The St. Louis Cardinals finished the 2022 regular season with 93 wins, their most since 2015 when they won 100 games. Unfortunately, they ultimately got swept in two games by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Wild Card series. They come into the season with that in the rear-view mirror and hope to capitalize on this new-feel club. According to FanDuel, the current 2023 St. Louis Cardinals O/U is set at 88.5 wins coming into the season. Not only will this team hit the OVER, but they’ll do it by a a handful games. There’s a lot to be excited about with Cardinals baseball heading into the season.
2023 St. Louis Cardinals O/U: Why the Cardinals Will Hit the OVER
New Man Behind the Plate
With Yadier Molina retiring in 2022 after spending his entire 19-year career with the Cardinals, President of Baseball Operations John Mozalak knew that he had to go out right away and fill one of their biggest holes at a single position in a long time. He did exactly that with a big splash as he signed former Cub and three-time All-Star Willson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5M contract that includes a club option for 2028.
Contreras is one of the best offensive catchers in the game and the Cardinals are hoping that masks some of the defensive questions surrounding him. He’s hit 20 or more home runs in four seasons since 2017, tied for first among catchers over that time. The seven-year backstop also tallied over 50 RBI five times during that span while posting a career 115 OPS+. In 2022, Contreras hit 22 home runs with 55 RBI and had a career-high 128 OPS+ with the Chicago Cubs. All this has accumulated to the three-time All-Star being 15% above league average among catchers on offense throughout his career.
There are questions about the defensive abilities of Contreras but if you take a deep dive, he’s been solid and maybe even a little better than most give him credit for over the past couple of seasons. His pitch-framing has improved since 2020 and is above average when it comes to his career caught-stealing percentage, which is 30%. The factors contributing to that are being solid in blocking pitches in the dirt and his arm is one of the best in baseball. There will still be some overall concerns behind the plate but the offense Contreras came to Cardinals to provide will make it well worth it.
Gold Glove Defense
The identity of this team has become clear for a few years now and that’s the defense. Want proof? Look no further than the amount of Gold Gloves this defense has accumulated, specifically over the last couple of years.
In 2021, the Cardinals dominated the Gold Glove race by winning five of the nine awards. That set the record for most in a single season in MLB history. The recipients included first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, second baseman Tommy Edman, left fielder Tyler O’Neill, center fielder Harrison Bader (traded to NYY), and third baseman Nolan Arenado, who also won the platinum glove that season for the fifth year in a row. All of these accolades brought home the Rawlings Team Gold Glove award in 2021, which recognizes the best overall team defense.
Although the team didn’t win five Gold Gloves in 2022, the defense carried over once again on their way to their second Rawlings Team Gold Glove Award in as many seasons, leading MLB in fielding percentage and fewest errors committed. Arenado won his 10th straight Gold Glove in his 10th year playing, tying Ichiro Suzuki for the most to start a career. He also won his sixth platinum in 2022, making it the superstar’s sixth consecutive season winning the award.
While the Cardinals had an established defensive wizard winning an award in 2022 at third, rookie Brendan Donovan decided to join in on the fun and win his first Gold Glove as a utility player, putting his versatile fielding at many positions on display (played at least 16 games a piece at second, third, right field and left field). While they didn’t win it, Goldschmidt (4-time GG winner) and Edman were finalists at their respective positions. Edman also finished a finalist as a utility player, fielding at shortstop for 80 games in 2022 to go along with his 89 games at second.
The general consensus is that the Cardinals have the best defense in the league coming into 2023. They have Gold Glovers all around the infield, one in the outfield, and two more potential award winners with outfielders Lars Nootbaar and Dylan Carlson. The Cardinals are loaded defensively and could very well win their third Rawlings Team Gold Glove in what will be the awards’ fourth year of existence.
The Emergence of the Young Guns
St. Louis has had a reputation of bringing up players from Memphis that become key contributors for not only the current year but for years to come and that’s exactly what this team is leaning on for several of their young stars.
This group of young players started with Dylan Carlson, who is entering his third full season at age 24 and won Rookie of the Year in 2021. The Cardinals are counting on him to have a bounce-back year in this lineup for 2023 after an underwhelming campaign last season.
