The Cardinals won 6-2 in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, but the final score doesn’t reflect the difficulty of their challenge.

Jack Flaherty had another shaky start, needing 71 pitches to get 18 outs in three innings of laborious mound work. After the Cardinals staked Flaherty to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, he gave it right back to the Brewers in the bottom of the inning on a lead-off walk to Christian Yelich and a two-run homer by Willy Adames. Through six innings the Cardinals were closely hugging a one-run lead (3-2) that didn’t feel safe.

When the team’s projected No. 1 starter can’t outpitch Milwaukee journeyman Chi Chi Gonzalez – he of the career 5.71 big-league ERA – it’s trouble. But the Cardinals dodged a second consecutive defeat with the muscle of stellar bullpen work and two guided home-run missiles from rookie Nolan Gorman. The kid’s left-handed swing pierced the Brewers during a spectacular four-hit, four-RBI offensive. Gorman safely carried the Cardinals into the clubhouse with a victory. In a word: Spectacular.

Details and opinions to follow …

The Daily Accounting: The Cardinals and Brewers are knotted up again, sharing first place with matching 39–31 records. This is a Bavarian pretzel of a race. Hey, I like the Bavarian pretzels that sustain the good people of Milwaukee … With two games to go, the Cardinals are 2-3 during their road trip to Massachusetts and Wisconsin … the Brewers have a mediocre record at home this season (16-13) and are 2-8 in their last 10 games at American Family Field … with Tuesday’s win the Cardinals improved to 18-18 on the road and 16-19 in games vs. winning teams … since the start of the 2021 season the Cardinals have a .466 winning percentage in games against opponents with winning records, and a .628 winning percentage against opponents with losing records.

Jack Flaherty Doesn’t Look Right: I’m aware that he’s in the early stages of a comeback. Before making his first start of the season against the Pirates last week, Jack hadn’t pitched all that much since the start of the end of the 2019 season. And after missing 2 and ½ months with an oblique strain last season, Flaherty returned late in the year and had a 4.41 ERA in six appearances (four starts.) That’s when his right-shoulder ailment became a problem, and the concern lasted all offseason and into 2022 spring training. After more time on the IL, Flaherty finally made his ‘22 MLB debut with the June 15 start against the Pirates. His second start came Tuesday in Milwaukee. It has not gone well.

Flaherty has a 6.00 standard ERA and a 6.91 fielding-independent ERA in his first two starts. He’s shown a glaring lack of efficiency, needing 133 pitches to record 18 outs in the two games. Flaherty has faced 31 batters so far, and 14 have reached base. He’s walked hitters at a rate of 10.5 walks per 9 innings, with only 6.0 strikeouts per 9. And through two starts Flaherty has a terrible 2.17 WHIP (walks-and-hits per inning.)

In his three innings against the Brewers on Tuesday, Flaherty walked five, gave up three hits, was rocked for a two-run homer, and struck out one. Only 37 percent of his 71 pitches were strikes, down from 41.7 percent in his first start. His first-pitch strike percentage – 73.3% in his first start – plummeted to 43.8% in his second outing. And Flaherty’s swing-miss rate – 11.7% against the Pirates – subsided to 5.6 percent against the Brewers.

When Flaherty was at his best in 2019, he finished the season with a 30 percent strikeout rate and a 7% walk rate. After his first two starts this year, Flaherty has a weak 13 percent strikeout rate with a glaring 22.6% walk rate.

Perhaps we were being unrealistic to expect too much, too soon, from Jack after he’s been out of service for large blocks of time. Since June 1 of last season Flaherty has been on the IL three times and missed a total of 108 days. As a side note the Cardinals have paid him $4.66 million in salary during his IL stays since June 1 of 2021.

Flaherty’s mechanics are way off, and his follow through often carries him to the extreme left side of the mound.

Flaherty should be sharpening and reworking his delivery in the minors, but he’s basically having his spring training in major-league games, and with the Cardinals battling with the Brewers for first place. As we know, Flaherty talked Oli Marmol into changing the plan, convincing the rookie manager to cut short his injury-rehab assignment so he could start for the big club on June 15.

Marmol agreed, because this is what every Cardinal manager has done since Tony La Russa retired following the 2011 season.

Part of the new Cardinal Way is appeasing individual players instead of doing what’s best for the team. Yes, it’s important for a manager to form a trusting relationship with his players. And Marmol deserves credit for welcoming his players to speak their minds, and offer opinions about the way they’re being used. But the manager has to say no, especially to a pitcher with a history of injuries. Another way to earn a player’s trust is to protect the player from himself. Marmol didn’t do that in this instance. And Flaherty’s short starts have created more work for a stressed bullpen. How is that good for the team?

