Nobody can disagree with the fact that the beginning of the Cardinals season has been lackluster, exiting April with a 10-19 (.345) record, which is second worst in the National League, only behind the Rockies, who had a 9-20 (.310) record entering May. But these are the St. Louis Cardinals, who have been known for turning seasons around on a dime and squeaking into the playoffs. So while many people will tell you the season is over, here are five reasons to stay optimistic and keep the hope alive for the 2023 season in St. Louis.
1. Cardinals have played a lot of difficult opponents
Most people will look at the two series against the Rockies and the Giants to tell you, the Cardinals played nothing but bad opponents and shouldn’t have lost those games. In reality, the Cardinals’ opponents were a combined 129-108. The NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates’ opponents combined record is 77-110. It’s hard not to realize that the strength of schedule could be a factor in the current outcome of both teams’ seasons. Wait for the Cardinals to start to face more bottom-of-the-barrel teams, and we may see things start to click for St. Louis.
2. A lot of depth in the minors
The Cardinals always seem to have one rookie come up at some point in the season and light it up, being a beacon of hope for the future. Last year it was Brendan Donovan. So, who could it be this year? Well, there are a few guys. First baseman Luken Baker has been killing it in Memphis, sporting a .318/.450/.716 slash line, while also carrying a 1.166 OPS (4th in AAA) along with 10 home runs (T-2nd). The Cardinals could bring him up to be a regular DH, or a first baseman to play when Goldschmidt needs a rest. Matthew Liberatore has been the star for the pitching squad, holding a 2.12 ERA (3rd in AAA) and having the most strikeouts among pitchers with 45 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. That gives him a 12.03 K/9. In a season where pitching has been a concern for the Cardinals, a strikeout lefty could be exactly what the Cardinals need to correct their course back to a division lead. Other guys like Tres Barrera (C), Juniel Querecuto (2B), and Chase Pinder (LF) have been very solid in AAA at the plate. Kyle Leahy, James Naile, and Jake Walsh have all been very good pitching for Memphis. Should they feel the need to bring some youth in to potentially shake things up, there are plenty of options at the Cardinals disposal.
3. The umpires have been flat out awful
You never want to be the first person to start blaming other people for the reason your team loss, but the umpires have been flat out bad to start the Cardinals season. The website Umpscorecards (@UmpScorecards on Twitter) provides single-game reports for umpires and their performance, factoring in their overall accuracy, consistency, and which team the umpire favored in that game. As it stands, the Cardinals have the 5th lowest umpire favoring at -4.43. This means that the home plate umpires have missed calls in favor of the Cardinals opponent, for a total of -4.43 runs. An issue like this is typically out of the Cardinals’ control (framing from a catcher could be a factor), so you hope to see it improve in the month of May.
4. There are more diamonds in the rough than you think
Sure, there have been more than a fair share of underperformers to start this season. Nolan Arenado looks weird at the plate, Miles Mikolas hasn’t looked like the guy the Cardinals wanted when they signed him to a $40 million extension, and Tyler O’Neill is back to striking out more than he hits. But what is there to like? Well, Jordan Montgomery has been extremely solid this season, having four of his six starts being quality starts, as well as leading the pitching staff in ERA, WHIP, and innings pitched, while only being one strikeout behind Jack Flaherty, who leads the club. On the hitting side of things, Paul Goldschmidt has continued to be the best hitter in the Cardinals lineup, leading all major categories besides home runs, RBIs, and slugging (all of which belong to Nolan Gorman). Speaking of Nolan Gorman, while his average has started to fall, he is still looking better than ever at the plate. He’s striking out a bit more than the Cardinals would like, but for just his second season in the majors, all signs are pointing to a very bright future for the 22 year old.
5. It’s still very early
If we were to decide the World Series based on record right now, it would be a Rays vs. Pirates matchup. Who would ever have expected them to be as good as they are? Well, both teams have played some of the worst teams in the league, while the Cardinals have been paired up with some scary teams. We’re only 29 games into the Cardinals’ season, which leaves 133 games to determine the outcome of the 2023 season. That’s just under 18% of the season. There have been crazier comebacks in baseball history, so there’s no reason to believe that the Cardinals are done for the year. Let the pieces fall into place, be patient when seeing certain players underperform, and we might just see the Cardinals team we expected heading into the season.