Can the Cardinals afford Sonny Gray missing starts?

The team's ace could be out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury. Can the rotation hold up without him?

Mar 4, 2024; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA;  St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54)
Mar 4, 2024; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) / Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Sonny Gray left his spring training start early on Monday with hamstring tightness. He has a history of hamstring injuries, so worry amongst the fans is understandable. Gray was signed this offseason to a 3-year, $75 million contract to be the team's ace. The Cardinals may be without their leader for a few weeks now due to this injury.

Reports from early in camp this spring indicated that John Mozeliak was considering a six-man rotation to get the team through its grueling April schedule. They play 13 games in 14 days to start the season, and they'll go head-to-head against powerhouses such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Philadelphia Phillies throughout the month.

With Sonny Gray potentially being out for a bit, the six-man rotation gets even more complicated. Additionally, the high-end talent of the rotation drops drastically. Miles MIkolas, Steven Matz, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson are likely a collection of #4 starting pitchers based on their talent and age, not top-end starters. Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore will have to fill in now until Gray returns, lessening the allure of the rotation.

Sonny Gray made 32 starts last year, meaning he didn't skip one. He pitched in 184 innings across a full season. If he is injured to start the season, there's a possibility he only reaches 28-30 starts. That total likely isn't enough given the fact that the Cardinals lack a true #2 starting pitcher.

With how rough April went last year, a strong start to the 2024 season is imperative. Fair or not, April is a make-or-break month for the organization. If the team falters and starts off with a sub-.500 record, fans will call for firings very quickly. Gray's absence in April could spell disaster.

Sonny Gray provided assurance of a quality start; his absence opens up the potential for losses. Last year, Sonny Gray threw 17 quality starts, 20th in baseball. Miles Mikolas led the Cardinals with 14 quality starts, tied for 35th in baseball. Jordan Montgomery threw 20 quality starts between Texas and St. Louis. Jack Flaherty is the next leader from last year with just 8 quality starts, and he split time with Baltimore as well.

Without Sonny Gray in April, the start to the season looks bleaker. Long-term, 28 versus 32 starts doesn't matter much, but for a team looking to start the season hot, those 2-4 missed starts loom larger.