The Cardinals should score plenty of runs in 2024. The bullpen won’t be a tinderbox. The defense should save runs instead of cost the team runs. The baserunning won’t be as passive or careless.

That leaves the starting pitching. It’s the most important sector of the 2024 Cardinals. You know it. I know it. The Cardinals know it. Last season St. Louis had a starting-pitching ERA of 5.08 that was the worst in a full season in franchise history.

That’s why president of baseball ops John Mozeliak rushed into the free-agent market to collectively spend $100 million on starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn. They’ll join Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz in the five-man setup.

What’s at stake?

The entire season.

That’s all. No pressure, or anything.

I’m taking a look at each starter and presenting a best-case and worst-case scenario.


Best-case scenario: He gets through an entire season without breaking down. It’s as simple as that. Matz has made only 27 total starts in his first two seasons with the Cardinals. Matz was reasonably healthy for the Mets and Blue Jays in 2018, 2019 and 2021. In the three seasons he averaged 155 innings and pitched to a 3.99 ERA. If he can do that in 2024, the Cardinals won’t have to go on a mad scramble to fill their rotation. They’d have a lot less to worry about. Matz showed what he’s capable of doing late last season, crafting a 1.86 ERA over his final seven starts. Five of the seven were quality starts, and the Cardinals won six of those seven outings. The Redbirds could use a lot more of that. The talent is there, but Martz has to be on the track instead of being stuck in the garage for repairs.

Worst-case scenario: More interruptions. More time on the IL. More money into the drainpipe. In his first two years in St. Louis, Matz has missed 161 in-season days because of injuries. The Cardinals have paid him $7.6 million (total) during his time lost to physical infirmities. As of now, should Matz crack again, Zack Thompson is probably next in line to claim a rotation spot.


Best-case scenario: He sharpens his pitch arsenal. He modifies his pitch selection. He improves. In 2022 all five pitches – four-seam, sinker, slider, curve and changeup – were in the “plus” category for run value. Last season his sinker was flat-out awful, his curve was bad, and his four seamer was slightly below average. There’s a lot of value in a starter that can give his team 200 innings in a season. That’s why Mikolas had 3.1 WAR despite pitching to a 4.78 ERA in 2023.

Here’s something that hasn’t been discussed enough: Mikolas was victimized by his team’s terrible defense in 2023. Especially on ground balls. In 2022, when the Cardinals had a very good infield defense, opponents hit .173 on ground balls. Last season, opponents batted .280 on grounders. And the overall average on balls in play against him was .309. No wonder why Mikolas gave up an average of 10.1 hits per nine innings – tied for the 10th-highest figure by a regular MLB starter in 2023. In that context his 4.78 ERA wasn’t as horrendous as it seemed; his fielding independent ERA was a more reasonable 4.27. I think having Sonny Gray at the top of the rotation will help Mikolas; Miles won’t have the extra pressure that comes with being cast as the No. 1 starter. And he should benefit from a normal routine in spring training – which wasn’t the case in 2023 because of the WBC.

Worst-case scenario: Mikolas, 35, continues to suffer erosion in his swing-and-miss stuff. His whiff rate and strikeout rate declined last season. And opponents had a 55 percent hard-hit rate against his four-seam fastball. That’s a concern going into 2024. Another problem is his approach against left-handed batters. Last season LHB punished his sinker for 10 homers, nine doubles and a .644 slugging percentage. Miles must come up with a better plan to avoid throwing batting practice to left-side hitters. Mikolas was struck for more hits than any NL pitcher last season, but the defense was absolutely a factor in that. And if the Cardinals play raggedy defense again, Mikolas will feel the burn.


Best-case scenario: More of the same. Gray was superb in 2022, and a big part of that was a sweeper pitch that graded out as the best thrown by a starting pitcher. To recap: Gray finished second in American League voting, ranked third among MLB starting pitchers in ERA (2.79), had the best fielding-independent ERA (2.83), was tied for 20th in quality starts, and threw his most innings in a season (184.2) since 2015. It’s unrealistic to expect Gray to match his 2023 worksheet, but if he gets within range he’ll be a huge asset for the 2024 Cardinals.

Worst-case scenario: A shortfall in innings. As great as Gray pitched in 2023, we only have to go back to his two seasons prior to that. Over 2021 and 2022 he averaged only 127 innings and 25 starts. He had an above-average performance in those two seasons but the innings volume was insufficient. If that happens again, it would be harmful to the Cardinals. One other thing: last season Gray yielded the lowest home-run rate by a MLB starter, giving up 0.4 per nine innings. That HR rate will probably rise in 2024 – but not by much.


