If their offseason plan goes as expected, and if the independent projection systems are reasonably accurate, the St. Louis Cardinals will contend for a postseason spot.

The Cardinals have two gateways. They can do it by winning the NL Central. They can return to the playoffs by prevailing in a bustling race to snatch one of the three available NL wild-card coupons.

The competition seems to be getting stronger.

In the NL Central projections, the Cubs and Cardinals look like a virtual dead heat for first place. The Clay Davenport simulations show an average of 84.6 wins for St. Louis, and 84.5 for Chicago.

The wild-card derby is changing shape with new roster additions. The Padres acquired starting pitcher Dylan Cease from the White Sox. The Giants made a late-breaking move to upgrade their rotation by signing two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell to a two-year, $62 million free-agent contract. Other NL postseason contenders got busy.

A presumptive wild-card battle won’t be easy. It should be crowded. But claiming a spot is certainly doable.

According to the win-projection averages delivered by the Davenport simulations, 92.7 victories are required to clinch the top NL wild-card chip. The second wild-card ticket can be won with 88.2 wins. The projected minimum for the third wild-card pass is set at 88.5 wins.

The performance of each team’s rotation will be at the center of the competition. I’ll take a look at the starting pitchers and provide a reset to get you caught up on the offseason activities of the multiple wild-card seekers.

Let’s get to it. I put these in random order.

PHILADELPHIA: The Phillies still have co-aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola at the top of their rotation, followed by the underrated lefty Ranger Suarez. The other two rotation pegs are No. 4 starter is Taijuan Walker, and remodeled lefty Cristopher Sanchez.

Other notable transactions: The Phils signed free-agent infielder Whit Merrifield. But the offseason goal was to keep the team intact. Run it back in the effort to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season. That’s why there was such little movement in bringing players in.

FanGraphs projected win total: 85.0


ARIZONA: The defending NL-champion Diamondbacks signed free-agent lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez to join rotation stalwarts Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Brandon Pfaadt. Former second-round draft choice Ryne Nelson is listed as the fifth starter.

Other notable transactions: the D-backs re-signed outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., added Randal Grichuk to their outfield delegation, traded for third baseman Eugenio Suarez and signed bat-first outfielder Joc Pederson.

FanGraphs projected win total: 83.6


CHICAGO: The Cubs signed free-agent starter Shota Imananga from Japan. They’re counting on a healthy Kyle Hendricks. They have several impressive pitching prospects lined up to fill in for Jameson Taillon as he recovers from a back injury. Depending on how the final roster decisions shake out, the Cubs may have a five-man rotation that includes four lefty starters: Justin Steele, Imanaga, Drew Smyly and the young Jordan Wicks. That would be interesting, but there are two right-handed starter possibilities in Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski.

Other notable transactions: The Cubs made a power move by signing manager Craig Counsell away from Milwaukee with a record five-year, $40 million deal. The lineup was restored with Cody Bellinger signing on to play a second consecutive season. Promising but unproven slugger Michael Busch was acquired from the Dodgers to DH or play first base when Bellinger is used in center field. The bullpen was improved by the signing of the durable free-agent righty reliever Hector Neris.

FanGraphs projected win total: 82.2


MIAMI: The Marlins won’t have ace Sandy Alcantara (elbow surgery) this season. And they have a few sore arms in camp. But for now the desired rotation consists of lefties Jesús Luzardo, Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers plus righthanders Eury Pérez and Edward Cabrera. But there are questions. Garrett and Cabrera are dealing with shoulder discomfort and the supremely talented Perez is bothered by elbow inflammation. Miami may have to plug in Ryan Weathers and A.J. Puk to handle early-season rotation vacancies.

Other notable transactions: the Marlins had a low-key offseason and lost 36-homer bat Jorge Soler to free agency. The “name” free-agent signing was former White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. And they traded for two speedy bench players, Nick Gordon and Vidal Brujan. The most prominent move was hiring Tampa Bay GM Peter Bendix to lead the Miami front office as president of baseball operations.

