Honorable Mention: Jack Flaherty
It is easy to forget about the Cardinal ace lately, as Jack Flaherty has only pitched in 20 games since the beginning of 2021 and has had multiple set backs in his recovery over that time. With Flaherty beginning his rehab assignment and his return to the rotation not far away, Flaherty is perhaps the biggest wild card St. Louis has going for them.
To expect Flaherty to jump into the rotation and be the best version of himself would be a stretch, although it very well could happen. But if the 26-year old can remain healthy down the stretch for St. Louis, is it really that big of a stretch to think of him as a major upgrade over Dakota Hudson? Or provide critical innings out of the bullpen come October?
Don’t forget, when Flaherty is on, he matches up with anyone in the game. In his last full season in 2019, he has one of the best 2nd half performances in MLB history.
Even with battling injuries in 2021, Flaherty still posted a 3.22 ERA in 78.1 innings of work, and there is little reason to believe that a healthy version of the ace can’t at least replicate those numbers. If you add that to this much improved rotation, the club goes from a team that barely had two capable starting pitchers to a deep, five man rotation in a matter of weeks.
With the major uncertainty around his return from his injury, this makes Flaherty more of a wild card than true X-factor. Anything the club can get from their homegrown ace would be celebrated, it just so happens he has the ability to possibly be the biggest difference maker on this list.