Grading the Cardinals lineup, pitching, defense, and coaching staff heading into 2024

After an eventful offseason, how do each of the Cardinals' on-field units stack up going into the 2024 season?
Philadelphia Phillies v St. Louis Cardinals
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Starting Pitching Grade: C-

Okay, I'm not grading the Cardinals' offseason here, let's be clear. While I understand and don't hate the rationale of how they built this rotation for 2024, I agree that it leaves a lot to be desired, and if a few things go wrong, they are in a really tough spot once again.

The main reason I leaned toward a C- here, among a variety of other reasons I'll get into, is that their plan is to be "good enough" for their offense and bullpen to win them ballgames, but they lack the kind of rotation that can go toe to toe with the best in the game, and their depth is full of unknowns.

Sonny Gray is a front-line starter. He finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2023 after posting a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts and is someone St. Louis should be able to rely on every fifth day to give them a really good chance to win against any team. After that though, things get really dicey.

On the surface, Miles Mikolas probably slots in as the number two starter right now, but I actually think Steven Matz is their second most talented starter at the moment. Matz struggled to begin 2023, but after a trip to the bullpen, was lights out in his seven starts back in the rotation before his season-ending injury. The Cardinals, as currently constructed, need Matz to remain healthy so they have two guys in their rotation who can confidently post sub-4.00 ERAs.

Mikolas, along with free agent acquisitions Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, are guys who the Cardinals are hoping consistently give them quality starts. Their job is to eat innings and give the Cardinals a chance to win every day, and if they do so, St. Louis will be in good shape during the regular season.

In 2023, the Cardinals were 31-19 (.641 winning percentage) when their starters gave them six or more innings while allowing four or fewer runs. For context, Adam Wainwright, Drew Rom, Matthew Liberatore, Dakota Hudson, and Jake Woodford combined for 60 starts last year and only went six or more innings with four or fewer runs in 16 of those starts. Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson combined for 65 starts last year, and combined had 33 starts that met that criteria. While the Cardinals' number two and three starters leave a lot to be desired currently, they have, in theory, massively improved the back end of the rotation that lost them a ton of games last year.

That's where this conversation gets tough though. Yes, if Lynn, Gibson, and Mikolas can pump out starts like that throughout the year, it won't be pretty, but it should result in winning baseball. But it's not a recipe for postseason success, and it certainly becomes a shaky plan if any of them struggle or injuries occur.

The biggest wild card here has to be the Cardinals' young pitching depth. At some point, names like Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, Gordon Graceffo, Michael McGreevy, Drew Rom, or maybe even Tekoah Roby will get starts in the Major Leaguer rotation, and the Cardinals could catch lightning in a bottle and find a higher upside arm than they currently have from anyone not named Sonny Gray, or they could run into the issue they did last year where their young arms just aren't producing as they need them to when called upon.

C- feels like a fair ranking because, as currently constructed, I could see how this rotation pitches up to a C+ or B- if all goes according to plan, but that's a tough thing to sell to this fanbase. The Cardinals could bolster this group significantly at the trade deadline, but again, we can't project that kind of move now.