The return of Lars Nootbaar adds even more momentum to soaring St. Louis Cardinals

All smiles from the Cardinals as Lars Nootbaar has returned!
Baltimore Orioles v St. Louis Cardinals
Baltimore Orioles v St. Louis Cardinals / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals had just begun to get hot when outfielder Lars Nootbaar landed on the injured list for the second time this season back on May 31st. St. Louis had just won 17 of their past 30 games and were finally back to .500 after a horrid stretch of baseball at the beginning of May.

The Cardinals activated Nootbaar on Monday, and luckily for them, the vibes have remained high in his absence.

It's kind of incredible to think that the Cardinals have gone 32-18 over their last 50 games, with the majority of that stretch occurring without both Nootbaar and Willson Contreras, two of their best hitters, and coinciding with the continued struggles of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The Cardinals have the best record in the National League since May 12th, and Nootbaar's return only helps further the momentum they have.

Lars Nootbaar's return is a massive boost to an ascending Cardinals team

On the season, Nootbaar has posted a .234/.337/.404 slash line with 5 home runs and 19 RBI in 164 plate appearances, good for a 114 wRC+ and 1.0 fWAR thus far. In his absence, the Cardinals have increasingly relied on names like Matt Carpenter, Dylan Carlson, and Jose Fermin to pick up playing time, so needless to say, Nootbaar is a massive upgrade over any of those guys in the lineup.

Nootbaar missed the Cardinals' first 13 games of the season due to a rib injury he suffered in Spring Training, and after taking some time to get into a rhythm, had caught fire throughout the month of May. During the 22 games Nootbaar played that month before landing on the injured list, he posted a .275/.370/.475 slash line, good for an .845 OPS and 143 wRC+.

While Nootbaar has struggled against left-handed pitching to the tune of a 42 wRC+ this year, his 148 wRC+ against right-handed pitching lengthens this lineup even more. The return of Contreras has been huge for this lineup, and this past week we have seen Arenado seem to turn things around at the plate.

Another key component of Nootbaar's game that cannot be overlooked is his ability to produce with runners in scoring position. So far in 2024, Nootbar has posted an .894 OPS and 155 wRC+ with runners in scoring position and holds a career .841 OPS and 132 wRC+ in those situations as well. As a team, the Cardinals rank 29th in both OPS (.644) and wRC+ (83) in those same situations.

Now that Nootbaar has returned, expect him to hit near the bottom of the order when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound, and then in their primary lineup against right-handers, we could see him hitting second or anywhere from fourth to sixth in the lineup depending on how manager Oliver Marmol wants to structure the order.

Defensively. Nootbaar's return also signals further improvements the Cardinals can make to their outfield alignment. Michael Siani has been the best defensive center fielder in baseball this year and Brendan Donovan is making his own case for a Gold Glove in left field as well, so moving Burleson to more of a DH role and allowing Nootbaar to play well above-average defensive in right field is a huge win. Burleson has made strides defensively this year, but Nootbaar is a clear upgrade there.

The Cardinals could use a strong finish leading up to the All-Star break, building more of a cushion in the Wild Card race and gaining games on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. Nootbaar's return should only enhance that push.

Welcome back Noot, you've been missed!