ST. LOUIS – The 2022 calendar year certainly raised the bar for sports in St. Louis in 2023.
It will be a challenge to top a year-long cycle that has produced many milestones and memories, including a big send-off for Cardinals legend Albert Pujols, a Blues win in the coldest outdoor hockey game ever and an NBA Finals, which was directed by Jayson Tatum of St. Louis.
Still, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2023. As Gateway City sports fans ring in the new year, here’s a quick look at five things worth pursuing for the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Blues and beyond in St. Louis esports.
1. Adam Wainwright’s farewell year
Rather than retiring with longtime teammates Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright opted for one more season before hanging up the boots. Wainwright is just five wins away from 200 but needs 16 in his senior year to tie for second all-time in Cardinals history alone.
Uncle Charlie has stood the test of time relatively well (190 innings average over the past three non-COVID seasons), and fielding him for home matchups (2.84 career ERA at Busch III) could help the Cardinals as much as possible to get out of him as his career ends in 2023.
For the first time in nearly two decades, Yadier Molina will not be the St. Louis Cardinals’ main catcher. The torch passed to the Cubs’ longtime backstop, three-time All-Star and 2016 World Series Champion Willson Contreras.
Willson’s workload should be fairly constant (five 800-plus-inning seasons), and he’ll be tasked with adjusting to the Cardinals’ pitching team. Spring training will be a crucial time to learn the various strengths of his employees, such as: B. Adam Wainwright’s signature curve and Ryan Helsley’s warmth. Familiarity with the NL Central should help as Contreras finds a rhythm to lead the St. Louis pitchers. He will be eager for a competitive edge after his brother William joined division rivals Milwaukee Brewers this offseason.
3. Another round of Goldy-Nado
Kick off year three with two MVP-caliber Cardinals. Corner infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado became the top 2 WAR leaders of 2022 among National League position players, and Goldschmidt enjoyed his first career MVP honor with a slash of .317/.404/.578.
The Goldy-Nado duo are expected to release big numbers again, but there’s room for improvement, at least what their production means from a team perspective. Both had batting averages with runners in scoring position slightly lower than their total scores, totaling just .232 as of September. Improving such splits could help the Cardinals avoid lengthy team dips on offense at key times, like in last season’s tough Midsummer stretch and the NL Wild Card Series.
4. Every opponent on schedule
For the first time in franchise history, the Cardinals will play all 29 MLB opponents and all 15 Interleague opponents in a single season. The 2023 season even kicks off with an interleague home game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The change means fewer division games, including matchups against key opponents like the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, but provides more competitive balance within the league.
Division matchups will still be important, and winning the NL Central is probably still the Cardinals’ easiest route into the postseason, but there’s a greater focus on games featuring several talented American League rosters set to take on St. Louis . The Cardinals will need to adjust quickly after posting a 45-41 record against non-NL Central foes and a .500 finish in 2022 in interleague play.
5. The likely arrival of Jordan Walker
Jordan Walker is the sixth-best rated player in baseball according to the MLB pipeline and just wrapped up an impressive 2022 season for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. The 2020 first-round pick had a .306 batting average, 68 RBI, 100 runs scored and a nearly 20/20 campaign, which shows the promise of an everyday regular from an offensive standpoint.
The Cardinals should give Walker’s promotion a lot in 2023 to try and maximize his contributions with several regulars near their prime. If his debut comes along, the Cardinals will have to get creative about where Walker enters the field. Walker, developed as a third baseman, will likely be restricted in the hot corner as long as Nolan Arenado is healthy. Some potential spots for him to show up are left field (by positioning Tyler O’Neill or Dylan Carlson at center) or the designated hitter. Spring will be a big test to see where he can play and if he can maintain offensive consistency throughout the drive.
1. Growth of two young building blocks
St. Louis used the 2022 off-season to secure forwards Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou with corresponding long-haul contract extensions. Their deals now represent the two richest deals in team history and show commitment to a youth movement (both under 24 years old).
