Pregame festivities for opening day in St. Louis begin at 10:30 a.m. Thursday ahead of a 3:10 p.m. first pitch.
Gates to Busch Stadium open at noon, giving fans a rare opportunity to see both the Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays take batting practice, and the traditional parade of horses and convertibles will get underway at 2:25.
The ceremony culminates with newly elected Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Scott Rolen throwing out a ceremonial first pitch to be caught by short-term bench coach Matt Holliday, and for the first time since Willie McGee’s walk-off home run against the Montreal Expos in 1997, the home opener will include a rendition of the Canadian national anthem.
Those are all events which can be scheduled in advance, planned out to the minute, and advertised to fans as reasons to come out to the ballpark. What truly draws them in, though, is the unpredictable. That McGee home run is memorable in large part because no one could’ve reasonably seen it coming. Baseball, by its nature, requires the unexpected to maintain its charm.
In that spirit, at the end of a long spring, it seems an opportune time to attempt to predict things which no reasonable person could claim to have called ahead of time.
1. Nolan Arenado will win the National League Most Valuable Player award.
This is neither a bold nor an uncommon prediction. Arenado finished third in MVP voting last season, has six top-10 finishes but hasn’t yet won the award, and is planted in the middle of the lineup for arguably the most slam dunk pending division champion in baseball.
Still, that he hasn’t won despite being one of the most superlative offensive players the game has ever seen while simultaneously a top tier hitter means he has at least a little left to prove. Last year, by OPS+ (which measures offensive output against league average), he was better at the plate than he’s ever been despite being the second man in what was too often a two-man offensive show.
Now, he has protection in the form of Willson Contreras. He has an overwhelming need to validate his success after he and MVP winner Paul Goldschmidt thudded through the postseason. And, sneakily, he has narrative on his side. In a winter where spending rocketed back to its pre-pandemic levels, Arenado kept his hands out of the collection plate, declined his opt-out, and stayed where he was. That tells a tempting story come awards balloting time.
The Cardinals haven’t had back-to-back MVP wins since Albert Pujols won in 2008 and 2009, and they haven’t had two different players win in consecutive years since Orlando Cepeda and Bob Gibson in 1967 and 1968. Count on Arenado breaking that streak.
2. The starting pitcher for the first Cardinals game of the postseason isn’t yet in the organization.
José Quintana was acquired just before the trade deadline last summer and breezed through opposing hitters en route to receiving last fall’s first assignment. Between Quintana and Jordan Montgomery last year and J.A. Happ and Jon Lester the year before, the Cardinals are establishing a consistent pattern — get to the deadline with what they have, buy at the price point which they think fits their potential for the rest of the season.
This team is better than either of those two and will benefit from an addition which corresponds in size and impact. Better teams, after all, are deeper teams, and deeper teams have more pieces to move which can draw interest from potential matches in the market.
Oliver Marmol’s decision to go to Quintana last fall ahead of a stalwart like Jack Flaherty or Adam Wainwright is an important signal that he won’t let nostalgia override reasoned decision making when the season is on the line. Quintana was stellar in his start against the Phillies; why not run it back?
Names to keep in mind for July as the season gets underway: Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, Chicago White Sox; Martín Peréz, Texas Rangers; Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins
3. For the first time since 2019, the Cardinals win a postseason game — at least five, to be precise.
At the end of last season, my way-too-early 2023 prediction for the Cardinals was they would lose to the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series. For now, I’m comfortable maintaining my belief in that matchup. For the sake of both hedging and being a good sport, I’m willing to fudge a little on the anticipated outcome.
The Cardinals have a deeper lineup than they’ve been given widespread credit for, and while the rotation lacks a clear No. 1 starter, it also — even without Wainwright at the start of the season — has five arms who are clearly no worse than a No. 4. High floors and low(er) ceilings will play behind a dominant defense and a batting order which, on opening day, will have one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year and a six-win player batting eighth and ninth.
Despite a more balanced schedule which sees them feasting less often on the dregs of their division, they might even scrape up enough wins to clear themselves out of range of the wild card series and directly into the more familiar and comfortable postseason format.
As last August wound down, after examining the standings, I plunged ahead and booked travel to New York for the postseason. My refund, thankfully, was simple to secure. I don’t anticipate needing to do so again this fall.