The date is September 29, 2023, and

the St. Louis Cardinals are coming off of a 3-0 shutout loss to eventual-division-champs, the Milwaukee Brewers, the night before. They’re playing host to the Cincinnati Reds, a division rival, who have had a season full of pleasant surprises. The game starts off with a three-run top of the 1st for the Reds, followed up by a four-run top of the 2nd. The Cardinals responded with two runs crossing the plate in the bottom of the 3rd, but the damage had already been done. The Reds would go on to win this game 19-2, an embarrassing loss that summarized an embarrassing season.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished the 2023 season with a record of 71-91, last in the National League Central, and tied for second-to-last in the entire National League. 71-91 is their worst record since 1990, where they went 70-92.

In 2022 the Cardinals went 93-69, good enough for a division title and a trip to the post-season, where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in a 2-0 series in the wild card round of said post-season. What happened during the off-season that caused such a decline in team performance?

Around spring training (February and March), John Mozeliak, President of Baseball Operations for the St. Louis Cardinals, said, “Right now we feel like we have six starters for five spots. If you add another starter to that, then you have seven. And you also have some guys who are going to be competing for starting inning spots” (www. This couldn’t have been further from true. With a 4.79 ERA (Earned Run Average…how many runs a team gives up per game), the Cardinals placed seventh from last in the entire MLB (Major League Baseball). The Cardinals also placed in the bottom ten in the MLB in every single pitching statistic – an absolute disaster class. The biggest highlight of the season was Adam Wainwright getting his 200th career win, but even that is tough to call a highlight.

Adam Wainwright is a legend in the eyes of Cardinals fans everywhere. He started with the organization in 2004 and has been a staple for the Cardinals his entire career; he’s been a key member of two world series teams, 2006 and 2011 respectively. Wainwright had loads of struggles during his 2023 campaign, dealing with multiple shoulder and elbow injuries, but one thing was for certain, he was getting 200 wins… and he did, picking up win number 200 on September 18th, against the Milwaukee Brewers. Even that didn’t come easy though. Adam Wainwright suffered a 5-11 record, with a 7.40 ERA in 101 innings pitched this year, good enough for the highest ERA in all of MLB pitchers for the 2023 season. Obviously one person’s performance doesn’t dictate an entire team’s season, but Adam Wainwright’s 2023 season was too critical not to mention.

What about the offense? The offense was good enough, finishing middle of the pack in every offensive category, which isn’t fantastic by any means, but it also isn’t terrible. The job of the offense
is to score runs, and they scored 719 of them, ranking 19th in the MLB. It’s not the worst place to be, but with the pitching being seventh-worst in all of baseball, it wasn’t enough. The big signing of the off-season was Willson Contreras, who signed a 5 year/ $87,500,000 million contract, with an average annual salary of $17,500,000 million. Contreras hit 20 home runs, with 67 RBIs (Runs Batted In), and slashed .264/.358/.467 with a 3.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, or how valuable he was to the team when he wasn’t playing). Willson Contreras is highlighted because he was a part of controversy at the beginning of the season that was the beginning of the end for the Cardinals in 2023. He was benched for poor pitching performance when it wasn’t his fault, which led to fan backlash toward the manager and front office. This backlash would last for weeks before Contreras was inserted back into the lineup, where he performed exceptionally.

“This season was a nightmare. By July, I was already looking forward to the next season. I was sick and tired of watching this team”, said Hunter Seaton, an avid Cardinal fan since birth who hadn’t seen a losing season since he has been alive. “I always go to about five or six games a year. St. Louis is probably forty-five minutes to an hour from my house, so it isn’t a hassle to get to games. I went to two games this year, and that was plenty for me…this team just didn’t seem to care”. With the Cardinals slated to have a relatively high draft pick in the upcoming 2024 MLB draft, there appears to be a turn of optimism for 2024.

The St. Louis Cardinals are what is known as ‘a big market franchise’, which basically means they’re an organization that has a lot of money, making it a place that players want to play because of that money. With a payroll of around $103,000,000, this places the Cardinals at league-average in terms of payroll. After the disaster of 2023, John Mozeliak has already made a comment about the Cardinals’ plans in the off-season: “I think the answer is likely yes. I feel like you need protection on the innings side. We’re encouraged with what we’re seeing with guys here, but I think adding depth would be important” (@JohnDenton555 via X). Mozeliak also had this to say regarding the 2024 off-season: “Realistically, we know we have to add three starters this off-season. We know we have to add depth. We went into the season thinking that we would have that covered. It didn’t work out that way. Having a repeat of that would not be in the best interest of the franchise. So, I think our approach is going to be very aggressive on the pitching side. We’ll see where it takes us”.

With big plans planned for the 2024 off-season, and with a grasp on a potential top-5 draft pick, 2024 looks to be the year where the Cardinals get things right again. An organization that has been winning since their inception, with 11 world series championships second only to the New York Yankees with 27, the St. Louis Cardinals look to prove that 2023 was just a fluke, as they aim to reach the post-season and get that coveted twelfth world series championship. Hopefully Mozeliak and the Cardinals organization learned a valuable lesson over these last seven months: pitching wins championships.

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