The St. Louis Cardinals were let down by their starting pitchers in the first half but recently one player has quietly returned to ace level performance.
Coming into the 2019 season, the starting rotation was supposed to be a big strength for the St. Louis Cardinals. The team had their recently extended breakout star Miles Mikolas, the crafty veteran Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, and then sophomore stud Jack Flaherty who could’ve been followed by Alex Reyes, Dakota Hudson or any other of a number of capable options.
Mike Shildt famously said the team has, “five number one starters” which obviously hasn’t been the case as the rotation as a whole, due to injuries and lack of performance, hasn’t been a strength at all.
One player that was perhaps the most disappointing in the first half was Jack Flaherty. Coming off a breakout rookie year where he received Rookie of the Year votes posting a 3.34 ERA over 151.0 innings. Flaherty proved he could provide more than the mid-bottom rotation potential he was pegged for during his rise to the Majors and 2019 was supposed to be a continuation. It looked like the Cardinals might have found an ace in the making.
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In the first half, Flaherty posted a 4.64 ERA over 97.0 innings and the biggest stat to point to as to why he was underperforming was his 20 homers allowed. That is more than some pitchers give up in an entire season. It is very conducive of baseball in 2019, but Flaherty would be the first to tell you that was too many.
In the second half though, Flaherty has, without fanfare, been amazing. Over five starts, he has just a 0.86 ERA in 31.1 innings. The keys for Flaherty have been first, allowing just one homer, and second, having a 43:9 strikeout to walk ratio. He is throwing more strikes and getting farther into games than he did in the first half.
In just one of the five starts he hasn’t made it through the sixth inning, and that was a start against the Reds on July 21st where he didn’t allow a run and only walked two and just got an early hook. Other than that short start, he has made it through the seventh three times and the sixth inning once. In 2019, those six starts were ace-level performance.
Flaherty may not have been the top-tier pitching prospect that the Cardinals thought would turn into an ace, but with Alex Reyes’ career backfiring and Flaherty showing a bulldog mentality on the mound as well as good leadership in the clubhouse, it seems like the Cardinals do have an ace in the making.
There hasn’t been much recognition for Flaherty’s second half and right now, he is the only starter on the Cardinals that can be trusted on the road or at home, no matter the opponent. Down the stretch for this team’s playoff hopes, Flaherty is going to be a key cog in the wheel to keep the Cardinals in the fight.
Flaherty is still just 23 years old and has a chance to hit 200 innings this year which is another hurdle to being called an ace. The pitching staff needs a young leader to take over the reins as Wainwright’s career winds down, Flaherty seems as good a pick for that as any.