Since the halycon days of Adam Wainwright in his prime, which is somehow four years ago, the Cardinals have sort of missed a “true ace.” Honestly the ace or not discussion is not something that interests me. But when your best season by any pitcher since 2014 belongs to John Lackey (by fWAR), you can’t help but feel you’re missing an ace. Well, the search may be over.
Jack Flaherty had a typical first inning. He would either throw a pitch right on the corner or it would be a ball. That leads to a pitcher who is very hard to hit, but also a pitcher who will probably run up his pitch count. He struck Starling Marte out to begin his outing on six pitches. He got a weak groundout from Adam Frazier on the fifth pitch. Three foul balls on a 1-2 count to Gregory Polanco led to a soft lineout. Three batters, 18 pitches.
Then a funny thing happened. Flaherty became Mr. Efficient after that inning. The Pirates are not a team that strikes out that much. They are 25th in the league in K%. However, when you face a pitcher like Flaherty, getting into deep counts is just asking for him to eventually strike you. You don’t want to pass on a ball that is hittable for a pitch that probably won’t be. So the Pirates went aggressive after that inning. And it didn’t help much. He had a 9-pitch 2nd inning that involved three straight popups, which is nearly as successful at preventing hits as a strikeout.
The Cardinals had few issues scoring off Ivan Nova. Matt Carpenter reached base on an infield single. Josh Bell does not appear to be a good first baseman. He dove, slowly, for it, but couldn’t keep it in his glove. Carpenter reached second base on a wild pitch due to aggressive baserunning. Yadier Molina advanced Carpenter to third base with a groundout to second. Then Jose Martinez received a pitch about a foot inside, and made the small ball tactics used in the inning irrelevant with a two-run home run.
Nova had what could be classified as an easy inning in the 2nd, but it involved two lineouts, so the Cardinals were seeing him pretty well. Flaherty had what would be classified an easy inning in any definition of easy inning. He struck out two batters in his second straight 9-pitch inning. In the bottom half of the 3rd, Flaherty led off with a single, but a lineout by Carpenter and a double play by Molina ended any sort of rally.
In the 4th, Flaherty once again had a short, efficient inning. He threw 11 pitches total for his fourth straight 1-2-3 inning, which included another strikeout. The Cardinals added more to their lead in the bottom half, although they definitely could have scored more. After a leadoff single by Martinez, Tyler O’Neill crushed a homer run beyond the bullpen to left field for a 4-0 lead. A one-out walk by Jedd Gyorko and an infield single by Harrison Bader put more pressure on Nova. When he walked Flaherty with two outs to load the bases, Clint Hurdle had seen enough. He brought in Steven Brault, who got Carpenter to ground out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
After no hitting the Pirates through 4 - and perfect gaming them too - the Pirates suddenly were able to hit the ball pretty hard against Flaherty in the 5th. A leadoff single by Francisco Cervelli got removed from a double play ball. Josh Bell lined a double with two outs. Colin Moran hit a single up the middle, which scored Bell. Bader’s throw was a little off, but Yadi took a few steps forward, caught the ball, and nailed Bell at 2nd base to end the inning.
Brault allowed a leadoff double to Molina in bottom half of the 5th, but they kept Molina standing at 2nd base after a lineout and two strikeouts. Flaherty returned back to his previous self in the 6th, needing only 12 pitches to get his fifth 1-2-3 inning of the game. Brault responded with a nearly clean inning, with the blemish being an HBP of Bader. Flaherty had his second longest inning of the night in the 7th inning. He didn’t have much trouble, but the Pirates worked better ABs. He allowed a two-out single to Cervelli (truly one of the most annoying Pirates to face), but that was his only trouble. His 7th was his last with his pitch count to a reasonable 88.
Once again, Brault allowed a leadoff hit, this time to Carpenter, but he then proceeded to strike out the next three batters in a row. If the game were much closer, it would surely annoy me how much a pitcher with a 4.89 FIP coming into today’s game dominated the Cards, but it didn’t quite have the same effect with a 4-1 lead that felt, for some reason, quite a bit larger than 4-1.
That became apparent when Jordan Hicks, replacing Flaherty, struggled to throw any strikes. He walked Bell on five pitches, with none of the balls coming particularly close. He gave up a high chopper that made its way over Carpenter’s head to make it first and third with nobody out. Adeiny Hechavarria swung at the first pitch and got into an easy double play ball which scored the Pirates second run. Hicks, with the bases empty, walked Josh Harrison on four pitches. He pounded strikes to Marte, but Marte - on an 0-2 count - hit a swinging bunt that made it first and second. Fearing Hicks would load the bases, Mike Shildt turned to Dakota Hudson to finish the inning, which he did with an inning ending groundout.
The Cards bats came back alive with a new pitcher coming in for the Pirates. Kyle Crick hit Paul DeJong to lead off his appearance. Gyorko then got about as close to homering as you can get, with the ball hitting the very top of the green wall in left field. Unfortunately, Gyorko appeared to pull something while running to first and was taken out after a replay review called it a double instead of a homer. Bader struck out with men on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out. Greg Garcia hit a ball right back up the middle to score one with pinch-runner Gant staying on 3rd base. Pinch-hitter Matt Adams hit it to Bell at first, who threw out Gant at home and Carpenter struck out to end the inning with a 5-2 lead.
Bud Norris came into the game and he also hit a batter. After a leadoff groundout by Polanco, Cervelli got granted first base when the ball grazed his jersey. Dickerson got into his second double play of the game on a 3-6 double play, where Carpenter touched first base and then threw out Cervelli at 2nd base.
- Flaherty line: 7 IP, 5 Ks, ER, 4 H - I’m going to guess you won’t see many games where Flaherty pitches and he has less strikeouts than an opposing team’s relief pitcher - Brault had 6 Ks.
- Gyorko was removed from the game with left groin discomfort so take that information however you want.
- I have really nothing else to add weirdly enough. This game was pretty pleasant throughout up until Hicks momentarily scared me with his lack of control, but the quick hook by Shildt prevented a blowup.
Tomorrow, the Cardinals try to win their 10th straight series. They stand a pretty good chance with Miles Mikolas on the mound against Trevor Williams, though I believe Williams has had some success against the Cards.