Cubs' top NL Central rival could be without their Opening Day starter

The Cardinals' biggest offseason signing, right-hander Sonny Gray, has a mild hamstring strain and could open the year on the IL.

Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals are attempting to pull off a quick 180 on the heels of their most disappointing season in 30+ years and a big part of that is a revamped starting rotation. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak went all-in on starting pitching early in the offseason, bringing in Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson via free agency.

But that plan has already suffered a blow with this week's news that Gray has a mild hamstring injury that puts his Opening Day 'in question' and makes an IL stint to open the regular season a very real possibility.

Fangraphs calls the Cardinals the NL Central favorite, projecting an 83-79 record for third-year manager Oliver Marmol's club. That alone shows how winnable this division is and how critical an early-season loss of Gray could be in the division race. A game or two could wind up deciding this division when all is said and done.

Cubs could capitalize on the Sonny Gray injury with a hot start

Which brings this back to the Cubs, who are eyeing their first NL Central title since 2020 under new manager Craig Counsell. Fangraphs has Chicago at 81-81, very much within striking distance of the top of the division - and if some of the team's young players can produce, they could easily outperform those expectations.

St. Louis starting pitching was brutal in 2023, finishing the year with the fifth-worst ERA in baseball. Mozeliak is asking a lot out of this year's group, a dicey strategy given the overall age of this rotation, and any loss of Gray to open the year is a major blow for the Cardinals. Hopefully, the Cubs can get off to a hot start and take advantage of their biggest rival's misfortune.