Oli Marmol, Cardinals preach World Series or bust mentality while Cubs wait

The NL Central is wide open. But while the Chicago Cubs play the waiting game, the St. Louis Cardinals look prepared to return to the top spot in a weak division.

St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies
St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

The 2024 season is almost upon us, and as we move closer to the start of the season, the NL Central is wide open.

But even with significant payroll space and a new manager in Craig Counsell, the Chicago Cubs don't figure to be the favorites entering 2024.

That mantle is being given to the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished in last place in 2023 with 91 losses. Most projection models are predicting that St. Louis will be the team to beat in the Central in 2024.

Manager Oli Marmol and his players clearly have a chip on their shoulder after a bad 2023 season, and everybody is hungry to prove last year was a fluke.

"I'm more excited than ever," said Marmol.

"We're looking to get back to what the Cardinals are, and that is a winning organization," said Willson Contreras. "I think we can be a very good team."

Meanwhile, the Cubs are quiet and haven't brought back Cody Bellinger, something that Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun Times took note of as a sign of trouble.

Cardinals hungry, Cubs complacent as 2024 looms

This should certainly excite Cardinals fans and concern Cubs fans.

Chicago fell just short of the postseason in 2023, winning 83 games and finishing a game back of the final Wild Card spot in the National League.

But by not signing Bellinger and playing the waiting game, they are tempting fate and leaving the door wide open for their most hated rivals.

The Cardinals may not look like a World Series contender on paper, but they're hungry and have their sets set on returning to the postseason.

"I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think we'd win," said Lance Lynn, the last active player from their 2011 World Series roster, who rejoined the team on a one-year, $10 million contract. "I'm not playing to collect a paycheck or just do it. I'm trying to make a playoff run. In my time as a Cardinal, that was the goal every year. That hasn't changed."

If the Cubs want to ascend to the top of the Central, they'll need to act swiftly and at the very least, re-sign Bellinger or add another proven power bat.

The Cardinals certainly have question marks, but they were busy in the winter, adding Lynn, Sonny Gray, and Kyle Gibson to their rotation and Andrew Kittredge and Keynan Middleton to their bullpen.

They also re-united with Matt Carpenter.

We'll see what the season brings, but the Cardinals look like the favorites as of now, and the team appears to be much hungrier than their rivals.

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