Thursday, December 7, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Cardinals


My dad said something to me towards the end of the regular season, that 'baseball is just better when the Cardinals and Yankees are competitive'. And while I get what he's trying to say, that baseball is more exciting when two of its winningest clubs are able to compete into October and extend their own legacies, I was not missing the Cardinals at all this October. It's been YEARS since I hadn't had to worry about the Cardinals at all, and with a good decade or so of them annoying me and constantly deciding around July that this is the year and not letting up til mid-October [which, to be fair, the Phillies have been doing recently], having the Cardinals completely collapse this year was a nice change of pace.

Like the other traditionally-great team that missed the playoffs this year, the Cardinals were struck down by injuries, bloated contracts, rookies that weren't all the way ready yet, and great seasons that were better off happening in other cities. Though you can never truly count this team out, and with the Cards restocking their rotation with guys like Kyle Gibson, Sonny Gray and Lance Lynn, it's unlikely that the team will finish 20 games below .500 again in 2024. Not impossible, but unlikely.

One of the team's biggest disappointments might have been losing Brendan Donovan, who was having another excellent season, to an injury midyear. Through 95 games, the versatile Donovan was hitting .284 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs, in addition to some decent defensive play. The injury robbed the Cardinals of one of its safest lineup bets, and while he should be ready by Spring Training, it's not sure whether or not he'll completely hit the ground running in 2024.
2024 Prediction: I'm guessing a lot of the 'youth movement' Cards from the past 5 years might be phased out, and by that point Donovan will have full control of second and be a big piece of this Cardinals team. He might chase .300 again.

In his second year in St. Louis, Steven Matz continued to deliver solid mid-rotation material, with a 3.86 ERA and 98 Ks in 105 innings. Like Donovan, he missed some time due to injuries, which dulled his full-season impact, but the team is relying on him for 2024.
2024 Prediction: His fullest season in years, a Sonny Gray-style [heh] low-ERA triumph that gets people back on his side.

As the many rookies and second-year guys begin to dominate the Cardinals' lineup, many of them, including Alex Burleson, are showing signs of staying power. Burleson was the team's primary DH this year, and hit .244 with 8 home runs and 36 RBIs. Decent power numbers, and at 24 they can definitely be built on.
2024 Prediction: I don't think he's gonna stay solely at DH. I think they're either gonna give him a full OF/corner position or just make him a bench guy. Something tells me they'll need DH a bit more open with Goldy turning 36. He'll still play next year, though maybe not as much of a starter.

And while Jordan Walker was the biggest rookie prospect to make the team this year, Masyn Winn showed up near the end and provided some solid defensive shortstop material to make up for Paul DeJong's departure. Winn's batting numbers have yet to arrive, as he only hit .172 with 21 hits in 37 games, but as Winn is only 21, it's the kind of thing he can come into over time.
2024 Prediction: I honestly think the Cardinals are gonna make a small free agent signing to fill shortstop until they trust Winn with the position. Then they'll call him up around August and he'll be 100% ready, and the other guy won't be needed.

Coming Tomorrow- Quite a few people who made the Cubs a worthwhile team this year. 

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