What to make of the St. Louis Cardinals' improved level of play

While the season as a whole has not gone well, the team has woken up a bit as of late. What does that mean for the Cardinals?
St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves
St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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The Cardinals have been playing a little bit better over the past couple of weeks. They took a series from the Padres, securing back-to-back walk-off wins thanks to Tommy Edman. A series loss over the weekend set them back a bit, but they have responded by winning a series against the Braves, who have the best record in baseball.

At this point, nothing will save the Cardinals' season. 2023 is a lost cause and it's time for the team to shift their focus to the future. However, they are playing better baseball, and it is at the very least encouraging.

So if it doesn't mean that the Cardinals are making an improbable comeback and reaching the postseason, what should we make of this recent stretch of games?

To be fair, despite how bad the season has been, the Cardinals have been able to win series against some pretty good teams. They've beaten the Brewers, Dodgers, Marlins, Rays, and now the Braves. They have a chance to pull off a sweep tonight with Adam Wainwright on the hill.

There have been some signs of life, albeit not many, and if the Cardinals are about to have a good month of September, they're a day late and a dollar short. But even without a playoff berth on the line, there is something left to play for.

As we've discussed, the Cardinals have the opportunity to do something that they haven't been in a position to do for quite some time, and that is to play the role of spoiler. After the series against the Braves, they'll take on the Reds, Orioles, Phillies, and Brewers.

The NL Central would have three playoff teams if the postseason began today. The Brewers, Reds, and Cubs are all in playoff position. When the Cardinals go into Cincinnati this weekend, they'll have a chance to put a dagger in the Reds hearts. The same can be said when they wrap up the regular season at home against the Reds.

And while it won't save the season, it might be gratifying for fans to know that the Cardinals managed to take some other teams down with them.

The Phillies swept the Cardinals at Citizen's Bank Park, giving the team an unpleasant flashback to the Wild Card series. The Phillies won both of those postseason games at Busch Stadium.

When the Phillies come into town, the Cardinals will have the chance to somewhat return the favor.

Improved play does put them in a good position to still impact the playoff chase. But it could also serve as a nice dress rehearsal for 2024.

The Cardinals have made it clear that they want to contend again in 2024. With less than a month left in the season, it's time for them to assess what they have and see how it will help them next year.

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For example, now is a perfect time to see what Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn can do. Winn hit his first Major League homer last night, while Walker continues to swing a hot bat.

These are positive signs for 2024 and could be a precursor to very productive seasons from the two young stars. In addition, if the Cardinals finish strong, they can do so knowing that the core they have in place is one worth building around and that if they do build around it, this could be a dangerous team in the future.