St. Louis Cardinals: So what if Miles Mikolas does struggle this year?
By Matt Graves
In 2018, Miles Mikolas earned the Opening Day start in 2019 for the St. Louis Cardinals. After a mediocre start, what happens if the struggles continue?
The St. Louis Cardinals dropped a disappointing Opening Day game in Milwaukee that almost turned exciting as Lorenzo Cain robbed a Jose Martinez homer in the top of the ninth with two outs to finalize the score at 5-4 Milwaukee.
The biggest storyline of this game was undoubtedly the performance of Miles Mikolas. Arguably, the storyline should’ve been the stellar performance of Kolten Wong (your 2019 Major League home run leader) but as is usual for fans of sports, the negative storylines always capture more attention as people love finding things to complain about.
While Miles Mikolas did give up five runs over five innings, including three home runs (which is concerning considering he gave up just 16 all of 2018), he wouldn’t have been someone to worry about had he just gotten that pesky slugger Jhoulys Chacin out. Chacin had two hits in the game which on the first, Christian Yelich drove him in on a homer, and the second one was a homer of his own.
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Given that Chacin (who is, by the way, a starting pitcher) is a career .192 batter and yesterday’s homer was just his second, I’m gonna chalk up his performance to freak chances and luck. It doesn’t change the fact that Mikolas shouldn’t have had any issues getting him out.
I understand that this game is fresh and very disappointing after so long without baseball, but I’m not going to freak out about Mikolas yet. Oddly enough, in his first start of 2018, he also gave up three homers and went just 5.2 innings giving up four runs. He then went on to be the best pitcher on the Cardinals for the rest of the year. So don’t freak out yet.
But… what if we do go into just a little bit of a doomsday scenario where Mikolas is not a 1-2 pitcher in your rotation, but closer to a 4-5. What if last year was a fluke and he is heading towards a big regression. I wrote about Mikolas as a question mark here, so let’s expand and see exactly what that means for the Cardinals.
If Mikolas truly is just a 4th-5th starter, the rotation is no doubt in trouble. All the sudden a lot more weight is placed on everyone else especially the young guys, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson. The most simple way to move forward is to see what the guys you have are gonna give you, which will probably not be enough, and then make a deal. My best choice would be pick up Dallas Keuchel.
Signing Kuechel would have a very precarious path for a few reasons. Number one, you would have to decide who gets tossed out of the rotation. You could make an argument for it to be the youngest guy, Hudson, but no, he has a chance to be one of the most productive.
Then it goes to the oldest, Adam Wainwright. This is the spot that I would settle on as unless he is pitching as he did five years ago, a bad Mikolas will probably be performing better than him. There is also the wrinkle that you just resigned Mikolas for four years which makes taking him out of the rotation very unlikely.
The next part of this difficult path would be dealing with the fact that Kuechel has not had a Spring Training. The team was burnt (badly) on this last year with Greg Holland and that experience will probably keep them from considering Kuechel at all, even if the former All-Star is still available. From the day you sign Kuechel, it’s going to take about a month before he is going to begin to look Major League ready. Sure, he has been throwing and whatnot, but no bullpen sessions are close to the real thing.
This is not a great looking way out of a Mikolas-struggling situation, but should he really regress, that will put the team in a bad situation regardless.
If path one is the sexy exciting path, this is the conservative classic Mozeliak response to a struggling pitcher: keep him out there and see who steps up or replace with young guys. As classic and risky as this sounds, it may not be the worst option. We saw in Spring Training that the Cardinals have plenty of young guys that are still ready to make Major League contributions.
The three headliners of that group are Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and Ryan Helsley. There are definitely more options beyond them but as far as pitchers that are in AAA that may have already been to the MLB, those are your huckleberries. We saw Gomber and Ponce de Leon last year and while many believe Ponce is destined for the bullpen, they both have been starters before.
In this path, there is still the difficult question of who is going to be replaced in the current rotation, and this has the same answer as before: whoever is doing the worst. Helsley had the best Spring of these three and is the only one who hasn’t reached the Majors. He will 100% appear in the Majors this year. I would bet my tuition on it. The only question is when.
In a perfect world, Mikolas bounces back. but as we see with this cruel game, often times just about nothing goes the way you think it’s going to.
As an old math teacher of mine used to say, “there are lots of ways to skin a cat.” As weird as that saying is, he is right. Should Mikolas regress significantly, he is still valuable and the team did get him at a discount. It hurts the Major League rotation for sure but they do have other options. One start doesn’t mean too much but if it keeps up, we could be in for a long summer.