ST. LOUIS – A Red October is not looking likely for this year’s St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals currently hold the National League’s second-worst record at 49-65 and sit 10 games back of the final NL Wild Card spot. Even with a miracle run, the odds of making it into the postseason are slimming each and every day.
It’s certainly an unusual spot. The Cardinals have only played eight regular-season games while eliminated from postseason since their last World Series title in 2011. At their current pace, they would likely double that this year.
For fans loyal enough to keep watching Cardinals baseball through Oct. 1, the final date of the 2023 regular season, there could be some avenues to enjoyment. Keep the following five considerations in mind if you want to change the channel to a game or attend at least one more game at Busch Stadium this year:
Adam Wainwright’s sendoff and push for 200 wins
Adam Wainwright’s retirement tour hasn’t been as graceful as Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina’s from last year, but the 18-year Cardinals pitcher is optimistic that he’ll give every ounce of baseball left in the tank.
Since mid-June, Wainwright has been stuck at 198 career wins. He ended up on the injured list in July with shoulder discomfort after a few early-exit starts led to blowout losses. Wainwright returned to the rotation just before the trade deadline departures of Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty, and with lack of experienced options, he will likely be given the ball every fifth day to push for the milestone 200 victories.
The Cardinals will likely hold some celebration for Wainwright’s career during the final homestand of the 2023 season, but plans have not yet been formally announced.
An outfield logjam that led to rookie Jordan Walker’s unexpected option to minors earlier this year seems to be crawling back into the picture. The Cardinals have not deployed the same outfield combination in back-to-back games since the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
It was initially expected upon Tyler O’Neill’s return from injury last month that Dylan Carlson would settle into more of a bench role. O’Neill has drawn a bulk of starts, and Carlson’s playing time has slightly dwindled, but the Cardinals are still tinkering with lineup combinations. Alec Burleson’s improved situational hitting has pushed him into the picture for more starts too, while Walker’s batting average has dipped to .257 after a bit of a slump.
For the outfield, hitter-pitcher matchups and recent success will likely dictate who starts most often down the stretch. For the infield, it’s not as much of a concern right now as long as Nolan Gorman and Tommy Edman are healthy. However, both will need to show they can hold ground for a long haul with utility man Brendan Donovan expected back from surgery next spring and prospect Masyn Winn seemingly knocking on the door.
If you had to guess the starting rotation for next year, the only guarantees (if healthy) would be Miles Mikolas and likely Steven Matz if he keeps up his recent run of momentum. Other spots remain up for grabs, and performances in 2023 could dictate who starts more regularly next season.
Southpaw Zack Thompson made a strong statement with four clean innings in an opener’s role Sunday, and he’s spent several months at Triple-A Memphis trying to craft his arsenal for starting opportunities. Dakota Hudson has done well with covering innings and run prevention since his July call-up, but his walk rates remain a concern. Matthew Liberatore recently graduated from prospect status, but is working to find more consistency at the big-league level.
In short-term, Hudson, Liberatore and Thompson should see the most opportunities to prove whether they fit the bill for a long-term Cardinals rotation spot. Jake Woodford might see some chances later this year if he returns from injury in top form. Prospects Gordon Graceffo and Michael McGreevy might get a big-league look in September if St. Louis needs more innings covered, but it’s not a guarantee.
Once the Cardinals reach the final weekend of August, almost every series will come against a team currently in playoff position or a squad in the hunt for a Wild Card. The stretch starts with matchups against the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres, last year’s NLCS opponents and the only two NL two foes the Cardinals have yet to play this year.
Philadelphia is in a much better spot than San Diego, currently three games ahead for the final Wild Card spot as opposed to four games behind. How these two finish against the Cardinals could have large implications on October seeding, so the Cardinals will not want to take these games lightly.
The Cardinals also have matchups remaining with likely postseason locks in the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and perhaps a win or too against these squads could make a difference in the top of the pecking order.
Most importantly, the Cardinals could be in a position to play spoiler for a division foe. They have one home and one road series remaining against the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, only separated by 1.5 games for the NL Central crown. The Cardinals visit Milwaukee for a three-game set in their penultimate series and host the Reds for the final series of the 2023 season. Buckle up, the Cardinals could make for an interesting finish between the Brewers and Reds.
Next Men Up
Alluding to it earlier, the Cardinals will have some interesting decisions to make with top prospect Masyn Winn and possibly a few minor-league pitchers by the end of the year. St. Louis might be playing it carefully to make sure the rookie eligibility requirements for next year (130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched) aren’t broken.
That said, getting Winn some MLB experience this year could mutually benefit him and the Cardinals. The big-league birds can start to see how he fits with the team, and Winn could likely work on some things this offseason based on early experience. Lead executive John Mozeliak hasn’t ruled out a 2023 callup for Winn, but hasn’t indicated recently a timetable for a promotion.
Gordon Graceffo and Michael McGreevey have had mixed levels of success in the minors and could be candidates for call-ups if the pitching staff is hit with injuries or Memphis’ season ends early. First baseman Luken Baker, currently leading the minors with 30 home runs, seems poised for another opportunity at the top level when rosters expand in September.
As for the farm system, St. Louis stocked it up in deadline deals with three AL teams. Where the Cardinals finish standings-wise at the end of the year is worth watching too. It could lead to one of their earliest draft selections in decades, offering further promise to replenish the prospevy pool.
To plan ahead for the remainder of the 2023 St. Louis Cardinals season, click here for the season schedule.