The emergence of Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbaar has been vital in the teams’ success and this upcoming season is where they’ll be leaned on the most. Nootbaar is entering his third season in the league, having a good 2022 but really broke out in the second half of the year, becoming one of the best hitters in baseball over that time with a .846 OPS. His defense is a big part of his game as well, becoming a legit Gold Glove contender in the outfield. With his plate discipline, on-base skills, and power from the left side, Nootbaar will be asked to play an even bigger role in this offense.
Slashing .281/.394/.379 with 5 home runs and 45 RBI earned Donovan a spot among the National League Rookie of the Year finalists, placing third. What might be even more impressive is being the first player to win the utility Gold Glove for his ability to play all around the diamond and even in the outfield. His all-around play makes him a valuable asset to the Cardinals moving forward.
Donovan and Nootbaar might be the most notable to have an emergence last season but the Cardinals have plenty of other young talent that will play a big role for the team in 2023. Players like Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez are expected to take on bigger roles for the upcoming season, hoping to take a leap that will make the depth an even greater strength.
We also can’t leave out one of the best prospects in baseball, Jordan Walker. Walker can be a legit force on this Cardinals team if he makes the big league squad in 2023. St. Louis hasn’t had this much hype around a prospect since the late Oscar Tavaras and everyone in baseball will get a chance to see why if given the chance.
A Weak NL Central
There are divisions like the NL and AL East, which are considered the best in baseball, and then there are divisions like NL and AL Central, which are considered the worst in baseball. Focusing on the National League side the things, the Central has been at the bottom of the barrel for a few seasons now and that’s not expected to change as we enter the season.
The Cardinals are far ahead as the favorites to win the division in 2023 with their talent around the field. The Milwaukee Brewers are the closest team to challenging for the NL Central crown but some roster changes have put a hold on them as real contenders.
Despite some interesting developments on the north side of Chicago with the additions made, the Cubs are projected to finish below .500 while the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds will seemingly fight for the bottom of the division while in rebuild mode.
Last season, the Cardinals went 48-28 against the division (13-6 vs Cubs, 13-6 vs Pirates, 12-7 vs Reds, 10-9 vs Brewers) and certainly can put up similar numbers in 2023. While each team will play 52 games in a season against the division instead of the usual 76 like in years past, there are still a lot of wins to be had against the central for the Cardinals to hit the OVER for their win total in 2023.
One of the Best Lineups in Baseball
If you ask anyone what the strength of the team is, they will say the defense but don’t sleep on this lineup. According to multiple media outlets, the Cardinals have one of the best lineups in all of baseball. ESPN ranks them at number two while MLB.com ranks them at number four and the general thought process behind that is the mix of promising young talent along with skilled and experienced veterans.
We saw a glimpse of what this offense is capable of in 2022, ranking 2nd in all of MLB in OPS+ (first in NL), 4th in on-base percentage, 5th in OPS, 6th in doubles, and 7th in slugging while placing top ten in home runs and batting average. The Cardinals were also tied for first in walk-strikeout ratio.
A big reason the redbirds’ lineup exploded in 2022 and is set to do so even more in 2023 is mainly because of two players, Paul Goldshmidt and Nolan Arenado. Not only are these two one of the best one-two combos defensively but they are just as impressive a one-two combo on offense, placing themselves among the top overall hitters in the league over the last several years.
Goldshmidt won his first NL MVP award last season, hitting 35 home runs with 115 RBI while being at or near the top in almost every offensive category not only in the NL but in all of baseball. Arenado finished third in the MVP voting with 30 home runs and 103 RBI, proving even more (as he did in 2021) that he isn’t just another product of Coors.
One of the biggest reasons why many believe this offense will improve even more is because of the addition of Willson Contreras, making this lineup even deeper than it already was. While he can’t replace Molina’s defense, he can sure replace Molina’s bat as one of the biggest offensive upgrades in the league.
After a regression in 2022, Tyler O’Neill might be the most important Cardinal in this lineup. He’s been working on his approach this offseason to try to get back to his 2021 form and if he can, that makes this Cardinals team that much more dangerous. Along with an established Tommy Edman, we talked about the emergence of young talent like Nootbaar and Donovan among others, who will be huge fixtures on this team at the plate moving forward.
If all this offense can come together and work a little of this Cardinal magic, they could have one of the most feared lineups in baseball and be serious World Series contenders.
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