Editor’s note: stlcardsfan4 had some technical difficulties, so he sent this to me to publish on his behalf. -Andy
Jack Flaherty had the most dominant start of his career. He only has 9 career starts so that doesn’t quite sound inherently impressive. But he had such a good stat that, theoretically, it could be the best start he will ever have, because most pitchers don’t have that good of a game ever. The number of times Cardinals starters have struck out 13 batters while giving up 2 hits or fewer is exactly 5 times. Now you probably value a shutout more than Flaherty’s start and by that measure, I doubt it will be his best ever start. I am sure he will at some point match or surpass his inning total today with zero earned runs.
It was the type of start that, as a fan who has seen pitchers throw games like this against the Cards before, the only hope is to drive up the pitch count. The Philles did that and it didn’t matter much. There’s only so much driving up the pitch count can do if only three batters come to the plate every inning. You can’t get every hitter to make him throw 5+ pitches. Some will see a pitch they thought was hittable and get into an out on the first pitch and others will strike out in 3 pitches. Nonetheless, the Phillies did an admirable job of fouling off pitches before succumbing to another great pitch.
Cesar Hernandez worked Flaherty to a 3-2 count, fouling off a 1-2 pitch, before ultimately fouling out on the 7th pitch. Rhys Hoskins did much the same, making Flaherty throw 7 pitches, but he got a bit better piece of wood on the bat, flying out to center. Odubel Herrera tried his best but he struck out on the fourth piece he saw, after fouling off a pitch on 0-2. 3 batters, 18 pitches.
In the 2nd, Carlos Santana got to 1-2 count, and ended up fouling off three 2-strike pitches. His at-bat ended when he didn’t swing at the 3-2 count and struck out looking. Jorge Alfaro and Aaron Altherr didn’t fare as well, with Flaherty striking out Alfaro swinging on four pitches and Altherr looking, also on four pitches. 6 batters, 35 pitches.
The bottom of the order helped get Flaherty back on track to a more reasonable pitch count number. He only needed 10 pitches to get them out, getting two groundouts and a popout. In the 4th, he made Hernandez look silly, striking him out on just four pitches. Hoskins homered on the first pitch he saw with one out. Flaherty was a little razzled and got to 3-0 on Herrera, but then recovered enough to get back to a 3-2 count and get Herrera to ground out. He also fell behind 2-0 to Santana, ultimately walking him on 6 pitches. Alfaro struck out on 3 pitches. 14 batters, 65 pitches.
Flaherty once again used the bottom of the order to get his pitch count reasonable, becoming ultra-efficient by only needing 9 pitches to dispatch 3 Phillies, which included two strikeouts. In the 6th, he struck out Nola on 6 pitches and Hernandez on 8 pitches, but Hoskins tried to duplicate his home run strategy by swinging early and flyout out for the 2nd time on the second pitch he saw. 20 batters, 90 pitches.
Flaherty came back out of the 7th. He threw 8 pitches to strike out Herra. He then fell behind 2-1 on the next two batters, both of which flew out. After batting for himself in the bottom of the inning with 106 pitches, he came back out of the 8th. The Cardinals had a 5-1 lead so it was somewhat questionable. Altherr hit a line drive single to lead off the inning. I felt it was fairly obvious that he should be taken out at this point, but Flaherty stayed in. Of course, Flaherty struck out the next two guys because sure. 120 pitches was enough for Mike Matheny, so he took him out with a man on first.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned a word about the offense and that’s not because they were bad or boring, but because Flaherty WAS the story. The Cardinals actually faced a pitcher who might be the most underrated in the league. That won’t last long if he keeps his 2.37 ERA up, but he’s truly an elite pitcher. He mostly pitched like it too, except the Cards were able to get runs whenever they had opportunities, which is a bit of a change up from most of this year (where the Cards had plenty of opportunities and seemingly always scored less than they should)
In the 1st, Carpenter continued his hot streak and doubled, but wasn’t able to score when Nola got Jose Martinez to fly out and Tyler O’Neill to strike out. After an easy 1-2-3 inning in the 2nd, the Cardinals threatened in the 3rd. Jack Flaherty got his first major league hit and in the notes I will gripe about Tim McCarver about what he had to say about that. Carpenter came to the plate with two outs. The other two outs were first-pitch outs so Nola was nearly able to have an extremely easy inning. But Carpenter made him throw 8 pitches and then he singled on a 3-2 count to make it a little interesting. Martinez then looked at three straight pitches for a strikeout.
