The Cardinals have a ton of potential, but how good can they be in 2023?
You can learn a great deal watching baseball for 40 years. Sometimes you learn that old adages have been around for a long time because they are just true. One of those old adages is that good pitching will always beat good hitting. Unfortunately, I think this may also sum up the fate of the 2023 Cardinals.
Barring significant injuries to core players, the Cardinals should win the NL Central. The question for most Cards fans is whether they can compete for the pennant or the World Series crown. Let’s look at the three phases of the game and the Cards’ NL competition to make some early predictions about the upcoming season and playoffs.
The Cardinals should have little trouble scoring runs. Per TeamRankings, the Cards averaged 4.73 runs per game last year, tied for fifth place in all of baseball, one spot ahead of the pennant-winning Phillies and five spots ahead of division rival Milwaukee. Even with the loss of Albert Pujols to retirement, the offense should be better in 2023.
The offense is led by perennial MVP candidates Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman’s steady contribution. The second base duo of Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman should provide above-average production from the position.
The addition of Wilson Contreras at catcher is a clear offensive upgrade over Yadier Molina. Last year, the Cardinals ranked 27th in WAR among MLB catchers. Assuming Contreras bats fifth in the order, the Cards are solid at 3-4-5 and he will provide consistent protection for Arenado in the clean-up spot. Contreras hit 22 homers in 416 at-bats last year and had an OPS of .815. His bat is good enough that he can DH when he isn’t catching.
The projected production from the outfield isn’t quite as clear. Before spring training, it seemed like Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, and Lars Nootbar were locks to start in the outfield. However, phenom Jordan Walker may force the Cards to change their plans. After a strong spring, he has made the Opening Day roster. They won’t keep him in the majors just to ride the pine, so he may be the starter in left field with O’Neill in center and Nootbar in right. Carlson would be the backup in this scenario, but the Cards would try to get him at-bats against left-handers.
O’Neill is a bounce-back candidate, assuming he can stay healthy. He hit .286 with 34 homers in 2021. Last year he was injured and was able to manage only 14 homers in 334 at-bats to go along with a .228 batting average. The Cards are expecting more production from him this year, which will serve to lengthen the lineup whether he bats second or sixth in the order.
The Cardinals have the best offense in the National League Central. If Walker is for real, Nootbar can live up to expectations, and O’Neill can stay on the field an already dangerous lineup will be even better.