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Flaherty Dominates Again and Blanks Pirates in 8 Innings as Cards win 2-0

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Since the All-Star Break, and going into this afternoon’s start, Jack Flaherty had made 10 starts, pitched 63.1 IP and faced 239 batters. During that period, he only allowed 32 hits and 6 earned runs, and struck out 79 batters, while only walking 16. Fangraphs credits Flaherty with 2.6 WAR for that time period alone, which is 2nd in the majors among 74 qualified pitchers, just behind Justin Verlander’s 2.8. Other eye-popping numbers over that span include a 0.85 ERA (1st), 20 ERA- (1st), 2.28 FIP (4th), 52 FIP- (4th), 0.43 HR/9 (1st) and 5.1 HR/FB% (1st). The xFIP stat does not buy into his home run rate, putting him at 3.52, but even that is 15th among 74 qualified pitchers. His BABIP of .212 since the break is also the 3rd lowest among qualified pitchers, and some good fortune has played its part, but one has to acknowledge that we are witnessing dominance from a young Cardinal hurler like we have not seen in some time.

Flaherty continued his excellent run today, throwing 8 IP and allowing no runs, with only 1 walk against 10 strikeouts, and the lone walk did not come until there was 1 out in the bottom of the 8th. Today’s start makes 12 straight in which Flaherty has allowed 2 earned runs or fewer. This was the 7th start in the last 10 that he has allowed no runs at all, and the 10th time overall this season that he has blanked the opposition.

The Pirates purchased the contract of RHP James Marvel this morning to start this afternoon’s game and make his major league debut. Drafted in the 36th round of the 2015 draft out of Duke, he began this season with 17 starts for AA Altoona. He was then promoted to AAA Indianapolis on July 1st, and closed out the minor league season with 11 starts for that club, including the season’s final game. Marvel pitched the whole game today out of the stretch, and with no runners on base he employed this strange preparatory motion where he bounced his hands back-and-forth away from his body and back again. He not only kept the ball on the ground, but he kept the Cards off balance to start the contest, retiring 11 out of the first 12 Cardinal batters, before the Cards got their first hit in the 4th inning. Marvel was replaced after allowing a walk and an RBI-double to start the top of the 6th, but in the 15 outs he did record, 10 of them were on grounders, with 2 strikeouts. Fortunately 2 runs was all it took for the Cards to win.

The Cardinals rested Dexter Fowler for this game, electing to start Tommy Edman in RF leading off, with Matt Carpenter at 3B.

Kevin Newman reached down and grounded a low curveball down the 3rd base line past the glove of the diving Matt Carpenter for a double to lead off the game. Bryan Reynolds lined a fastball right to Carpenter near the hole for the 2nd out. Starling Marte struck out swinging at a low-and-in fastball, with Molina hanging on to the foul tip. Colin Moran broke his bat on an up-and-in fastball into the shift to the right side, with Paul DeJong coming across the diamond to field it and throw him out.

The Cards did not get their first base runner until the bottom of the 2nd when Yadier Molina worked an 11-pitch plate appearance for a walk with 2 out. But Carpenter grounded into the shift for a 5-4 force. With 1 out in the bottom of the 2nd, Melky Cabrera lined an outside fastball that dropped in front of Ozuna for a base hit to left. He was erased when Adam Frazier grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Marvel retired the Cards in order in the top of the 3rd and struck out Flaherty in the process for his first career strikeout. Flaherty returned the favor in the bottom half, striking out both Marvel and Newman for his 3rd and 4th strikeouts of the day.

The Cards finally got their first hit off of Marvel with 2 out in the top of the 4th, when Marcell Ozuna lined a center-cut fastball to center for a base hit. But he was stranded there when DeJong struck out to end the inning. Flaherty retired the side in order in the bottom of the 4th with strikeouts of Marte and Moran to end the inning. With 1 out in the top of the 5th, Carpenter golfed a low sinker down the left field line for a leadoff double. Initially behind in the count 0-2, Harrison Bader worked the count back to 3-2 and hit a low-and-away forkball-style changeup off the end of the bat into left-center for a base hit. Carpenter scored to give the Cards a 1-0 lead.

