Six days to go …

On Thursday, March 28 the Cardinals will open the season with a four-game series at Dodger Stadium. But given the caterwauling by a percentage of media and fans that have anxiety disorders over a tough early schedule, I’m not sure why the Cardinals will bother to show up. Alas, the presence of the St. Louis baseball team is required. And the Redbirds will be there to play ball.

Starting with this column, I’ll do a final check on the 2024 Cardinals’ key areas as the team makes final-week preparations for the mental and physical test of a 162-game schedule.


The Overview: A restructured starting rotation that includes three offseason additions will be scrutinized all season. Heck, this group has been inspected, reviewed, analyzed and criticized since late November — with some conditional praise and fear of injuries mixed in. There’s an obsession with age, and if I didn’t know better I’d assume the Cardinals signed five senior citizens from an assisted-living residence. If the elderlies can produce plenty of innings and a higher percentage of quality starts, they’ll lead a team resurgence. But if this ripened rotation breaks down and deteriorates the Cardinals are doomed. Please make sure the clubhouse is stocked with a sufficient supply of dietary fiber supplement, bingo cards, hard candy and landlines to keep the geezers happy. All kidding aside, the performance of the new-look — but old-school — rotation will largely determine the fate of the 2024 Cardinals. Suggested rotation theme song? “Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead.


1. Innings, innings, innings. For the five-man rotation of Sonny Gray, Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, the foundation for success is innings. Going deeper into games. Over the past five seasons the Cardinals had a winning percentage of .678 when the pitcher provided six innings or more in their starts. And when a starter pitched fewer than six innings, the Cardinals had a .432 winning percentage.

This important standard applied last year. In their gross 2023 season, the Cardinals were 10 games over .500 when receiving 6+ innings from a starter – and went 30 games under .500 when a starter lasted less than six IP. Unlike last season, the Cardinals have the arms to increase the innings-pitched load.

2. Quality Starts are sweeter. The minimum standard for a QS is at least six innings pitched and yielding no more than three earned runs. Most quality starts are much better than that. But over the past five seasons, the Cardinals have a .715 winning percentage in a quality start … and a .268 win percentage in all other games. As bad as the Cardinals were in 2023, they had a shiny 33-15 record (.687) when handed a Quality Start. The Cards had only 48 QS last season. The five initial members of their five-man rotation for 2024 had 65 quality starts a year ago. And 61 of them belonged to Mikolas, Gray, Lynn and Gibson. In between injuries, Matz had four. If healthy, he’ll turn in a higher quality-start count in 2024. And that means more wins for the team.

3. Health-care insurance? The Cardinals can’t absorb too many blows to this rotation. Except for Matz, the recent track records are pretty solid. Gray made 32 starts and pitched 180 innings last season but averaged only 127.5 innings over 2021 and 2022. Mikolas, Gray, Gibson and Lynn averaged 190 innings in 2023 and the four ranked among the top 23 in the majors for most innings pitched.

4. The depth is somewhat better but still a concern. Have you heard about the Cardinals having five grandpa starting pitchers who will make their way to the mound with the assistance of a walking stick? St. Louis goes into the season with a rotation that averages 35 years old. Never mind that Mikolas, Gray, Lynn and Gibson ranked among the top six in MLB for durability by starters age 33 or older. And all four ranked among the top 11 in MLB for most quality starts by this age group. But Matz has averaged only 13.5 starts in his two seasons with St. Louis. The lefty will have to provide a lot more than that in 2024. If not, then the Cardinals will lack stability.

And what if the Cardinals have multiple breakdowns by their starters? How would they handle the chaos? Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore are next in line. Thompson has looked pretty good – better than Liberatore – but here’s the bottom line: in 28 combined starts and 129 innings over the past two seasons, Thompson and Liberatore have collectively pitched to a 5.44 ERA. There should be more options at Triple A Memphis this season – keep an eye on Tekoah Roby – and in-season trades are possible. But the Cardinals can’t afford another shambolic season with their rotation.

5. To elaborate on Matz: he can bolster this rotation. Or weaken it. In his two years with the Cardinals he’s missed 161 in-season days with injuries and averaged only 76.5 innings per season. Look, Martz doesn’t have to be Steve Carlton here. Or Joe Magrane. Matz can help the Cardinals a lot just by replicating his 2021 season in  Toronto: 29 starts, 150 and ⅔ innings, 14 wins, a 3.82 ERA, and 2.7 WAR.

6. Gray must pitch like a No. 1 starter. Or close to it, anyway. Last season in Minnesota, Gray finished second in the American League Cy Young voting, ranked third among MLB starters in ERA (2.79) and had the best fielding-independent ERA (2.83). It’s unrealistic to expect Gray to repeat that, but the Cardinals need him to be a standout.