FanGraphs projected win total: 80.5


CINCINNATI: Four rotation spots are set: Hunter Greene, Frankie Montas, Graham Ashcraft and Nick Martinez. Montas and Martinez were signed as free agents. Lefty Andrew Abbott is slotted into the fifth spot for now, but mending LH starter Nick Lodolo is scheduled to come off the IL on April 10. A new problem is Brandon Williamson’s aching shoulder.

Other notable transactions: The Reds were among the busiest teams during the offseason, investing an estimated $109 million on free-agent contracts. That list of free agents includes first baseman Jeimer Candelario, starters Martinez and Montas, and relievers Emilio Pagan and Brent Suter. (They also re-signed reliever Buck Farmer.) The Reds have added good depth to surround their nucleus of talented young position players.

FanGraphs projected win total: 79.6


SAN DIEGO: The Padres’ rotation is led by Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Dylan Cease and former Yankee Michael King. The fifth starter appears to be Jhony Brito. If you look at 1 through 4 in the rotation, the Padres are definitely strong in this area. And the rotation could offset some of the cost-cutting moves that meant bye-bye for closer Josh Hader, outfielder Juan Soto and starting pitchers Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and Nick Martinez.

Other notable transactions: the Padres signed free-agent relievers Yuki Matsui, Wandy Peralta and Woo-Suk Go to reorder the back of their bullpen. King and Brito were obtained from the Yankees as part of the Soto trade package. New manager Mike Shildt is already making a difference in his effort to unify a fractious clubhouse.

FanGraphs projected win total: 82.6


SAN FRANCISCO: The Giants have assembled a rotation that looks considerably better with Snell in place. The Giants now have a top three of Logan Webb, Snell, and Kyle Harrison. The fourth starter is former Cardinal Jordan Hicks, who signed on for $44 million over four years. And for now the fifth starter is Keaton Mill. Last season Snell and Webb finished first and second (respectively) in the NL Cy Young voting. Don’t forget this: the Giants also acquired former AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray from Seattle, and his anticipated return from elbow-surgery rehab will come after the All-Star break. If Ray makes it back and pitches well, the Giants will have three Cy Young caliber starters.

Other notable transactions: The Giants were aggressive, signing free agent Matt Chapman to play third base, free agent Jung Ho Lee to play center field, free agent slugger Jorge Soler to hit home runs and free agent catcher Tom Murphy. Including the Ray salary obligations they inherited from Seattle, the Giants have committed nearly $400 million to roster improvements this offseason. And they’ll be over the first-level first luxury tax threshold ($237 million) for the first time since 2017. They could end up with a $257 million payroll that would trigger a second set of luxury-tax penalties.

FanGraphs projected win total: 83.3


NEW YORK: The Mets didn’t make any big-splash moves … but they made a lot of moves. They added free-agent starting pitchers Sean Manea and Luis Severino, and traded for Milwaukee starter Adrian Houser. That gives the Mets a five-man rotation of Jose Quintana, Severino, Manea, Houser and Tylor Megill. No. 1 starter Kodai Senga – who had a 2.98 ERA and 29 percent strikeout rate last season – is sidelined with a shoulder strain. The Mets are being cautious with Senga, who had to adjust to pitching every fifth day after coming over from Japan where he started every sixth day in a shorter season.

Other notable transactions: The biggest move was hiring former Brewers front-office savant David Stearns to lead the baseball operation and curate a more cost-efficient payroll. Stearns hired Yankees coach Carlos Mendoza to manage the Mets. Outfielder Tyrone Taylor came with Houser from the Brewers. The Mets added free-agent bullpen pieces Jorge Lopez, Jake Diekman and Shintaro Fujiama. They re-signed reliever Adam Ottavino, hired Harrison Bader to play center field, and added utility man Joey Wendle.

FanGraphs projected win total: 80.4


ST. LOUIS: The Cardinals, of course, signed free agent starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to team with Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz. This was STL’s attempt to heal a rotation that last season was beaten up for a 5.08 starting-pitching ERA – the worst for the franchise in a full season during the Modern Era which began in 1900.

