The Cardinals have come a long way since 2018
Time seems to be going by faster and faster each year, and it really wasn't all that long ago that the St. Louis Cardinals' roster looked significantly different than it does now.
Before the 2018 season, the St. Louis Cardinals made their infamous Marcell Ozuna acquisition. For as frustrating as that deal looks in retrospect, you also have to remember where the roster was at following 2017. Here was the Cardinals' Opening Day lineup against the New York Mets 2018.
While the Cardinals now enter the 2023 season with a top 5 lineup in all of baseball featuring two top 3 MVP finalists as a part of a group of ten players projected to be at least above league average, the 2018 Cardinals were a significant step backward. St. Louis ranked 12th in OPS+, 14th in SLG, 14th in OBP, and 17th in AVG. They did manage to rank 10th in runs per game, but overall, the offense was nowhere what it is now.
While the offense did improve during the second half of that season, the other side of the coin when it comes to their lineup was how bad of a team they were defensive. The Cardinals ranked 25th in Fangraphs' Def in 2018, as guys like Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez had significant time in the field for them.
The 2022 Cardinals found a way to blend elite defense and offense together for the first time in a long time for the club, and the 2023 club looks to build on that by adding even more depth to the equation. The weakest defender in their lineup may actually now be their catcher, Willson Contreras, who may not be a great defensive catcher, but he's not a liability like Martinez or Ozuna were for St. Louis.
Soon I'll take a look back at the 2018 Cardinals rotation and bullpen, but in the case of their lineup, there needs to be some appreciation for how John Mozeliak has been able to revamp their lineup and defense in the last five seasons.