The St. Louis Cardinals have been one of the biggest surprises of the early 2023 season thus far, but not in a good way. Until recent weeks, the Cardinals were one of the worst teams in all the MLB, associated with the likes of the Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals and division rival Cincinnati Reds.
The month of May has been quite promising for the Redbirds, however. On May 19 they were at their lowest point as the fifth-ranked team in the NL Central. Since then, they have climbed their way up to third in the division standings (21-27), currently trailing behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and five games back of the first place Milwaukee Brewers.
Surely this team, who has been to the postseason the last four years, will continue to bounce back, right?
Here's five reasons why they could.
April showers bring May flowers
Let's face it, the Cardinals were beyond bad in April, playing some gloomy baseball. They were the bottom feeders of the league yet had the talent of a first-place team. In the first month of play they were 10-19 overall. In May, they have boasted an 11-8 record with nine games still left to be played in the month.
Nothing seemed to work that first month, whether it was their starting pitching, their sputtering offense, or trying to figure out whether Willson Contreras was going to play catcher, left field or just DH. Considering they were in last place in the NL Central not too long ago, this team is showing some major progression. The parts are finally starting to come together now, and the Cardinals are blossoming.
From offensive to productive
St. Louis offense was offensive, as in, if you were a Cardinals fan, they were deeply offending you. But lately, they've been in a bit of resurgence. With a 10-5 victory over the always potent Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals sealed their fourth consecutive series win on Sunday.
Over the course of their recent surge, they have consistently scored runs at an impressive rate. The stark contrast between their struggles in the early season and their current form is evident in their runs scored to runs allowed comparison. In the first month, they found themselves with a tight 123-126 ratio, but in May, their offense has flourished, with an impressive 122-91 ratio.
That's all in large part due to their talent finally coming to life. It goes without saying that the reigning National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt has been doing his usual. Consistently, he's been the one bright spot even when the Cardinals weren't producing in the first month. It was the others, like Nolan Arenado, that were starting to become a concern. But in the most recent homestand, Arenado was a huge reason for the Cardinals booming offense.
In seven games, Arenado hit three home runs and scored six runs, with a 1.211 OPS. This was all against the NL Central first place Brewers and first place NL West Dodgers, where the Cardinals finished 5-2.
The other notable standouts are Paul DeJong and Nolan Gorman, who were both in some major slumps early in the season. These guys are now hitting with power (11 home runs) and driving in runs (26 RBI's) at high rates.
Those 126 runs allowed in the first month was due to some poor pitching by the Cardinals staff. With under 100 runs allowed so far in May, this improvement is a testament to the effectiveness of their starting pitchers, who have made significant strides and contributed to the team's recent success.
In the Cardinals last 14 games, their rotation has a collective ERA of 3.58, ranking 10th in the majors. This is a major improvement compared to their 5.44 ERA over the first 34 games of the season.
One notable standout during this resurgence has been Miles Mikolas. In his last seven starts, the Cardinals have won five games, with Mikolas himself boasting an impressive 2.90 ERA. His improvements on the mound have been instrumental in the team's recent success.
Additionally, the Cardinals received a bit of a boost from Jack Flaherty, who delivered a brilliant performance in mid-May. Flaherty's seven-inning, three hit, no runs allowed outing against the Brewers on May 15 showcased his talent that the Cardinals are used to seeing from him, solidifying the rotation's reliability. In 10 games this season, his ERA has skyrocketed to a 5.29, but he's shown promise moving forward.
These improved performances from the starting pitchers have not only bolstered the Cardinals' confidence but have also provided much-needed stability on the mound. With the rotation finding its groove, the team's chances of sustained success are significantly enhanced as they strive to make their mark in the 2023 season.
Willson Contreras issues resolved
A major part of the Cardinals' horrible start to the season could have been in large part due to the controversy with Willson Contreras, who was pulled from behind the plate for nine games. With rumors he lost his catching duties due to poor game-planning and pitch-calling flaws, he was essentially moved to DH only.
Whatever has transpired since then has seemingly been to the Cardinals benefit though as things seemed to be resolved. Contreras is now back behind the dish with St. Louis' staff holding a 3.00 ERA over their homestand against the Brewers and Dodgers.
Looking at the Cardinals' recent performances, there is reason to be optimistic about their future for the remainder of the season. With a favorable schedule ahead for the rest of the month of May and opportunities to capitalize on games against teams with subpar records, the Cardinals have a chance to solidify their position in the standings in the NL Central.