New season. New rules. New lineup. The Cardinals are set for Opening Day
The Cardinals open the 2023 baseball season Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. St. Louis is hoping to bounce back after a disappointing first-round exit from the playoffs last season. The team starts a new campaign with a lineup that includes a 20-year-old rookie, new rules to speed up the game and high hopes among Cards fans throughout the country. They also have to adjust to the new rules for pitchers and hitters.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt talked with STLSportsPage.com Cardinals beat writer Rob Rains about how the team is shaping up for a season with high expectations.
Wayne Pratt: How excited should fans be about this year’s Cardinals?
Rob Rains: I think pretty excited. I like the young talent on the team. Obviously a lot of time in spring training was spent talking about Jordan Walker, the 20-year-old prospect who will start on Opening Day, the youngest player in 23 years to start Opening Day for the Cardinals. And not only him. I mean you've got Nolan Gorman. You've got some of the other young players who I think are coming into their own. You've got, hopefully, a healthy Jack Flaherty. I think the only disappointment really at spring training was that Adam Wainwright is going to start the year on the injury list and won't be able to pitch on Opening Day. But other than that, I think it was a very good spring training, and I think there's a lot of reasons for Cardinals fans to be excited.
Pratt: You mentioned Jordan Walker. How much of a surprise is it that he's on that Opening Day roster?
Rains: You know, not really much of a surprise. We knew coming into spring training he was going to have a chance to play, and he made the most of it. He's as good a Cardinal hitting prospect as they've had in a number of years. They really kind of thought that he would seize the opportunity and run with it, and he did that. I think it probably would have been a bigger surprise to them had he not played well in spring training, and that they had to send him back out to Memphis to start the season
Pratt: This season's opening with some rule changes. The pitch clock: How does that work, and what was the reaction when you were in Florida?
Rains: Everybody loves it. I mean, I don't think you're going to get quite as much time saved during the regular season as you did in spring training because there are a couple of reasons: One, you're going to have more in-game pitching changes like in the middle of an inning that's going to take time. And I think you're going to have instant replays from a lot of games that's going to take some time. But if they can save 15 minutes or so off a three-hour game time to get it done in 2:40 or 2:45, I think that's a plus. I think it keeps everybody sharper. I think it keeps fans' attention and focus.
A pitcher now has 15 seconds to throw a pitch if there's nobody on base, 20 seconds to throw a pitch if there's a runner on base. The hitter has to be in the box with about 8 seconds left on the pitch clock or it's a violation. If it’s a violation on the hitter, it's an automatic strike. If it's a violation on the pitcher, it's an automatic ball.
On top of the pitch clock, the biggest restriction now is a pitcher can only throw over two times while a runner is on base during a particular bat. So you're not going to have some of those eight or 10 pickoff throws every time a guy's on base. The whole intent is to make the game move faster.
Pratt: How is the uncertainty over the team's bankrupt TV broadcaster Bally Sports going to affect the team, or is it already hanging over the team? How do you assess that?
Rains: I don't think it hangs over the team itself on the field. I think the front office and the financial people that have to deal with budgets are probably more concerned about it than the players or the on-field personnel at this point. But I think it is a concern going forward because Diamond Sports, which is the owner of Bally’s and all the regional sports networks, has a lot of money that they have to pay the Cardinals every year in rights fees under this new broadcast agreement that they signed a couple of years ago. So, if they're not able to make those payments, then that's revenue the Cardinals have counted on as far as setting their operating budget and things like that, that they're going to have to find a way to offset. That's a concern that they're going to have to deal with.
From a fan standpoint, I think what everybody is worried about is how am I going to get to watch the games? And I don't think we know the answer to that yet. As of now, they're operating under bankruptcy protection. They can still reorganize and keep things going the way they are. How long that will go on, I don't know. The Cardinals are not going to let a situation develop where the fans are not going to be able to watch the games. Whether they have to take over the rights themselves and produce and disseminate the games in some fashion, that's what will happen because they're not going to have a situation where games are not going to be available to the fans. I just don't know how that access is going to work.
Pratt: Specifically, from your standpoint, what are you expecting from the team this season?
Rains: I think they should win the division, and I don't know that it will really be close. I think they're better than anybody else by far, especially if they stay healthy and they get performances out of the younger players that they expect. If their pitching is good enough, if Flaherty and Mikolas and Montgomery and Matz — Matz has had a great spring — so, you know, they're excited about his potential during the season. But if those guys are healthy, if the bullpen is healthy and the young guys do what they're capable of doing, I think they can make a run in October, I really do. It's always an unknown. They're not the best team on paper in the National League. You probably say the Dodgers, San Diego, maybe Atlanta are better than them. But as we saw last year, you can win a couple of games in the playoff series and anything can happen.