In the 4th, O’Neill led off with a leadoff single. He swung so hard his helmet flew off his head. Dexter Fowler did just about the only thing he’s been able to maintain from last year: walk. I can’t give up on Fowler because he’s still walking at a 13.5% clip, which is sort of incredible since pitchers presumably know he’s still batting .160 with a moderate amount of power. Kolten Wong hit a slow roller to the Hernandez, playing 2B. The ball took Kingery into the running lane, but instead of running into Hernadez, Fowler just stopped and dared Kingery to run after him. Kingery didn’t and threw it to first, but Fowler was rewarded when Santana threw it past 2nd base, allowing O’Neill to score and Fowler to get to third. With the infielders in and a 1-2 count, Garcia hit it back up the middle to drive Fowler in to score. Both Francisco Pena and Flaherty struck out to end the inning.
After a 1-2-3 5th inning, involving strikeouts to both Tommy Pham and Martinez, the Cardinals got back on the board in the 6th. O’Neill was kind of fooled on a pitch below the strike zone, but O’Neill has such incredible power that still managed to hit it over the fence. He seemingly hit it one-handed basically. Fowler singled, then stole second, and was sacrificed to third by Garcia. That’s an iffy move, though if you’re bunting, a bunt with a man on second and nobody out is the way to go. Garca came through a second time, hitting a sacrifice fly to score Fowler.
In the 7th, Victor Arano replaced Nola. He got the first two outs on just four pitches, striking out Pham on 3 pitches and getting Flaherty, who again batted for himself after having thrown 106 pitches, to ground out. Carpenter got his third hit of the day and his second double, somewhat benefiting from an interesting outfield alignment. Hey if he’s getting punished for the shift, can’t really knock him when he benefits from it! Martinez looked pretty bad in his at-bat, but managed to stick his bat out and drive a grounder the other way to drive Carpenter in. O’Neill then got his third hit of the day, singling with two outs. Fowler flied out to left to end the inning.
Jordan Hicks replaced Flaherty with a man on first and two outs. Nick Williams hit a hard hit ground ball right to the defensive replacement, Jedd Gyorko, to end the inning. Hicks had more trouble in the 9th inning, having been able to stay in the game thanks to a double switch (taking out Martinez, putting Carp at first and Gyorko at 3B). He walked Hernandez in a 9-pitch plate appearance, but Hoskins swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded into a double play ball. Pitching to Herrra, Hicks ended up hitting 105! I think he ended up throwing five of the fastest pitches of 2018 in just this inning. Herrera had a poor swing on a pitch in the dirt for a strikeout, but it got away from Pena, allowing Herra to reach first base. Of course the one time he strikes someone out, they get on base! Santana worked a walk to puts runners at 1st and 2nd, but then Alfaro grounded out to end the inning and the game.
- Flaherty’s line: 7.2 IP, 13 Ks, BB, 2 Hs, ER, HR - That’s an 83 game score. That feels weird low - even though it’s a fantastic GS - for a game where he had a 1.84 FIP.
- I’ll be the wet blanket and say don’t let the 105 mph fool you - Hicks had 2 BBs and a strikeout in today’s game. He’s still very much a mystery.
- Carpenter went 3-4 with 2 2Bs. After his 0-4 game on May 15, Matt Carpenter was batting .140/.286/.272 for a 60 wRC+. Since that time, he has gone 10-21 with 6 doubles and a walk. His season line is now .194/.321/.351, which is quite the turnaround. His season wRC+ is up to 89 now.
- Regarding McCarver, he was…. very bad today. He had a frankly bizarre reaction to the players throwing the ball in for Flaherty’s first major league hit. You see Tim is against that for some reason. Pitchers shouldn’t get the ball back for their first major league hit. Why, you ask? WHO KNOWS?
Tomorrow the Cardinals face the Royals for a three-game series. They’re at home and the matchup tomorrow feels like a game the Cardinals should not lose. It’s Miles Mikolas versus Ian Kennedy. The one thing I know about Kennedy is that the Cardinals should hit at least one homer against him.