Greetings. Unless the Cardinals are planning a late-winter surprise, their 2022 starting rotation appears to be set. I’m referring to the core. The five locked-in starters.

Adam Wainwright.

Jack Flaherty.

Miles Mikolas.

Steven Matz.

Dakota Hudson.

That’s the foundation, and it’s already in place. Other pitchers undoubtedly will start games in 2022. We can expect to see prospect Matthew Liberatore make his MLB debut at some point during the season. Jake Woodford likely will make starts and work in relief in a valuable swingman role. The Cardinals may or may not add a so-called depth starter. But that topic isn’t relevant for today’s written exercise … well, except to say that I’m in favor of reinforcing the depth.

The commitment to five starters comes with the obvious risk.

Injuries and instability.

(See: 2021.)

From the outset of June until the end of the season, the Cards’ designated 2021 starters Flaherty, Mikolas, Kwang Hyun Kim and Carlos Martinez combined for only 32 starts. And the fifth spot was handled by several starters including John Gant, Johan Oviedo, Daniel Ponce de Leon, etc.

The strain on the bullpen was extreme at times.

Before scrambling to add Wade LeBlanc, Jon Lester and J.A. Happ to reduce the trauma, the Cardinals relied on John Gant and Johan Oviedo to fill voids, with some Woodford mixed in.

In all, 13 different Cardinals made starts in 2021, with 11 making at least eight starts. Only one, Wainwright, pitched 100+ innings as a starter. (Kim pitched 106.2 innings overall, but only 96.2 IP as a starter.)

June was a disaster and a turning point. A 5.75 starting-pitching ERA pulled the Cardinals down in the NL Central standings and bounced them from division-title contention. On the positive side, at least the Cards recovered with a good 3.65 rotation ERA over the final three months, forging a 50-31 record over that time. And an increasingly stable and effective rotation made it possible for the team to go on a late rush for the second NL wild card spot.

The Cardinals were fortunate to make the postseason by overcoming this bottom-line liability for 2021: namely the third-worst ERA (4.01) by a St. Louis rotation over the last 13 seasons. The two STL teams that had poorer starter ERAs – 2016 and 2017 – failed to reach the playoffs.

Earlier this offseason the Cardinals addressed the rotation by signing free-agent lefthander Steven Matz to a four-year, $44 million deal before the labor lockout. But by leaving it at that, the front office is obviously counting on internal rotation improvement for 2022. That encompasses several areas including better pitching health, more consistency, and enhanced performances.

After the damaging turmoil of 2021, stability is essential. The Cardinal front office is putting its chips on Wainwright, Flaherty, Mikolas, Matz and Hudson to come through. There’s a certain degree of risk attached to all five.

Will the rotation be a strength in 2022?

That’s hard to say. Three of the scheduled five starters for 2022 — Flaherty, Mikolas and Hudson — have made only 42 combined starts over the past two seasons.  Goodness.

Let’s inspect …


Top Question: At age 40, is Wainwright due to regress after a fantastic 2021? I’m not trying to annoy anyone here by pointing to Waino’s age. But I believe we’re adults here, so there’s no need to reach for a pacifier when Wainwright’s age is mentioned. He’s truly unique. He’s been amazing down the stretch of his career. But in recent seasons relatively few MLB pitchers have been successful at the age of 40+ and Wainwright turns 41 late in the season. I don’t believe he’ll disintegrate, but it’s idiotic to dismiss age as a consideration.

Why He Can Thrive: Because he’s Adam Wainwright, and he’s gotten better with age after experiencing career-threatening elbow troubles in 2017 and 2018. He pitches to Yadier Molina (for perhaps the final season) and has superb career numbers at this version of Busch Stadium. Since the start of the 2019 season Wainwright ranks second among qualifying MLB starters with 36 wins and is 9th in innings, 12th in starts, and 13th in ERA (3.51). He doesn’t need sizzling velocity to succeed; you don’t need to throw 94 mph when you have 94 ways to mess with hitters. That became evident in 2021 with his 17-7 record, 206.1 innings, and 3.05 ERA. There’s no reason to think that the Waino sorcery is depleted.

Why He Won’t: The wear and tear of having pitched nearly 2,500 MLB innings, including postseason.


Top Question: After two distressing seasons, can Jack Flaherty return to form, and supply 170+ plus innings? Health and happiness and dominance. That’s Flaherty’s goal for 2022. He’s arguably the most important, pivotal presence in this rotation.

Why He’ll Thrive: The truncated 2020 pandemic season was pretty much a washout for Flaherty – and an outlier for Flaherty that should be tossed away. Injuries (oblique tear, shoulder strain) limited him to 15 starts. But Jack is only 26, and he’s never gone into the shop for elbow repairs, or to fix shoulder damage. Let’s remember who he really is: Flaherty averaged 31 starts per season in 2018-2019, pitching to a 3.01 ERA and an adjusted ERA that put him 35 percent above the league average. His rate of 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings ranked 9th among MLB starters in the two seasons. And when he pitched last season, we saw enough of the “old” Flaherty to have confidence in his talent. It’s still there.

Why He Won’t: Another round of injuries, combined with frustration and a loss of confidence. Even during his most effective times, Flaherty tends to throw too many pitches because of his so-so strike rate and first-strike percentage. And after making only 24 starts and throwing 118 total innings over the past two seasons, we wonder if he’ll be vulnerable to physical setbacks again in 2022.


