It's been a nightmare season for Nolan Arenado's St. Louis Cardinals, who came into the 2023 campaign with high expectations and were out of the running for a playoff berth by mid-August. This will be the first year without playoff baseball in Missouri since 2018. The 32-year-old Arenado was officially shut down with lower-back spasms on Friday, a nagging ailment that will end up costing the California native the final nine games of the regular season.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the season was lost for the Cards, but fans of the team will likely point to a plethora of factors that led to the once-juggernauts shockingly sitting in last place in the NL Central, and second last in the National League. It's even more disappointing for Arenado, as after 11 MLB seasons, he is still awaiting his first trip to the World Series.

Still, the ten-time Gold Glover chose not to opt out of his contract in October of 2022, ensuring he will remain in St. Louis through the 2027 season. Although it was a forgettable campaign, the work will continue next season for one of the MLB's best active players without a ring.

How things can change in a year

When the Cardinals clinched the NL Central just over a year ago, Arenado made it clear that winning the game's highest prize was crucial before the retirements of Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina.

“Around here, the goal is to win ballgames — that's all we talk about and all we think about,” Arenado said on Sept. 29, 2022, per's John Denton. “We have a great team, we have a great chance to win the whole thing, and this is a great first step. Now, we have to expect more.”

Unfortunately for St. Louis, the dream was halted at the hands of the surprising Philadelphia Phillies, who defeated the Cardinals in the NLWS and went on to play for the World Series in 2022. A year later, Arenado again spoke about his desire to win.

“All I do is think about trying to win and wanting to win,” he explained, per Denton. “I think about it all the time, but I've also got to be present with where I'm at, and this is where I'm at now. Regardless of whether it's good or bad, I'm trying to enjoy every minute with these guys because some might not be here next year. Things happen all the time in this game.”

Clearly, Arenado realizes that his days in the MLB are numbered, and winning a World Series continues to be the driving force for one of the game's best third basemen.

Nolan Arenado's 2023 season

Despite the awful season in Missouri, Nolan Arenado's individual season wasn't all that bad. That's especially true considering some of the struggles his teammates went through this year. Arenado finished the season with a very respectable .266/.315/.459 slash line, with 26 home runs, 26 doubles and 93 RBI in 144 games. He will hand over duties at the hot corner to Jose Fermin, Juniel Querecuto and Irving Lopez over the Cardinals' final nine games, but his defense remained excellent in 2023.

Arenado also achieved a milestone this season, crushing his 300th career home run against Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Eric Lauer on Apr. 8. Despite some very solid numbers and an incredible HR milestone, he failed to homer in the final 26 games of the campaign. After hitting .283 with 19 long balls, 62 RBIs and an OPS of .850 in the first half, that production decreased to .241 with seven HRs, 31 RBIs and just a .663 OPS during the second half.

As well, Arenado's incredible streak of 30+ homers and 100+ RBI ended at seven seasons (excluding the 2020 shortened campaign due to COVID-19). Despite that, he was still selected for his eighth All-Star Game and won a silver medal with Team USA at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

Final grade: B-

Although it was a terrible season for the St. Louis Cardinals, it's hard to say it wasn't at least a decent year for the eight-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner. If Nolan Arenado had been healthy throughout the entire campaign, he probably would have hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 RBI for an insane eighth straight year.

The fact remains, individual accolades no longer matter for this player. Yes, Arenado hit his 300th home run and helped his country come within one win of a second straight WBC title. But at 32-years-old, it is World Series or bust for the league's No. 1 RBI hitter since the 2015 season. A ‘B-‘ grade seems reasonable for an elite player who deserves to be playing baseball in October. It will be intriguing to see if he and the Cardinals can return to the dance in 2024.