Other notable transactions: Chaim Bloom was hired as an advisor to the STL front office. The Cardinals acquired two capable relievers in Andrew Kittredge and Keynan Middleton. (Middleton will begin the season on the IL because of forearm tightness.) The bullpen depth was increased by the moves for several hard-throwing relievers that have good upside including Riley O’Brien, Ryan Fernandez and Nick Robertson. The club signed bench players Matt Carpenter and Brandon Crawford to add leadership. With Tommy Edman injured, rising-star prospect Victor Scott II is making a bid for the center field job.

FanGraphs projected win total: 83.6


MILWAUKEE: It’s been a transitional offseason for the Brewers, who traded No. 1 starter Corbin Burnes to Baltimore, lost president of baseball operations David Stearns to the Mets, and had manager Craig Counsell jump to the division-rival Cubs. With Wade Miley opening the season on the injured list, the tentative starting rotation is Freddy Peralta, Colin Rea, free-agent signee Jakob Junis, long-ago  Nationals prospect Joe Ross, and the young DL Hall. Brandon Woodruff signed a two-year deal at a discount to remain with the Brewers following shoulder surgery, but he probably won’t pitch until late in the 2024 season. At least the Crew will have him place for 2025. Milwaukee has help on the way thanks to the third-ranked farm system in baseball per MLB Pipeline. Top pitching prospect Jacob Misiorowski is one to watch; he could be in the bigs after the All-Star break if not sooner. The Brewers will have to cope with the loss of closer Devin Williams, who will miss three months with a back injury.

Other notable transactions: Pat Murphy is the new manager. The Crew signed free-agent first baseman Rhys Hoskins to a two-year deal for $34 million. Miley and Rea were re-signed. Free-agent starting pitchers Junis and Ross were brought in. The Brewers signed catcher/DH Gary Sanchez. Hall came over in the Burnes trade, as did third-base prospect Joey Ortiz. The most exciting offseason transaction? The Brewers signed 20-year old outfield phenom Jackson Chourio to a 10-year $82 million deal … before he’s even played a major-league game. But he’s the No. 2 overall prospect in the game, and the Brewers will have him in place for the next 10 seasons. And if Chourio is as good as he appears to be, the contract will be a bargain for Milwaukee.

FanGraphs projected win total: 80.4


PITTSBURGH: Their first three starters are set: Mitch Keller, and offseason acquisitions Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales. There’s a large group of candidates for the final two rotation spots including Eric Lauer, Domingo German, Jared Jones, Luis Ortiz, Quinn Priester, Josh Fleming and Chase Anderson. At some point in 2024 we can expect to see last year’s No. 1 overall draft choice – Paul Skenes – get promoted to the Pitt rotation. Ownership signed off on a five-year, $77 million contract to keep Keller around.

Other notable transactions: the Bucs signed free-agent reliever Aroldis Chapman, free-agent first baseman Rowdy Tellez, free-agent catcher-DH Yasmani Grandal, and re-signed outfielder Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates have a 40-man payroll of $87.8 million, up from last season’s $75.4 million.

I included the Pirates in this wild-card breakdown for a few reasons: they have a promising young nucleus, elite-prospect talent on the way, and were more aggressive in their offseason payroll spending. I also noted how multiple projection systems but the Pirates’ win total close to Cincinnati’s win total. I don’t know if I agree with that. But there’s always a surprise team or two each season. Perhaps the Pirates will exceed expectations and hang in the wild-card race for a few months. We’ll see.

FanGraphs projected win total: 77.5



I’ll end this with a general comment on the Cardinals. The Cubs have been fairly quiet, but most other NL contenders have stepped up by signing or acquiring big-name talent or making underrated moves to deepen their rosters.

The Cardinals were aggressive in signing their three new starters, but did they do enough overall? They’re baking heavily on a rotation that averages 35 years old. The age aspect has been overblown by the media. Here’s a bulletin: studies by Baseball Prospectus show that younger pitchers get hurt more often.

For the Cardinals, it isn’t a question of pitching age. It’s a matter of pitching quality. Injuries continue to dog this team, and most of it impacts position players. We’re in for an interesting baseball season here in St. Louis. Did the Cardinals do enough to become a playoff team?

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.