Best-case scenario: The Cardinals would be pleased if Gibson can come close to repeating what he did for Baltimore last season. That would be 33 starts, 192 innings, and a 4.13 fielding independent ERA. Last season Gibson was only one of 11 MLB starting pitchers to throw at least 192 innings and notch 17 or more quality starts. In 2023 Gibson had more quality starts than Aaron Nola, Dylan Cease, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Shane Bieber, Freddy Peralta and Marcus Stroman. To bring some other names into it, over the last two seasons Gibson has cranked more quality starts than Blake Snell, Max Fried and Spencer Strider.

The Cardinals coveted Gibson’s durability and I can understand why. Since the start of the 2014 season he ranks No. 1 for most innings, fourth in most starts, and 11th in quality starts. In 2023, Gibson modified his slider and turned it into an excellent sweeper. He had great results with the pitch, sweeping away opponents by limiting them to a .197 average.

Worst-case scenario: Gibson, 36, has never been a strikeout puncher, so there’s no reason to demand that of him. That said, he has to make a lot of good pitches. And when he’s off, there’s damage. Think of him as Jeff Suppan. The pure stuff may not be imposing, but he knows how to pitch, has a knack of making the big pitch when he needs it, and keeps the ball in the yard. Those who want to seize on negatives to disparage the signing, have made a large fuss over Gibson’s hits-allowed total last season (198). Sure, that was the second most in the American League and fourth most overall. But in terms of hits allowed per nine innings, Gibson’s rate (9.3) was the 24th highest. The Cardinals can live with that. Again, they’ll have to play more reliable defense. Gibson is a heavy ground-ball guy. Last season opponents hit .311 against him on balls in play. And that’s why his standard ERA (4.73) was misleading when compared to his 4.13 fielding independent ERA. Baltimore’s defense was rated 25th in outs above average last season – worse than St. Louis – and Gibson paid a price for that. This isn’t singles tennis. The other parts of the game – like defense – really matter.


Best-case scenario: The big man – soon to be 37 – comes home, settles back into the relative comfort of Busch Stadium, and gives up fewer home runs … a lot fewer home runs. If Lynn can cut down on those homers, he’ll have a solid season that features plenty of innings and strikeouts. Lynn (famously) was smashed for 44 homers during a troublesome 2023 regular season split between the White Sox and the Dodgers. Can he prevent opponents from teeing off and going deep? Yes, I think he can. Here are a few things you should know about:

+ In 484 career innings at Busch Stadium, Lynn has allowed only 0.6 homers per nine innings – getting touched for only 31 in 1,999 plate appearances for an excellent rate of just 1.5 percent. The career slugging percentage against him at Busch is a low .342.

+ Lynn was pelted for 2.2 homers per nine innings last season, but that was an outlier. In 283 big-league starts from 2012 through 2022, Lynn allowed just 0.9 homers per nine. And his only somewhat inflated total – 1.3 home runs per 9 – came in 2017, when he returned after missing an entire season following elbow surgery. The outlier nature of his home run rate was affirmed by the 19 percent of his total fly balls that went for home runs in 2023. Through 2022, only 10 percent of Lynn’s fly balls were launched for homers. We should expect that HR/FLY rate to normalize in 2024. And the projection models are in line with that.

+ Lynn hasn’t lost much (if anything) in his power-pitching capability. Last season he struck out 9.4 hitters per nine innings, which topped his career rate of 9.08 per 9. According to Opta Analyst metrics, Lynn had the fourth-best Whiff+ rating among MLB starting pitchers last season. He also ranked 11th in expected strikeouts. His stuff is still there. But Lynn needs to do some modifications.

Worst-case scenario: Diminished fastball velocity, the continuation of the suspected bad habit of tipping pitches, and stubbornly sticking with the same pitch sequencing. His pattern of working hitters became predictable in 2023, and that was a large factor in the relentless the bombs-away clubbing against him. The Cardinals have identified some changes that should help him, and Lynn welcomes that. Last season 36.3 percent of his home runs were given up on the first pitch or a 1-0 count. And 43 percent of the homers were blasted when Lynn was behind in the count. A change in approach can only help him. It’s also imperative for Lynn to come up with a new way of taking on LH batters; last season they crushed him for 24 homers in 359 at-bats. That’s a bomb every 14.5 at-bats. Yikes.

I hope this was helpful. Needless to say, sustained pitching health is necessary for these five starters to pitch well and deliver on their potential in 2024. But I’m not as hung up on age as many others are. Last season 14 pitchers between the ages of 34 and 37 made at least 15 starts and collectively pumped their way to 125 wins with 107 losses for a .539 winning percentage. And they came through with a quality start in 43 percent of their outings.

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.