The 2024 season is almost upon us. In just a week, pitchers and catchers will report to spring training.
The Cardinals know that this is going to be an important season. If they return to their winning ways, 2023 can be considered a blip. But if not, the trajectory of the organization may change.
After a 91-loss season, the Cardinals spent the offseason adding pitching. They brought in three starters, Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson, while also adding Andrew Kittredge and Keynan Middleton to bolster the bullpen.
Other depth pieces such as Riley O'Brien, Josh James, Ryan Fernandez, and Nick Robertson were added to the mix. But the Major League roster appears to be set as of now.
The NL Central is a weak division, meaning that the Cardinals have a good chance of getting back to the top. The Brewers downgraded with the Corbin Burnes trade, and the Cubs and Reds still have a ways to go, in my opinion.
But what is the best-case scenario for the Cardinals? We'll discuss that in this piece and what needs to go right for the Cardinals to be the best version of themselves.
What is the best-case scenario for the Cardinals?
A few days ago, I wrote a piece predicting how many wins the Cardinals will end up with. I landed on 84 or 85, and I stand by that. As currently constructed, that's probably what the Cardinals are on track to do in 2024.
We have to be realistic about things too. Players are going to get hurt. You can't avoid that in a baseball season. There will also be players who perform better than others. Some may surprise us while others may underachieve.
But taking all that into account obviously doesn't answer the question.
I also wrote a piece that you can check out about who some of the X-factors for the Cardinals are. I listed Lance Lynn and Paul Goldschmidt in that piece.
The reason I had Lynn is that if he performs well and is more on par with what he did in 2022, then the Cardinals will be a different team. I think the ceiling for Lynn is being a low-end No. 2 starter or a middle-of-the-rotation guy. His 5.73 ERA last year proves that he was anything but that in 2023.
But he had a 3.99 ERA in 2022 and a 2.69 mark in 2021. If he can return to form, the Cardinals have two guys, Lynn and Sonny Gray, that you can trust in big games.
Goldschmidt had a good year last year but not a great year. He didn't follow up his MVP season with another MVP-caliber year, but if he can bounce back, the Cardinals offense will look completely different.
Several players went on the injured list as well. Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, and Ryan Helsley all missed significant time last year. The Cardinals will need all of them to be healthy. Even Nolan Arenado missed the final nine games with a back injury, and we can only hope his back is feeling better. Tommy Edman also missed time with a wrist injury.
When healthy, all of them were effective, so a full season of them should help the Cardinals. They'll also rely heavily on Jordan Walker, who I think is going to be huge this season.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are once again banking on a lot to go right, but if things do go well, we should see a much different team. In that case, I would expect the Cardinals to be in the mix at the trade deadline and be in a position to make a trade for a second top-level starter such as Dylan Cease or Jesus Luzardo.
Only then can the Cardinals be considered true World Series contenders.
But I think they'll rely heavily on their young core of position players, which I don't think is a bad thing. It's a big ask for Lance Lynn to pitch like an ace, and I don't think he'll be quite on that level, but I do think he'll be better and help the Cardinals significantly.