The Cardinals Biggest X-Factor for the 2023 season

Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals
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If Jack Flaherty can match up with other NL aces, he gives the Cardinals a legit chance at the World Series

Now, even with a healthy and productive Flaherty, the Cardinals are not going to be favorites over teams like the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, or Atlanta Braves. But ace like production from Flaherty shrinks that gap significantly, especially if the Cardinals lineup takes another step forward in 2023.

In 2022, the Cardinals hitters ranked 3rd in all of baseball in fWAR, 5th in wRC+ and wOBA, and top 10 in so many other major offensive categories. Although the lineup benefited greatly from Albert Pujols' magical second half at the plate, it's pretty easy to see why the lineup should be better in 2023.

The club got a significant upgrade at the plate at catcher, going from a negative value to one of the best hitting catchers in the game in Willson Contreras. The uptick in offensive production alone at that position will be a huge addition for the Cardinals. Even with the loss of Pujols, people are quick to forget how bad he was before that run, and how little production the Cardinals were getting from the DH spot.

Rebound seasons from Tyler O'Neill and Dylan Carlson are appear to be coming, as O'Neill is changing his training program and Carlson will look to rebound from his wrist injury in 2022. The continued development of guys like Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, and Brendan Donovan, as well as debut of Jordan Walker, should all help the Cardinals lineup take another step forward in 2023, even with some potential regression from Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Just look at how deep the Cardinals lineup is projected to be in 2023.

The Cardinals are projected to have an above league average hitter 1-9 in their lineup, with guys like Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, and Alec Burleson expected to be significant contributors as well and not even included in this graphic.

If the Cardinals have this deep of a lineup and an ace to lead them in a playoff series, they have the tools to compete with the best in the National League and could be any team in any given series. Miles Mikolas and Jordan Montgomery make for a really nice 2-3 punch to follow, and the Cardinals bullpen remains good, potentially great.

But without an ace to go toe to toe with the likes of Justin Verlander, Max Fried, Julio Urias, Joe Musgrove, and Aaron Nola, the Cardinals will have a punchers chance, at best, to beat any of the leagues best. The Cardinals need Jack Flaherty to be an ace in 2023, and if he is, this team's ceiling is significantly higher than we may think it is today.

Next. Cardinals rank 16th in payroll for 2023. dark