The 2023 Cardinals season was a mess for a variety of reasons, one of which was significant underperformance by many key contributors. If the players who underperformed or missed significant time due to injury can bounce back, it might just be the difference between success and failure for the Cardinals. Here are five Cardinals who could be the difference between success and failure in 2024.
In 2023, two-time All-Star Miles Mikolas was expected to headline the Cardinals' rotation of "six starting pitchers." However, Mikolas did not live up to his All-Star numbers in 2022. His ERA spiked from 3.29 to 4.78, and while he underperformed his FIP of 4.27, the 35-year-old showed alarming signs of regression. Whether this was Father Time catching up to Mikolas or simply a bump in the road, Mikolas signed a 2-year extension at the start of Spring Training, so he'll be locked into a rotation spot through the 2026 season.
As currently constructed, Miles Mikolas is set to be the second-best pitcher in the Cardinals' starting rotation behind Sonny Gray, so his return to form in 2024 is critical to the team's success. If Mikolas is able to rebound to an ERA in the low 4's or high 3's, the rotation would be serviceable enough to lead the Cardinals to the Postseason. But, if he's able to return to All-Star form, he'd be an extremely solid option to have as the second starter for a playoff run.
However, if he's unable to rebound and possibly regresses even further, the Cardinals would be in big trouble with their rotation. Other than Sonny Gray, the combined staff of Steven Matz, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn might not be able to lead the Cardinals to the Postseason at all. Unless the Cardinals add another starter this offseason, much of their season hinges on the performance and health of Miles Mikolas.