A once familiar face is returning to the National League Central division, one who has a track record of success against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The St. Louis Cardinals were originally predicted to battle it out with the Brewers in a fight for the NL Central crown prior to the 2023 season. But while Milwaukee held up their end of the bargain, the Cardinals very much did not, finishing a division worst 71-91 on the season.
A big reason for this was starting pitching. Cardinals starters finished 2023 with a 5.08 ERA, the third worst mark in the NL. They also struck out the second fewest batters in the NL (653) behind only the Rockies and allowed the second highest batting average (.285) also trailing only Colorado.
So naturally, one of the biggest priorities for them this season to attempt to return to their winning ways was to reinforce the starting rotation. And after a couple smaller signings, they made a bigger one on Monday.
The Brewers saw a division rival make a big free agent signing when the Cardinals signed starting pitcher Sonny Gray.
Though he's new to the Cardinals, starting pitcher Sonny Gray isn't new to the Brewers or the NL Central. The righty, who St. Louis signed to a three-year, $75MM contract, pitched for the Reds from 2019 to 2021.
Gray started his career with the A's, who drafted him 18th overall in the 2011 draft. After a solid start to his career in Oakland, he was traded to the Yankees in 2017. A season and a half there, followed by his stint in Cincinnati, led him to the Twins, where he had spent the last two seasons.
At 33 years old, Gray had one of his best seasons to date in 2023. He finished 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, and MLB-leading 2.83 FIP. That performance not only earned him the third All-Star appearance of his career, but also a second place finish in the AL Cy Young race, which was won by New York's Gerrit Cole.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, Gray has had a good deal of success against the Crew. In 13 career starts against Milwaukee, he is 4-3 with a 2.82 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. The ERA is his third best against any team that he has faced at least 10 times.
Gray joins Kyle Gibson and former-Cardinal-turned-current-Cardinal Lance Lynn as free agent starting rotation acquisitions. That's probably not enough to consider the revamping of the rotation sufficiently complete, but it's already one that'll be a little harder for the Brewers to face in 2024 than it was in 2023.