Flaherty sacrificed Bader to 2nd base. Edman grounded a ball towards the 1st base line. Jose Osuna knocked it down and flipped to Marvel covering the bag to get Edman by a step. Osuna ripped an outside 3-2 fastball down the right field line that rolled to the wall for a double to lead off the bottom of the 5th. Cabrera blooped an up-and-in fastball to center. Bader raced in a long way and dove for it, and actually had the ball in his glove for a bit, but it bounced out when his glove hit the ground. That was a base hit, but Osuna had to stay put at 2nd. Adam Frazier grounded an outside fastball to DeJong at short, who flipped to Wong for the force, but Frazier beat out the throw to 1st. With runners at the corners and 1 out, Jacob Stallings grounded a center-cut fastball sharply to Carpenter for a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Kolten Wong walked on 4 pitches to lead off the top of the 6th. Paul Goldschmidt lined a low-and-away 3-2 changeup to the gap in right-center that rolled to the wall for a double. Running on the pitch, Wong raced home all the way from 1st to extend the Cards’ lead to 2-0.

The rookie Marvel had only thrown 85 pitches and allowed 4 hits up to this point, but he was relieved by righty Yacksel Rios, who would prevent the Cards from scoring any further insurance runs. Ozuna broke his bat on an inside slider and softly lined out to short. DeJong grounded out to 3rd and Molina lined out to center to end the inning. Cole Tucker pinch hit for Rios and Flaherty struck him out for his 7th strikeout of the afternoon. Flaherty threw an inside fastball that may have barely grazed Newman’s jersey near his midsection. It was tough to tell at full speed whether it hit him or not, but he was awarded first base. Reynolds slowly grounded a slider to first base for an out that allowed Newman to advance to 2nd. Flaherty threw an 0-2 slider in the dirt to Marte. Molina was set up way outside and decided to try to backhand it instead of getting in front it. The ball rolled to the backstop for a wild pitch to move Newman to 3rd. But Flaherty escaped the inning without damage by blowing Marte away with a 3-2 center-cut 95-mph fastball.

Lefty Wei-Chung Wang came out to pitch the top of the 7th. Carpenter softly lined an inside fastball for a base hit to right-center. Randy Arozarena ran for Carpenter. Bader worked a 3-2 walk. With Flaherty only at 81 pitches, Shildt sent him up to hit. Flaherty squared around to bunt the 1-0 pitch, and Osuna charged from 1st with the delivery. Flaherty bunted it sharply, and Osuna made a great play to barehand the ball and throw Arozarena out at 3rd on the force. Bader went to 2nd and Flaherty reached 1st on the fielder’s choice. On the 0-1 pitch to Edman, it looked like the Pirates called a pitchout, as Wang threw high and outside to Edman, with the catcher Stallings making a snap throw to 1st base to pick Flaherty off.

Edman then flied out to the track in left to end the inning and the Cards squandered a chance to get some more insurance.

Arozarena stayed in the game in RF for the bottom of the 7th, with Edman moving from RF to 3B. Moran got jammed, but squibbed an inside fastball opposite the shift and through the hole to left for a base hit. Osuna broke his bat swinging at an inside fastball and popped out to Wong at 2nd base. Cabrera grounded a curveball towards the line at 1st base. Goldschmidt was able to field it there because he was holding the runner on and decided to grab it before it went foul. He stepped on the bag at 1st, but was unable to get the runner at 2nd in time. With 2 out and a runner at 2nd, Flaherty faced Frazier. Flaherty threw him 2 fastballs that at least by the box on television were low and outside by a couple of inches. Home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz called them both strikes. They looked like balls, but Ortiz had been calling that same pitch in the same spot of the plate a strike all afternoon long for both sides. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had enough of it, said something from the dugout and got ejected. When he came out of the dugout to argue, the microphone captured him saying “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong!” “Don’t nod your head!” “Give him 3 strikes like everybody else!” “Do something different and get better, that’s what you need to do!” Flaherty threw Frazier another fastball that was low in the zone at the knees, right on the edge but actually was a strike. When the umpire called it strike 3, Frazier turned around and said something, and he was ejected too.

