Although the team still has its share of flaws, this is at least closer to the brand of St. Louis Cardinals baseball that fans have come to expect over the last couple of decades. A 3-0 win versus the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field on Friday lifts the Redbirds back to .500 (34-34) and continues a recent surge that has them currently sitting in a playoff slot. The good news is piling on top of the Mound City after Saturday's latest development.

Catcher Willson Contreras is responding well after completing batting practice and is moving forward in his recovery process, according to's John Denton. “Contreras will repeat the BP sessions the next few days before starting a Minor League rehab stint,” the Cardinals insider posted on X. “He’ll need medical clearance first.”

The 32-year-old slugger suffered a left forearm fracture when New York Mets designated hitter J.D. Martinez inadvertently hit him with the bat on May 7 and has been on the injured list since. There are still some hurdles he needs to clear, but he is aiming for a late-June return, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and The Athletic.

This is a critical update for a club that is still within striking distance of the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central (trail by five and a half games). Given the impressive production that Contreras flashed in the first month-plus of the season– .280 batting average, six home runs, 12 RBIs and .950 OPS in 128 plate appearances), he can be an absolute difference-maker in St. Louis' pursuit of a 16th divisional title.

And before fans know it, 2023 could be but a distant memory.

Cardinals will need Willson Contreras in 2024

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras (40) hits a home run against the San Diego Padres during the sixth inning at Petco Park.
Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

Last season started to unravel before the end of April. Injuries, pitching woes and a Tyler O'Neill-Oliver Marmol situation all cast a dark cloud above Busch Stadium in the early part of 2023. While there were flurries here and there, the Cards still finished in last place in the NL Central with a 71-91 record– their worst showing in 28 years. Much like the club, Willson Contreras also did not have the start he anticipated.

The three-time All-Star's first campaign with the Cardinals came out of the gate slow and awkward, with him temporarily being moved out of the catcher position despite signing a five-year, $87.5 million contract in December of 2022. He batted a measly .214 through the first three months of the season before coming alive in the second half of 2023.

Contreras ended the year with another respectable entry in what has been a nice career, hitting .264 with 20 homers, 67 RBIs, a .358 on-base percentage and .826 OPS. His offensive prowess is carrying over into this season thus far. Baseball is generally fickle by nature, but the Venezuelan-born talent was on a tear until he landed on the IL.

Hopefully, Willson Contreras can pick up where he left off and inject some much-needed pop into Oli Marmol's lineup (St. Louis ranks 19th in slugging percentage and 20th in OPS). Forearm injuries can be tricky, though, so fans would be wise to exercise some patience.

Even so, this is an encouraging step towards Contreras returning to the MLB roster before the All-Star break. In the meanwhile, the Cardinals try to surpass .500 for the first time since April 6 in their game against the Chicago Cubs (33-37) on Saturday afternoon.