Top Question: Can Mikolas be durable and reliable and stay in the rotation all season? It’s been a while; he missed the 2020 season and has made only nine starts and pitched 44.2 innings since the end of the 2019 season. There’s a lot to prove in his pitching and his staying power.

Why He’ll Thrive: Though his overall statistics were nothing to shout praise about in 2021, we saw glimpses of the 2018 Mikolas. He was a big surprise after coming back to the U.S. following his pitching revival in Japan, going 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 201 innings in an All-Star season for the ‘18 Cardinals. Mikolas was extremely stingy with walks and home runs, limited hard contact, and kept the bases low on traffic. At 33, he’s hardly ancient, and there’s reason for renewed confidence if Mikolas can just stay healthy and reset his rhythm for increased sharpness. Two encouraging indicators to pull from 2021: his career-best 53.5 percent groundball rate, and a combined called-strike and swinging-strike percentage (26.8) that topped his 2018 mark (26.3.)

Why He Won’t: Since that beautiful 2018 demonstration of precise control that made it difficult for opposing hitters to barrel his pitches, Mikolas is still searching for his mojo. His ERA (4.16), walk rate, home-run rate and hard-hit rate went way up in 2019, and elbow issues sidelined him in 2020. Last season was a sequence of stops and starts that totalled nine starts and a 4.40 fielding independent ERA. His fastball velocity was down last season. Hitters chased fewer pitches out of the zone. They made better contact against Mikolas in pitches in the zone. Those are negative trends that must be reversed going forward. Here’s another problem: in 2018 the righthanded Mikolas limited RH batters to a .195 average and .264 slugging percentage. Since then, RH batters have hit .264 and slugged .446 against him – but there was some improvement in this area in ‘21. If the elbow miseries are over, then we could see Miles stage a successful comeback in 2022. That’s a big ask, but sustained pitching health would give him a chance.


Top Question: Will Matz, 30, pitch as well as the Cardinals expect him to?

Why He’ll Thrive: Let’s start with his support, which includes the National League’s best overall defense and an infield defense that was credited with 29 defensive runs saved in 2021. That’s a boost for a pitcher that comes to St. Louis with a career 48 percent ground-ball rate. And Busch Stadium – which suppresses the power of RH batters – will be his friend when he starts games there. Martz had a tad underrated last season in Toronto, posting a career-best 2.8 fWAR. Over the final three months of ‘21 Matz gave the Jays a 3.10 ERA in 15 starts, and held opponents to a .310 onbase percentage and .380 slug. Matz pitched 150 innings last season, which may seem low, but the Cardinals will take it – as they should after having only one starter, Wainwright, amass 100+ innings last season. The Cardinals’ internal projections show Matz as a pitcher who is likely to enter the peak-performance level of his career.

Why He Won’t: While he’ll make roughly half his starts at Busch Stadium, which will help, I don’t know if we can count on Matz to win the overall battle vs. RH batters. They have a .446 slugging percentage against him during his career. And over the past three seasons RH batters have rocked Matz for a .461 slugging percentage and 1.7 homers per nine innings. And while his overall body of work was solid in 2021, consider this: according to Brooks Baseball, Matz threw 1,009 sinkers to RHB last season, and they smashed the pitch for a .311 average and .457 slug. The Cardinals are smart about recommending adjustments to their pitchers, so we’ll see if Matz finds a new way to tame righthanded hitters. The bullpen figures to be busy on Matz’s working days; over the past three seasons he’s been popped for a .311 average, .367 onbase percentage and .525 slug when facing a batting order for the third time in a start.


Top Question: After missing most of 2020 and 2021 after undergoing elbow surgery, will he be ready to pitch from start to finish in 2022?

Why He’ll Thrive: There is so much to like about this 27-year-old righthander, who looked very good (2.08 ERA) in 8.2 innings of September work in 2021. Hudson will take a career 24-10 record and 3.14 ERA into the 2022 season, even if it’s of the small-sample variety (69 games, 41 starts.) In his 250 MLB innings Hudson has a 132 ERA+, which means he’s performed 32 percent above average. And Hudson is an extreme ground-ball guy, with a 57.6% GB rate for his career. That’s a prime reason for Hudson’s low home-run rate; he’s given up 0.97 per nine innings. And his pitching style is a terrific asset for a STL infield defense that allowed a .212 batting average on grounders last season – the second-lowest average in the majors.

Why He Won’t: Will Hudson be sharp in 2022? We ask for two obvious reasons: (1) He’s returning after going through substantial down time, and (2) he has a glaring career walk rate of 11.3 percent that must come down for Dak to reach his full potential. No offense at all to Hudson, but he’s a lucky dude to pitch in front of guys like Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Edmundo Sosa and Paul DeJong. Hudson’s three-way combination – low strikeout rate (18.1%), overly generous walk rate, (11.3%) and big ground-ball rate – would lead to serious trouble on a team equipped with a mediocre or worse infield defense. And while that career 3.14 ERA looks handsome, it’s also misleading. Hudson’s fielding independent ERA is much higher at 4.66.


These are from Steamer:

– Wainwright: 194 innings, 11-11 record, 4.39 ERA.
– Flaherty: 177 IP, 12-10 record, 3.73 ERA
– Mikolas: 145 IP, 9-9 record, 4.18 ERA
– Matz: 161 IP, 10-9 record, 3.91 ERA
– Hudson: 150 innings, 9-9 record, 4.39 ERA

There you have it.

Thank you 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.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

* 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.