For the top of the 8th, the Pirates made a double switch. Pablo Reyes replaced the ejected Frazier at 2B in the #9 spot, and righty Kyle Crick came out to pitch in the #7 spot. Wong struck out swinging at an outside fastball. Goldschmidt walked on 4 pitches, with ball 4 being just barely outside. Ozuna lined a hanging slider for an out to left. DeJong struck out swinging at a slider to end the inning. With Flaherty at 91 pitches, Shildt elected to bring him back out for the bottom of the 8th. Lefty Kevin Kramer pinch hit for Stallings and flied a first-pitch hanging slider to right for the first out. Reyes worked a 3-2 walk, Flaherty’s first walk of the afternoon. Flaherty struck out Newman swinging at a good 3-2 96-mph fastball low-and away. You could see that Flaherty’s control was fading at this point, but he got Reynolds to sharply ground to short to end the inning on his 112th pitch of the afternoon. Here is a video of all 10 of Flaherty’s strikeouts this afternoon:

The Pirates made several changes in the field for the top of the 9th. Kramer stayed in the game in the #8 spot to play 2B, with Reyes moving from 2B to LF. Steven Baron came in to catch in the #2 spot, and righty Yefry Ramirez—who was just activated from the 10-day IL this morning—came in to pitch. Molina popped a changeup to Moran at 3rd in foul territory. Arozarena grounded an outside slider to 3rd for the 2nd out. Bader hit a 3-2 fastball for a sinking liner to center. Marte made a good sliding shoestring catch, but may have hurt himself in the process. You could see his wrist twist on the grass as his body went forward. Carlos Martinez came out for the bottom of the 9th with 4 days of rest. Elias Diaz pinch hit for Marte and chopped a center-cut fastball towards the line at 1st base. Goldschmidt went over, spun around and threw to Martinez covering the bag for the first out. Moran flied a 1-0 hanging changeup to Ozuna in left for the 2nd out. Osuna struck out swinging at a slider outside of the zone, and Martinez picked up his 19th save with an 8-pitch outing.

Odds and Ends

The Brewers beat the Cubs 8-5 this afternoon, with Cubs starter Jon Lester surrendering 8 ER in 5.1 IP, including 5 critical runs in the bottom of the 4th when the Cubs had a 3-1 lead. The Brewers did the damage in that inning on an RBI-double by Ryan Braun, an RBI-single from Hernan Perez and Tyler Austin’s 3-run HR. Eric Thames hit a solo shot in the bottom of the 6th, followed by a Corey Spangenberg 1-out triple. Duane Underwood replaced Lester, and allowed an RBI-single to pinch hitter Tyrone Taylor. The Cubs are now 4.5 games behind the Cardinals for the division lead, and may have lost another shortstop for a good while. In the top of the 3rd inning, as you can see here, Brewers starter Adrian Houser nailed Addison Russell in the face with a fastball. His prognosis is unknown at this time...The Cubs start a 4-game series at San Diego tomorrow, while the Brewers travel to Miami for four...Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch reported a couple of days ago that the Cardinals have their rotation set for the rest of the season. In case you missed it, here is the outlook:

3-game series at Rockies: 9/10 (Wacha), 9/11 (Hudson), 9/12 (Mikolas)

3-game series vs. Brewers: 9/13 (Wainwright), 9/14 (Flaherty), 9/15 (Wacha)

3-game series vs. Nationals: 9/16 (Hudson), 9/17 (Mikolas), 9/18 (Wainwright)

4-game series at Cubs: 9/19 (Flaherty), 9/20 (Wacha), 9/21 (Hudson), 9/22 (Mikolas)

3-game series at Diamondbacks: 9/23 (Wainwright), 9/24 (Flaherty), 9/25 (Wacha)

3-game series vs. Cubs: 9/27 (Hudson), 9/28 (Mikolas), 9/29 (Wainwright)

Because of the off day on Thursday, September 26th, Flaherty could start the final game of the regular season against the Cubs on Sunday, September 29th on 4 days of rest, if necessary. If, for some reason, the Cards were forced to play the Wild Card game with Wainwright taking the start on the final day of the regular season, Flaherty would be in line to start the Wild Card Game on Tuesday, October 1st. If Flaherty starts the final regular season game, and the Cards are still forced to play the Wild Card Game, it would be Wainwright’s turn. If the Cards make the playoffs and do not have to play the wild card game, AND Wainwright starts the final game of the regular season, the Cards could set up the rotation however they wanted. The NLDS begins on Thursday, October 3rd, and the only unavailable pitcher for Game 1 of the series would be the pitcher who started the final regular season game (as there would only be 3 days of rest in between).

Stay tuned until tomorrow, because I have a surprise article coming at 1:30 p.m. that I hope you all will enjoy—it deals with options.