What to know as Cardinals take on Dodgers to begin the 2024 season

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LOS ANGELES — The atmosphere at Dodger Stadium was calm and quiet on Wednesday afternoon.

Some players rotated through batting practice groups and infield drills, while others shagged fly balls under the sunshine in the outfield. There was no music playing during the unofficial workout day, and the only sounds on the field came from the crack of the bat or the pop of the glove. The stands sat empty, minus a handful of stadium employees. It was a serene, peaceful final day of the preseason.

Expect that to change.

On Thursday, at 1:10 p.m. local time, the St. Louis Cardinals will face the Los Angeles Dodgers, officially kicking off the 2024 season. Dodger Stadium will be a packed house. The Cardinals and Dodgers are coming off entirely different seasons, but both franchises have plenty to prove. St. Louis looks to return to the playoffs after a last-place season; Los Angeles is World Series-or-bust after spending over $1 billion in free agency this winter.

“I’m just excited to get it going,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said with a smile. “I was reading (media relations director) Brian Bartow’s (Opening Day) press release this morning, and I was like, this is fun. Learning this is the 133rd season for the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s good news.”

The Cardinals finalized their Opening Day roster Wednesday afternoon, optioning José Fermin to Triple-A Memphis and outrighting Jared Young to make room for Victor Scott II, who will make his major-league debut on Opening Day. It’s not the 26-man roster the Cardinals envisioned, but it’s one they feel confident about nonetheless.


How does the rotation line up?

Miles Mikolas gets the nod for Opening Day, marking the third time in his career he’ll have the honor (fourth, if you’re counting when he did so while playing in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League). The Dodgers are already 1-1 on the year after a two-game series in Seoul, South Korea, against the San Diego Padres.

This series already had the makings of a Hollywood drama, as offseason additions Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto were set to make their home debuts in Dodger Blue. But things have taken quite the turn in Dodger Land over the last few days as news surrounding Ohtani and his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara continues to swirl. Ohtani addressed the media Monday afternoon for the first time since news broke that Mizuhara had been fired after allegedly stealing $4.5 million from Ohtani to pay off a sports gambling debt (while legal in a majority of states, sports betting is illegal in California). Major League Baseball opened an investigation on Friday, but Ohtani is expected to continue playing. Ohtani has vehemently denied ever placing bets, let alone on baseball.

The on-field storylines will be plentiful as well. Tyler Glasnow will start for the Dodgers on Opening Day, with Bobby Miller taking on Zack Thompson on Friday. Yamamoto’s home debut will take place on Saturday against Lance Lynn. Steven Matz will get the series finale for St. Louis. The Dodgers have not announced a starter for Sunday’s game. Kyle Gibson will be the Cardinals’ No. 5 starter and will start the first of three games against the Padres, led by former Cardinals manager Mike Shildt.

The Cardinals did not plan on a Mikolas-Thompson-Lynn combination to start the season. Sonny Gray was named the team’s Opening Day starter in late February, but Gray suffered a hamstring strain making his second exhibition start and will start the year on the injured list. That bumped Mikolas up a day, leading Marmol to restructure his rotation. Marmol planned for Lynn to start the home opener (scheduled for April 4 against the Miami Marlins), which means he’d be penciled in as the No. 3 starter.

Because of Matz’s planned slow spring progression, he needed one final spring start to ramp up to 80 pitches, which came on Monday. Because of that, the earliest he could pitch again would be the fourth game of the season. That left Gibson and Thompson as the remaining arms, and given the Dodgers’ left-handed dominant lineup, Marmol opted for the matchup and slotted the left-handed Thompson as No. 2.

What about the bullpen?

After optioning John King to Triple-A Memphis after their final game of the spring, the Cardinals will roll out a bullpen that looks like this: RHP Ryan Helsley, RHP Giovanny Gallegos, RHP Andrew Kittredge, LHP JoJo Romero, RHP Riley O’Brien, RHP Andre Pallante, LHP Matthew Liberatore and RHP Ryan Fernandez.

Helsley (closer) and Gallegos (set-up man) return to their roles, but an injury to Keynan Middleton left a hole in the Cardinals’ late-inning relief plans. Expect Kittredge and Romero to see the bulk of the work behind Helsley and Gallegos and don’t rule out Riley O’Brien (arguably, the team’s most impressive reliever this spring) for some high-leverage action as well. Despite being stretched out over the spring, Liberatore will be used as a standard left-handed reliever. So will Pallante, as his reverse splits essentially make him another left-handed option.

Who’s hurt?

The Cardinals will open the season with six players on the IL.

RHP Sonny Gray: 15-day, right hamstring strain

RHP Keynan Middleton: 15-day, right forearm flexor strain

UTIL Tommy Edman: 10-day, right wrist sprain

OF Lars Nootbaar: 10-day, left rib contusion

OF Dylan Carlson: 10-day, left AC sprain

LHP Drew Rom: 15-day, left shoulder biceps tendinitis

This is not ideal. Gray, the team’s marquee offseason signing, is on the mend but will miss the first two weeks of the year as he works towards a rehab assignment. The Cardinals plan to have Gray return by April 10, but his progress will dictate that timeline. Nootbaar could return by the home opener (April 4) but Edman is projecting a much longer absence (though he is improving from his first rehab attempt).

The team is still collecting information on Carlson, who was hurt in an outfield collision with Jordan Walker in the second-to-last game of the spring. He won’t be with the team in Los Angeles and will travel back to St. Louis for more testing. Middleton was shut down from throwing halfway through spring and will require a full ramp-up but has progressed to playing catch. All IL stints have been backdated to March 25 except for Carlson’s, which was backdated to March 26.

Now playing: The Victor Scott II Show

Already down two starting outfielders, the Cardinals suffered another brutal break with Carlson’s injury on Monday. It led to the quick call-up of top outfield prospect Victor Scott II, who shined in spring but was reassigned to minor-league camp over the weekend. With Carlson expected to miss significant time, Scott’s quick path through the minor leagues was accelerated even more. He’ll be the Cardinals every day starting fielder, including Opening Day.

Scott entered the season as the Cardinals’ second-ranked prospect and No. 55 overall, according to The Athletic’s Keith Law.


How will the lineup shake out?

We know how the infield will look and who will man center field. The Cardinals will still utilize Brendan Donovan as a super-utility option, but the club aims for more lineup consistency this year. Given how the roster is constructed, left field and second base will feature the most fluidity.

Scott and Walker are locks for center and right field, leaving Donovan, Michael Siani and Alec Burleson as the rotating left fielders. If the Cardinals are valuing defense, Siani will get the start. If they want more offensive, they’ll look to Burleson. Donovan represents the best overall option, but he could also play second base on days Nolan Gorman serves as the designated hitter.

Here’s how The Athletic projects the Cardinals Opening Day lineup:

1. Brendan Donovan – LF

2. Paul Goldschmidt – 1B

3. Nolan Gorman – 2B

4. Nolan Arenado – 3B

5. Willson Contreras – C

6. Alec Burleson – DH

7. Jordan Walker – RF

8. Victor Scott II – CF

9. Masyn Winn – SS

SP: Miles Mikolas

For months, the Cardinals have insisted they would return to competitiveness this season, eager to prove last year’s 91 losses were the exception, not the new norm. Did they do enough over the offseason to make that a reality? Is their offense built to be a true threat? Will their starting pitching hold up?

We’re about to find out.

(Top photo of Masyn Winn: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)

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