With the Home Opener just 2 days away, the Cardinals have made all of their decisions and have taken their roster down to the required 28 players. The Cardinals are still unsure who will be the 5th starter, but they have arrived at carrying 15 pitchers to start the season (and until at least May 1 when roster rules change). I take a look at the Cardinals arms, who will be without a few key members (Jack Flaherty & Alex Reyes), but also have a few unfamiliar faces that could be deciding games over the first month of the season.
The Cardinals starting rotation will be Adam Wainwright, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, and then it’s really up for debate on who the Cardinals will give the ball to every fifth day.
Wainwright, who will turn 41 later this season, continues to defy the odds, and has lowered his ERA each season over the last 5 years. Wainwright was 10-2 with a 2.50 ERA in the second half last year. If he can continue pitching like that, he’ll certainly be the ace of the 2022 staff.
Matz brings a left handed arm to an all right handed starting rotation. Coming off of a solid season last year in Toronto, the former long-time Met will look to bring stability to the Cardinals rotation, which was in constant search of arms last year. Steven Matz is certainly capable of being a good starter, as he was 14-7 with an ERA under 4 last year, needs to cut down on his walks, and let the Cardinals gold glove defense make him look his best. Hopefully with a sign of things to come, Steven Matz finished his spring today with 6.2 allowing only 2 hits, while striking out 5 and walking 1.
Mikolas might be the starting pitcher that makes or breaks the rotation. Will the Cardinals get the 2018 version of Miles that went 18-4 with an ERA of 2.83 or the 2019 version that went 9-14 with an ERA of over 4? The Cardinals need Mikolas to be the guy he was before he got hurt (flexor tendon), and if he can be a solid number 2 or 3, the Cardinals will be better off.
Dakota Hudson, another pitcher coming off of an injury (Tommy John) threw in only 2 games last season at the end of last season. If he can rebound and have a healthy year, all of a sudden the Cardinals rotation looks pretty good. Back in 2019, Dakota’s only year as a starter, he went 16-7 with an ERA of 3.35.
If the Cardinals get a healthy Hudson and Mikolas, 30 starts from Matz, and Wainwright keeps turning back the clock; the Cardinals rotation will be one of the best in the big leagues. However, that’s asking quite a bit of those 4 pitchers. The Cardinals 5th starter seems to be the only thing left for debate in regards to how Oliver Marmol will deploy his roster. Talks about having an opener (Hicks), piggyback starters (Aaron Brooks, Drew VerHagen, Andre Pallante) or potentially even giving the job to one of the 5th starter candidates (VerHagen or Jake Woodford) are still all in play for a team who has yet to decide what to do every 5th day.
The Cardinals will start the season with a bullpen that might have to install an extra bench. Having potentially ELEVEN arms in the bullpen, depending on how they plan on viewing a 5th starter, the Cardinals will have plenty of arms to eat up innings that the starters can’t get through. Giovanny Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera, T.J. McFarland, Kodi Whitley, Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsey are all guys who we’ve seen in recent years out of the Cardinals bullpen. As the season begins, I would expect these guys to be getting most of the high leverage situations in the 7th, 8th, and 9th. Gallegos would seem to be the guy the Cardinals use as their closer, with Alex Reyes unavailable until summer, however I could see Cabrera, Whitley, Hicks or even Helsey potentially close out a game.
Some of the new arms to the Cardinals bullpen have all taken numerous routes to St. Louis. Drew VerHagen has a career ERA over 5 and pitched for the Tigers from 2014-2019, but pitched in Japan the last two years. He seems to be a guy who could provide innings. I think he was penciled in as the fifth starter until a bad spring outing which seemed to let management pump the brakes.
Jake Woodford, who I would choose as the fifth starter, might be best known for his run-in at home plate with Nick Castellanos last April. Jake was used as both a starter and reliever last year for the Cardinals pitching to a tune of 3-4 with an ERA under 4, but pitched more effectively in the second half of the year.
Andre Pallante, who will make his Major League debut when first used, pitched in AA and AAA last year. Pallante, drafted in 2019, hasn’t shown anything spectacular, however he seems to be a guy who can get ground balls so I look for him to possibly fill the role of a Seth Maness, however I feel like when roster numbers go down, so will Andre Pallante.
Aaron Brooks has been pitching professionally since 2011, however has only appeared in 47 games at the Major League level with an ERA of nearly 6.50. Brooks did however pitch in Korea the last 2 seasons going 14-9 with an ERA under 3, so maybe he has figured some things out as he turns 32 later this month.
Rounding out the bullpen is Nick Wittgren. Nick has pitched in the big leagues since 2016 with Miami and Cleveland. He’s had mixed results as a pitcher, but has appeared in 258 games with a career ERA under 4, so he’s statistically the most proven out of the newcomers.
Ultimately the guys that get to ride around the warning track on Thursday, won’t necessarily be the same ones who finish the year with the team (hopefully late into October). I think the Cardinals are looking for guys who can use their great defense, and keep the ball in the park. Hopefully as the season gets underway, the roles will get carved out, and guys will start to know when they’re being used and can get ready for their inning/role.