into games and get the Cardinals to a win, and Lance Lynn has been a substantial upgrade over what they got from the back of the rotation last year. And of course, the bullpen has been excellent this year.

Sure, both Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are producing far below what you'd expect from them. Yes, the Cardinals need to add another starter (at least) to feel good about their chances the rest of the way. But the bottom line is simple:

This is not last year's team. Not even close.

The turnaround in Milwaukee has set this team on a different trajectory than last year's group

I'll admit, for as optimistic as I was about this Cardinals team entering the season, I thought they were dead in the water after their seventh straight loss on Saturday, May 11th, and was fairly certain they were facing major changes if they were swept by the Brewers on Sunday afternoon.

Sitting with a record of 15-24, the Cardinals looked very much like the team that imploded in 2023. Sure, the way they were losing wasn't the same (the bats went quiet in 2024 while the starting pitching blew up in 2023), but the end result was the same - a team that looked lifeless.

Well, then manager Oliver Marmol seemed to energize the club during his ejection on Sunday afternoon, and the club took off from there, going on a 25-13 run over their next 38 games, the best record in the National League during that stretch and completely flipping the script on their season.

In many ways, the Cardinals have already closed the book on the narrative that this team can't go anywhere without Goldschmidt and Arenado. Their lack of productivity makes it extremely difficult and likely limits their ceiling, but the young guns have already proven they can lead this team and play winning baseball.

It's not just the young guys though. We already talked about the impact that Gray, Gibson, Lynn, and Mikolas are having on this team, but even that "veteran leadership" off of the bench has proven worthwhile thus far. Masyn Winn has greatly benefited from the guidance of Brandon Crawford and is a leading candidate for National League Rookie of the Year. Alec Burleson is breaking out as a true difference-maker at the plate and has given a lot of credit to Matt Carpenter for his breakout.

There's something different about this club compared to last season. There's no drama on or off the field. There are no clashing personalities. There's no self-inflicted controversy. And the club's biggest problem this season, which has been their offense, has all of the answers it needs inside the clubhouse, and it has begun to show.

I don't really know what the fate of this team will be as the season goes on. Right now they look like a team that could finish with closer to 85 wins than the losing record they were on pace for, but it's certainly possible they come back down to earth a bit and are just a .500 club. But given the way this club has come together since May 12th, the key contributors they have returning from injury, and the upgrades they will make at the trade deadline, this club is well on its way to playing October baseball, and that's a very different place than they were a year ago today.

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