A month ago, I wrote about how Miles Mikolas was making the Cardinals front office look pretty smart. While the Cubs spent a bundle ($126 million over six years) on Yu Darvish with uneven early returns on their investment, the Cardinals made what was considered a thrifty signing in inking Mikolas to a two-year, $15.5 million deal.
Mikolas vs. Darvish: in the winter, it was perhaps an unfair comparison due to their relative MLB resumes. With the difference in cost came the difference in expectations, but in the early-going of 2018, Mikolas produced. Darvish did not.
More than a month into the season, it was a suddenly a favorable comparison for St. Louis. Mikolas was consistently going deep into games, racking up wins and quality starts.
Another month later, it’s not even a relevant comparison anymore. Who cares what Darvish is doing? For all the spring concern about whether the Cardinals had enough front-end talent in their rotation after only adding Mikolas in the winter, it's been Mikolas who has led their rotation (3.02 ERA) beyond the Cubs (3.66 ERA) in that regard.
He did it again Thursday, piling seven more innings onto his mounting total for the year. Mikolas gave up just one unearned run as the Cardinals beat the Marlins 4-1 at Busch Stadium.
With every subsequent start, Mikolas further distances himself from the thought that this could be some sort of fluke. This isn’t Mike Leake, who began last June with St. Louis with an ERA below 2.25, but ended his tenure as a Cardinal in late August with that number nearly doubled to 4.21.
No, Mikolas is etching himself into a different narrative: one that could include the phrase ‘All-Star Game’ a handful of weeks from now.
“I don’t think anybody can argue with that,” Mike Matheny said of Mikolas’ budding All-Star resume. “He’s putting together that kind of season, especially, without many knowing it was coming. Including us.”
For Mikolas, the All-Star Game is not a thought that he has yet allowed himself to consider very deeply.
“I’ll worry about that when it gets there,” he said. “Right now I’m just trying to win every game that I go out there, and I’m trying to help the team any way I can.”
Still, with where he’s come from—washed out of the majors and relegated to remaking his game overseas—to having his name plastered all over the leaderboards for National League pitchers? It’s remarkable.
Here's his standing in several major statistical categories among NL starters after Thursday’s gem: 5th in innings pitched (79.1), T-2nd in wins (7), 3rd in ERA (2.27), 3rd in WHIP (0.96), and the third-fewest walks allowed among NL pitchers with more than 40 innings pitched (9).
Come on, now. That’s an All-Star pitcher.
“It would be a super cool experience,” Mikolas conceded when pressed further on the topic. “I would definitely really enjoy it, and it would be something that I would keep with me the rest of my life, the rest of my career.”
Mikolas isn’t the same pitcher who couldn’t hack it in MLB a few short years ago. He went to Japan and adapted in ways few saw coming, and turned himself into an accuracy fiend.
“Throw strikes,” Mikolas said of what he does today differently from when he compiled a 5.32 ERA across parts of three MLB seasons from 2012 to 2014. “And throw more quality strikes. Not just strikes down the middle, but work that ball inside-outside. And locate more of my pitches for strikes, as well.”
Machine-like strike-producing is also the biggest takeaway for Mikolas’ manager on his impressive development as a pitcher.
“How he pounds the strike zone and uses multiple pitches, it’s just not everyday you come across starters who can do that,” Matheny said. “And then to have durability and consistency to stay in the game as long as he has.”
Mikolas is not pitching like the middle-the-rotation bargain the Cardinals thought they were getting. He’s pitching like an ace. He’s pitching like one of the best starters in the National League. And if he keeps it up, a trip to D.C. in July very well might be in the cards.