On-field performance dampened the Cardinals' clubhouse culture in 2023

Is it possible that the on-field results led to a negative clubhouse culture in 2023?

St. Louis Cardinals v Colorado Rockies
St. Louis Cardinals v Colorado Rockies / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

Winning is the antidote for athletes. A slump for a player is overshadowed by team success most often, and a surge by a player isn't mentioned outside of local beat writers if the team is at the bottom of the league in the standings.

Much has been shared about the need for clubhouse leaders for the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason. Players such as Lance Lynn, Sonny Gray, and Matt Carpenter were brought in to be leaders this offseason. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, leaders in their own right, requested assistance in the guidance department.

Oliver Marmol was even so clear as to admit that players needed to be "weeded out" to start the offseason. It's reasonable to wonder if there was a lack of leaders in the clubhouse that contributed to negative vibes, or if the on-field performance and the team's inability to reach the heights that were projected of them last year led to friction behind the walls of Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals were projected to be a top-4 team in the National League last year, and they were supposed to handily take the National League Central crown. In fact, some pundits even pegged the Cardinals as World Series contenders. Rather than achieving these great heights, the Redbirds finished last in the division with a record of 71-91.

As a team, the Cardinals finished in the middle of the pack in team OPS+ and runs per game, they were 26th in ERA+, 24th in team ERA, and they left the most amount of runners on base. These stats are some of the most comprehensive for team statistics, and the Cardinals found themselves in the dregs of the league in most of them. They were just a plain bad team on the field.

This poor performance on the field could have even leaked into the clubhouse. Katie Woo of the Athletic wrote a piece at the end of last season in which she discussed her experience covering a bad baseball team. Not only did players feel the heat of a losing season, but even reporters experienced dismal days.

"I remember how the team’s tone gradually shifted from initial shock in April to incomprehensible frustration in May, before settling on defeated disappointment by the end of June."

Katie Woo

My argument here is that rather than there being a dearth of leaders in the clubhouse in 2023--after all, Adam Wainwright, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Willson Contreras have all been in the league for multiple years and have each experienced winning seasons, losing seasons, championships, and personal struggles--that the cause of the bleak clubhouse was instead simply losing.

In the same way that winning fixes all, losing subverts everything. Nolan Arenado had one of the worst years of his career, so he couldn't help young players who were struggling. Willson Contreras had an undefined role. Adam Wainwright was fighting all sorts of inner demons just to achieve 200 wins in a season where he started with 195. Paul Goldschmidt has always been a humble leader, and he was coming back down to earth after his 2023 MVP season.

Even with as many bonafide leaders as St. Louis has prepared for 2024 if the team experiences as much losing as they did last year, it'll be tough to see smiling faces, jovial dispositions, and positive interactions in the clubhouse after games. Additionally, another losing season could spell disaster for certain players and managers in St. Louis. In the end, winning fixes everything.