Early returns suggest the contracts could be worthwhile as Thomas produces nearly a point-a-game clip (32 points in 35 games) and Kyrou heats up in December (15 points in 11 games). Both are tasked with taking on a longer ice age in 2023 (nearly 19 minutes each this season), reducing turnovers (47 giveaways combined in 2022-23), and winning more puck fights whether they’re separately or together stand in a line.
2. Development of first-round picks
If the Blues are truly committed to a youth movement, they need to keep a close eye on their top candidates. Of their last three first-round picks (Jake Neighbors – 2020, Zac Bolduc – 2021, Jimmy Snuggerud – 2022), only Neighbors has seen NHL action so far.
Neighbors are looking for a good start to the 2022-23 NHL season with just one goal in 13 games. Bolduc had found a spark with the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL with 54 points in 28 games. Snuggerud starts his freshman collegiate season at the University of Minnesota with 27 points in 20 games. The Neighbors could return this season with a little more goals and physicality, but Bolduc and Snuggerud are better bets for NHL debuts for next fall’s new season.
3. Rework of special teams
In recent playoff runs, the Blues have surprised their opponents with effective powerplay and penalty shootout sessions. St. Louis found themselves in the top five by both special teams odds last season, although as we enter 2023 the story is a little different. The Blues sit mid-table on power play percentage (22.77%) and bottom five in penalty kills (70.93%).
Assistant coaches Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryn could come up with some new strategies with the new year, especially with power-play quarterback Torey Krug expected to be absent for several weeks until the 2023 start. Perhaps the Blues could consider some unconventional options in both units, like Noel Acciari for a power play hit or Alexey Toropchenko’s greatness on penalties.
4. Contract Years and Approaching Trading Deadlines
A harsh reality the Blues may have to contend with in 2023 is that more key figures on the 2019 Stanley Cup championship team could depart. Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev are all full season-ending free agents unless the Blues agree new contracts with them.
With the new year starting just outside the playoffs, the next few weeks could decide the fate of all three. The victim of another long slip (like earlier this season) could prompt St. Louis to explore trades and move forward with a youth movement led by Thomas and Kyrou. Blues beat writers have reported opposing scout sightings in recent home games, although it’s unclear who could be moving and how soon. The trading deadline for the 2022-23 season is set for March 3rd.
5. Candidate or candidate?
The Blues, who have worked out some big table deficits in recent years, are four points clear of a playoff spot as they head into the new year. General manager Doug Armstrong earlier this year insisted he doesn’t want to “rebuild” the roster and believes the team is capable of completing its 11th playoff run in 12 years.
One encouraging trend that could benefit the Blues is that they have more games against teams outside the playoffs than they don’t, 24-21, including a significant schedule lead strength in the final full month of the regular season in March. A trend that needs to be fixed quickly for a playoff run, better luck at home. Go on a four-game win streak at home, the Blues are only 3-7-2 at Enterprise Center this year. St. Louis has big home field advantage in January and February, and whether or not that pushes the Blues back into the playoffs will be seen this season.
Beyond the Cardinals and Blues
The year 2023 could be monumental for other sports teams and personalities in the St. Louis area…
1. St. Louis CITY SC will debut on February 25 and host its first game on March 4, adding to a strong St. Louis football presence that has grown from SLU’s strong men’s and women’s football seasons of late.
2. The Battlehawks return in the 2023 XFL remake, led by former Rams tight end Anthony Becht as coach and former Heisman runner-up AJ McCarron as quarterback.
3. St. Louis native Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum continues his quest for an MVP as the NBA’s fifth-best scoring player (31 points per game).
4. Mizzou (12-1), Illinois (9-4) and SLU (9-5) create a major contest when it comes to which college basketball team with ties to the STL region will have the most success in March.
5. Lindenwood is beginning his first full year in Division I athletics, which has already led to some success in college football (7-3) and big matchups in hockey.
https://fox2now.com/sports/five-things-to-follow-with-the-st-louis-cardinals-blues-and-beyond-in-2023/ Five things to come in 2023 with the St. Louis Cardinals, Blues and beyond