The lack of a strong number-two starter could doom the Cardinals in 2024

The rotation of the St. Louis Cardinals has a glaring weakness in its second spot, which could ultimately spell disaster for the team's playoff hopes.
St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds
St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals' signing of Sonny Gray ran the gamut among fans, with some believing the Cardinals received a bona fide ace and others not seeing Gray as more than a No. 2 starter. But while the top of the rotation received most of the positive and negative buzz, the wobbliest rung on the Cardinals' roster is the second starting pitcher.

Miles Mikolas, whom the Cardinals have penciled in as their No. 2 starter, did not live up to expectations in 2023. He had a 4.78 ERA and led the major leagues in hits allowed and earned runs surrendered. These are not numbers befitting a No. 2 — or even a No. 5, for that matter. In the past five seasons, not counting the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the second starters on championship teams had an average ERA of about 3.30.

Even the most optimistic Cardinals fan for 2024 is likely to admit that the team is unlikely to bring home a World Series title with the current roster, but the Cardinals are clearly banking on Mikolas to bounce back next season to help them sneak into the postseason. The team is hoping that a full Spring Training, uninterrupted by the World Baseball Classic, will turn back the clock for The Lizard King.

It doesn't appear likely that Mikolas will be able to fulfill his billing as the second man in the rotation. His pitch-to-contact approach failed in the first season after the eradication of the defensive shift, as balls that would have originally been gobbled up on defense found holes instead.

Mikolas' 2018 season, his first with the Cardinals, when he finished sixth in Cy Young Award voting, could have been a product of a lack of major league scouting after he came over from Japan. In 2022, when he was an All-Star, the Cardinals had an exceptional defense behind him. With the scouting report now out on Mikolas and the ban of the shift lessening the benefit of strong defense, Mikolas will need to reach into his bag of tricks to come close to his 2022 form.

The third, fourth and fifth starters for the Cardinals should be adequate in the forms of Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn and Steven Matz, but the front office could look foolish again for not finding a strong complement to Gray if Mikolas doesn't perform the way the Cardinals hope.