Blue Jays-Cards Opening Day starting pitchers: Manoah vs. Mikolas

March 24th, 2023

While has limited experience as an Opening Day starter, the Cardinals' All-Star right-hander has plenty of experience matching up against an opposing team’s ace. , a 16-game winner last season in the rugged American League East, certainly qualifies as such for a Toronto team that will do battle against the Cards on Thursday at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals were all set to award Adam Wainwright the seventh and final Opening Day start of his 18-year MLB career, but the veteran right-hander strained a groin muscle in a weight-room workout on Tuesday night prior to the World Baseball Classic championship game between Japan and Team USA. Wainwright, 3-2 with a no-decision in six career Opening Day starts, will now begin his final MLB season on the injured list.

Enter Mikolas, who was St. Louis' Opening Day starter in 2019, when he allowed five runs over five innings in a loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee. Mikolas was an All-Star for a second time in 2022 despite having a losing record (12-13). He largely pitched well against foes’ top pitchers, but he often had bad luck. He toed the rubber against Max Scherzer, Corbin Burnes (three times), Shane McClanahan and Merrill Kelly during the '22 season, and he mostly matched those stars pitch for pitch.

The Blue Jays will be the first AL team to open the season in St. Louis in the Cardinals' rich history. They will open with the hard-throwing Manoah, who ranked third in the AL in ERA (2.24), fourth in innings pitched (196 2/3) and fifth in opponents' batting average (.202) last season. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Manoah will be making the first Opening Day start of his two-year MLB career.

RHP Alek Manoah
Previous Opening Day starts: N/A
2022 Season: 16-7, 2.24 ERA, 180 K's over 192 2/3 innings

The Blue Jays couldn’t go wrong between Manoah and , but there are few pitchers in baseball who embrace the big stage like the 25-year-old Manoah. He has exceeded all expectations over his first two MLB seasons, skyrocketing to the big leagues in 2021 before emerging as an ace of the staff in ‘22. Manoah’s 2.24 ERA last season was impressive enough, but doing that over nearly 200 innings takes him to another level, carrying a heavy workload that he takes great pride in.

Manoah was a model of consistency in 2022, almost guaranteeing the Blue Jays six-plus innings each time he took the mound. An All-Star for the first time, Manoah’s breakout also earned him a third-place finish in American League Cy Young Award voting behind only Justin Verlander of the Astros and Dylan Cease of the White Sox.

“It’s pretty amazing. A couple of years ago, I was coming into camp just doing everything I could to make it hard on them to send me down,” Manoah said. “A couple of years later to be named the Opening Day starter, I’m super blessed for the opportunity and just to be surrounded by the group of guys I’ve been surrounded by. Each and every one of them has helped me get to where I am today.”

Above all else, though, Manoah is must-see TV, and what else is Opening Day?

A towering presence atop the mound with a personality to match, Manoah has captured the swagger of Toronto's 2015-16 playoff teams with a modern twist that’s all him. Whether it ends with the benches clearing or Manoah pounding his chest after seven scoreless innings, his starts never lack entertainment. By earning this Opening Day nod, Manoah’s second turn should come in Kansas City before his third start lines up with the April 11 home opener in Toronto.

RHP Miles Mikolas
Previous Opening Day starts: 2019
2022 Season: 12-13, 3.29 ERA, 153 K's over 202 1/3 innings

The Cardinals had to call an audible earlier in the week when Wainwright, a franchise fixture for nearly two decades, strained his groin before Team USA’s loss to Japan in the World Baseball Classic. Wainwright, 41, said he suffered the injury during a pregame workout while doing split squats. He was hopeful there wasn’t any significant damage, but those hopes were dashed a day later.

St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol indicated on Thursday that Wainwright was his choice to be the Opening Day starter before learning of the injury to the 17-year veteran. While Marmol suggested that Wainwright will likely miss “several weeks,” team president John Mozeliak said the severity of the strain is “between a [Grade] 1 and a 2” out of five, and the team is hopeful of a short stint on the injured list.

Marmol and new pitching coach Dusty Blake ultimately chose Mikolas over Jack Flaherty for the replacement Opening Day nod. Flaherty, the Cardinals' Opening Day starter in 2020 and '21, is as healthy as he’s been since opening the '21 season with an 8-1 record. He is hoping to recapture his form of '19, when he fanned 231 batters over 196 1/3 innings.

Other options for the Cardinals were lefties Jordan Montgomery and Steven Matz. Montgomery has experience against the Blue Jays while pitching for the Yankees prior to being traded to the Cards ahead of last year's Trade Deadline.

As for Matz, he went 14-8 with a 3.82 ERA with Toronto in 2021 -- a strong season that helped him land a four-year, $44 million deal with St. Louis. Matz’s favorite memory from that 2021 season with the Blue Jays? Watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit 48 homers and drive in 111 runs.