Before the 2021 season the Cardinals were thin on starting pitching. Multiple rotation pieces were vulnerable to injury, and the shortened 2020 season added additional risk to pitcher health. The lack of depth was obvious, but a confident front office had no concerns. Everything was swell.

It didn’t take long for the rotation to implode, ripped apart by injuries. Only one starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, made more than 21 starts last season, and the Cardinals used 13 different starters along the way.

The front office had to scramble to pick up Wade LeBlanc in June, and made last-minute trades for J.A. Happ and Jon Lester at the trade deadline. All three aging lefties exceeded expectations, and the Cardinals recovered to earn a wild-card spot. But had there been more urgency – to acquire starting pitchers earlier – the Cardinals may have won the NL Central to avoid the one-and-done wild-card loss.

It’s 2022 …

And here we go again.

Jack Flaherty’s status is shaky. After an injury-blighted 2021 that included late-season shoulder soreness, Flaherty is dealing with shoulder issues again this spring. That happened fast. He’s seeking a second opinion on the source of the shoulder stiffness, and will learn more about potential options. But at the very least Flaherty won’t be ready for the start of the regular season. This could be serious, and it would be devastating for the Cardinals to lose Flaherty for an extensive period of time. Best-case scenario: Jack is shut down, goes through treatment/rehab, and can return sooner than feared.

Alex Reyes is also sidelined with shoulder miseries, and there’s no timetable on his return. He’s an important piece of the bullpen – either as a middle-inning bridge guy, or a late-inning blowtorch. The bullpen is weaker without him.

At least the Cardinals brought in free-agent lefty starter Steven Matz on a four-year deal worth $44 million. We welcome and praise the addition, but it wasn’t enough.

Several reasons.

1) Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson made only 42 starts – combined – over the past two seasons. It is a leap of faith to count on all three guys to make 30+ starts apiece.

2) Happ, LeBlanc and Lester are no longer around. They provided value by combining for 31 starts last season to settle a destabilized rotation. LeBlanc went down with an arm injury last Aug. 12, Lester retired, and Happ is still out there. I’m not saying the Cardinals should have tried to put the old band back together again. But they certainly needed to protect themselves by adding real rotation insurance.

3) About Adam Wainwright: I’ve learned my lesson and it’s foolish to underestimate him. But given the team’s ravaged rotation a year ago, he delivered a great season. A tremendous, precious-value season. The Cardinals went 22-10 in Waino’s starts overall. But from June 9 through the end of the regular season, the Cards were 18-3 when Wainwright started, and 40-39 in all other games. Waino’s 206.1 innings were his most since 2014, and his 3.05 ERA was his best in a full season since ‘14. He warranted more respect in the Cy Young award consideration. I no longer am surprised by anything the future Cardinal Hall of Famer does, but is it fair to expect him to repeat his 2021 performance in 2022 at age 40-41?

After landing Matz, the Cardinals made a couple of depth moves by signing two former major-league right-handers that were coming back home after revamping their pitching overseas. Drew VerHagen had a 3.49 ERA in 209 innings for Nippon in Japan, and Aaron Brooks posted a 2.78 ERA and a very high ground-ball rate in 229 innings for his team (Kia) in Korea. VerHagen is on the 40-man roster and a virtual lock to make the opening roster. Brooks was signed to a minor-league contract with a likelihood of being upgraded to the big-league roster.

Before that, each guy made a limited number of starts for their MLB teams and got smacked around. But the same was true for Mikolas, an ineffective MLB pitcher who reinvented himself during three seasons with Yomiuri in Japan. The Cardinals have a positive track record in identifying major-league ready talent in Korea or Japan – Mikolas, Seunghwan Oh and Kwang Hyun Kim. So perhaps they’ll have a positive outcome with VerHagen and Brooks, and both can be used in the bullpen as multiple-inning relievers.

That said, it would have been nice for the Redbirds to bring in a proven big-league starter to supplement their shaky depth. This is absolutely certain: teams will need more than five or six starters in 2022. It’s a smart time to load up. And there was a large supply of starters available before and immediately after the lockout. Now? Not so much. But Oakland – aggressively slashing payroll – is willing to trade RH starter Frankie Montas and LH starter Sean Manea.

What will the conservative Cardinals do? Display urgency or wait around for much of the season to reach in the bargain bin?

The in-house options for starting pitching include Jake Woodford, VerHagen, Johan Oviedo, prospects Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson, and Brooks. Woodford figures to be at the front of the line after pitching well (3.09 ERA) in five September starts last season.

Right-hander Zach McAllister, 34, was signed to a minor-league contract earlier this week but hasn’t pitched in the majors in 2019. At the Triple A level he had a 9.49 ERA in 2019, and a 5.06 ERA in 2021. Before that McAllister had a 4.09 ERA in 592 innings for Cleveland, but got rocked for a 6.20 ERA in 2018. The Guardians mostly used him as a reliever, but he did make 68 starts.

The Cardinals will have to fill the Reyes ‘ absence for a while – as long as necessary – and that could have a ripple effect in the bullpen, with roles being modified. That likely would have likely happened, anyway, because manager Oli Marmol will be handling things differently this year. He refuses to designate a closer. I like that.

“I don’t think I would describe anybody as our closer,” Marmol told reporters earlier this week in Jupiter. “I think there’s opportunities to win ballgames in the 7th or in the 8th (innings) and we’re gonna do a good job of game-planning specific to the (opposing) lineup.”

They Cards will count on Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera again. And they’re relying on Jordan Hicks to be an impact reliever in 2022. (Good luck.) But if Reyes can’t make it back until later in the season, the Cardinals will have one fewer stick of dynamite to throw at opposing hitters.

And while the Cardinals have enough arms to cover a Flaherty absence, quantity alone should not be the objective. Not when you’re competing in the NL Central with the Milwaukee Brewers and their talent-loaded rotation and deep, proven bullpen. All teams have serviceable arms. But a team like the Cardinals should have higher aspirations. Sad to say, it appears that the front office learned little from the rotation breakdown and trauma in 2021.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net 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.