Are the St. Louis Cardinals doomed to repeat a dreadful 2023?

After yesterday's disappointing performance, are the Cardinals and their fans in for another long year?
Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages

Deja Vu? The revamped St. Louis Cardinals opened their 2024 season yesterday and, much to the dismay of fans, it felt eerily similar to 2023.

Miles Mikolas, the opening-day starter (again) after Sonny Gray’s hamstring injury put him on the shelf to start the season, turned in a short and ugly start against a juggernaut Dodgers lineup. Going just 4.1 innings and serving up 5 earned runs, Mikolas didn’t give his offense a chance as they struggled against Redbird Rants site editor Josh Jacobs’ #1 offseason target Tyler Glasnow. These struggles on day one of 2024 epitomized everything that went wrong for the Cardinals last year and have set off alarm bells in a fanbase still feeling the effects. 

The issues started early for the Cardinals once again. After both Nolans stranded Paul Goldschmidt in the top of the first inning, Miles Mikolas took the mound and put the first man he faced on base via a walk to Mookie Betts. After opening the game with a free pass, he allowed the Dodgers own version of the MV3 to do damage, giving up two runs in the bottom of the frame on a single from Freddie Freeman (assisted by a Shohei Ohtani double) that drove in Betts and a sac fly from Max Muncy that drove in Freeman. If you didn’t watch the game, it might sound like Mikolas got unlucky in the first inning. The reality of the situation, however, tells a different story.

In his 29-pitch first inning, Miles Mikolas did not induce a single swing and miss on any of his pitches. A lack of swing-and-miss stuff and coughing up leads early were issues that plagued the 2023 Cardinals, issues that John Mozeliak and the Cardinals' front office vowed to fix this offseason. Relying on the ball to be put in play allows the randomness of baseball to wreak havoc. In bringing in Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson, the front office assured fans that these arms would fix just, while also providing a substantial amount of innings. 

While Mikolas did end up with 5 strikeouts, it doesn’t matter when you give up 5 ER in 4.1 IP. Long home runs from Betts and Freeman in the third also ensured that this outing wasn’t one he could chalk up to bad batted ball luck (which is, you know, exactly what the Cardinals were trying to avoid by bringing in more swing and miss). Yes, Mikolas isn’t one of their new additions, but he did have the best spring of the Cardinals' healthy rotation options posting a minuscule 2.14 ERA. You have to acknowledge that it’s the Dodgers, but if his ERA has ballooned to a mark over 10, what can we reasonably expect from Lynn and Gibson, who were hit hard early in games this spring?

Should the other Cardinals' rotation options struggle as Mikolas has, you’ll end up with the same pressure that the Cardinals bats dealt with last year. And don’t get me wrong, those bats deserve criticism as well. Cardinal hitters not named Paul Goldschmidt turned in a combined 0-27 effort yesterday. That said, I have faith that the bats, if healthy, will turn it around. But if those units struggle together against the gauntlet that the Cardinals have scheduled to open 2024, we might be looking at a snowball effect like last year.

So where do we land Cardinal fans? Are we in full-blown panic mode? Or do we just need to tip our caps to the Dodgers MVP-laden lineup and expect Mikolas to be better next time? I land somewhere in between. The Dodgers front office has assembled a great team, but if the Cardinals are serious about October, they’re a team they'll have to beat. It’s also too early to panic yet, but there is reason for the concerns many fans had about the Cardinals rotation to be bubbling under the surface. Only time will tell, so we’ll just have to stick it out for now.