7. Miles Mikolas must lower his ERA. He’s been excellent at supplying innings. He was damn good in 2022 with an ERA of 3.29 in 202 and ⅓ innings. Last season his ERA swelled to 4.78. But as long as the Cardinals remain true to their vow to clean up their defense, I’m confident he’ll bounce back. I’ll explain. Last season his home-runs allowed rate was virtually the same as 2022. His walk rate was identical to 2022. His strikeout rate was down by 3 percent, but that wasn’t the real issue. Mikolas gave up 7.6 hits per nine innings in 2022. Last season that increased to 10.1 hits per nine. Why is that? Defense. No question about it.

Mikolas had a fantastic defense behind him in 2022, but his defensive support was horrendous in ‘23. In 2022, hitters had a .249 batting average against Mikolas on balls in play. Last season that BIP average blew up to .308 – an increase of 59 points. Mikolas had a respectable 4.13 fielding independent ERA in 2023, and that was much closer to reality than his standard 4.78 ERA. I’m not sure why so many people fail to grasp the connection between pitching and defense and what it means for the pitcher.

8. Kyle Gibson: Try to understand what he is, and give him a chance. For a pitcher that’s supposedly so awful – and he’s not – Gibson ranks 9th among active MLB starting pitchers in starts, 9th in wins, 11th in innings, and 15th in quality starts. If Gibson is such a junkpile starter, then how has he lasted so long? Gibson has a below average ERA+ for his career, but why do so many teams respect him for what he brings to the competition? Why is he so appreciated by actual baseball people? Gibson is reliable. He takes the ball every fifth day. He grinds out innings. He’s a terrific teammate, and younger pitchers look to him for guidance.

Since the beginning of the 2014 season – among the 50 big-league pitchers that have made at least 150 starts over that time – Gibson has made the most starts (284) tied for 5th in wins, ranks 3rd for most innings, and is 9th in quality starts. I’m sorry, but for a so-called fifth starter, what the heck is wrong with that? What is your expectation for a back-end rotation piece?

8a. Gibson will rely on defense, and that’s nothing new. He isn’t a strikeout guy. Never has been. But put a solid/good defense behind Gibson and he’s fine. The last time Gibson pitched with a strong defense – Texas in 2021 – the batting average on balls in play against him was .267. The Rangers led the majors in defensive runs saved that season. Last season in Baltimore, Gibson had a .311 average on balls in play with an Orioles defense that ranked 21st in the FanGraphs metric. Gibson had a 4.73 ERA last season, and that stat prompts loud squawking. But even with a below-average defense on the field, Gibson’s fielding independent ERA (4.13) last season was better than the overall MLB average (4.45) for starting pitchers.

9. Lance Lynn? Pretty simple: keep the ball in the yard. He can’t get bludgeoned for 44 home runs again. But based on Lynn’s career home run rate, last season’s wreckage appears to be an outlier. In 2023 he’ll be making roughly half of his starts at Busch Stadium. In 484 career innings at Busch, Lynn has given up an average of 0.6 home runs per nine innings and allowed a low .342 slugging percentage. He’ll make some changes in 2024 to avoid being as predictable in his pitching patterns.

10. The experience of this rotation is unprecedented. I’m referring to the Bill DeWitt Era, which began in 1996. Over the last 28 seasons, the Cardinals never had a starting-pitching unit close to matching this group’s level of savoir-faire.

Here’s a look at the collective major-league [pitching experience of Lynn, Gibson, Gray, Mikolas and Matz:

* 51 seasons.
* 1,279 pitching appearances.
* 1,194 starts.
* 6,963 innings.
* 446 wins.

The Cardinals have had rotations that went three deep in experienced starters. In 2000 it was Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen and Andy Benes in 2000. Kile, Benes and Woody Williams in 2001. Chris Carpenter, Williams and Jeff Suppan in 2004. Carpenter, Suppan and Mark Mulder in 2006. Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook in 2011.

The 2009 rotation had four starters with extensive MLB experience: Carpenter, Matt Morris, Suppan and Mulder. The 2009 rotation featured Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, and Joel Piniero.

During the stretch run in 2021, the rotation was seasoned with Adam Wainwright, J.A. Happ and Jon Lester. After the trade deadline in 2022, the rotation consisted of Miles Mikolas, Wainwright, Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery.

The rotations that I cited in the preceding three paragraphs had something in common: they were a prominent part of teams that reached the postseason.

The 2024 St. Louis rotation sets a new DeWitt Era standard for having extensive veteran presence. It’s interesting to me that so many observers see this as a negative. I’m not going to assume that. Given the past success the Cardinals have attained with older starters, the experience of this ‘24 rotation could be a positive.

But if it’s too old, the Cardinals will lead the majors in dinosaur references and jokes about Medicare. And if this rotation gets slapped around, the Cardinals could be crawling to another losing season.

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 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 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.