The Cardinals are fortunate to be 1-1 in Flaherty’s two starts, and I sincerely hope he’s healthy. (OK, if you say so. We’ll see.) Something seems to be wrong here — more than the usual sandpapering rust after a lengthy layoff. He was supposed to show improvement in his second start, but Tuesday’s performance wasn’t any better than his first start. With five walks and a homer, the second time around was worse.

At least Flaherty fought through it and prevented the Brewers from opening a big lead, and I give him credit for that. Perhaps he’ll take a step forward in his third start – or am I just wishcasting?

Long Gone Gorman: What a night. Four hits, two homers, four RBI, two runs scored. His RBI single gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead in the first. His first solo homer put his team up 3-2 in the fourth. His second solo shot extended the lead to 4-2 in the seventh. Another RBI single made it 6-2 in the eighth.

This just reaffirms why Nolan Gorman should have been in the lineup on Sunday in Boston instead of sitting in the dugout because Marmol wanted to please the fans by using Albert Pujols as the DH against a RH pitcher. When the Cardinals face a RH starter, Gorman should be in the lineup every single time unless he’s hurting or in an obvious state of fatigue.

I’ve retrained my thinking in the view of Gorman’s strikeouts. I was overly concerned with his frequent-strikeout phases at Triple A Memphis, and then again after his promotion to the majors. I disregarded some of the finer aspects of Gorman’s competitive character: he’s smart, he cares, he’s hungry to improve, he works extremely hard, and he has a history of making adjustments when moves up to the next level. In the minors Gorman usually struggled for a while after being promoted, but he’s a self-aware individual who can diagnose the problem and then fix the problem. In that way he’s advanced for a dude that just turned 22 on May 20.

Gorman will strike out, and at times the swings and misses are tough to watch. He whiffed three times in Monday’s loss to the Brewers, and the concern level went up. But 24 hours later Gorman got back at it, erased the Monday’s bad experience and attacked the Brewers. They couldn’t contain him or stop him. Pardon the cliche, but Gorman is a game-changer. He can alter the course of any game, even after striking out a couple of times earlier in the same contest. Just type his name into the lineup and let him go. The strikeouts are simple outs. His power is truly special. As a manager you have to bet on the devastating impact of his power instead of letting his strikeouts scare you into doing something silly with the lineup card.

Fun With Gorman’s Numbers: His crackling Tuesday elevated Gorman’s hitting profile for the season in a fairly dramatic way.

– Among National League players that have at least 100 plate appearances so far this season, Gorman ranks 10th in OPS (.866) and is 11th in slugging percentage (.516.) He’s also 25th in batting average (.280.)

– Among the MLB rookies that have at least 100 plate appearances this season, Gorman is No. 1 in slugging, No. 1 in OPS, No. 4 in batting average, and No. 4 in OBP (.350.)

– Gorman’s counting stats aren’t as high as other rookies because he hasn’t played as much as they have after being promoted to the show on May 20. Gorman has 103 plate appearances; 27 big-league rookies have more than that. But make no mistake, his home-run count (6) and RBI count (17) are more than just sprinkles on the dish of ice cream.

– Gorman has hit a homer every 15.5 at-bats as a Cardinal this season. That home-run ratio is superior to that of Manny Machado, Corey Seager, Rafael Devers, Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani, Willson Contreras, George Springer, Javy Baez, Trevor Story, Joey Gallo, Ronald Acuna Jr., Jesse Winker, Joey Votto, Nick Castellanos, Randy Arozarena, Xander Boegarts, Francisco Lindor and many other notables.

– Gorman’s first six big-league home runs have flown 449, 403, 424, 440, 428 and 396 feet.

“Those balls were demolished,” Marmol said of Gorman’s two homers in Tuesday’s game. “The adjustment’s real. It was needed. We continue to say this kid has a lot of power. His aptitude, approach, adjustability – I think we’re going to start to see less swing and miss and more contact. Definitely has the ability to do that. When he makes contact the ball goes a long way.”

– Gorman has some impressive Statcast rates: a 16.7% barrel percentage, and a hard-hit rate of 45%. Given his quality of contact, his slugging percentage should be .589 instead of .516.

– According to Statcast, Gorman is slugging .532 against fastballs, .667 against offspeed pitches but has a low .263 slug against breaking balls. He’ll be better against breaking pitches as he gains experience.

– The Cardinals are 5-0 when Gorman homers in a game, 7-0 when he drives in at least one run, 7-2 when he doesn’t strike out in a game and 12-6 when he strikes out no more than one time.

– As I mentioned, Gorman has homered once every 15.5 at-bats in the majors so far. Combining his numbers with Triple A Memphis and St. Louis, Gorman has 21 homers in 226 at-bats. That’s a ratio of one homer per 10.7 ABs. A wow kind of number.

– Gorman’s strikeout rate in the majors (32%) so far is lower than his strikeout rate (34%) this season at Memphis.

Cheers For the Bullpen: In the first two games of the series, St. Louis relievers Johan Oviedo, Zack Thompson, Drew VerHagen, Gio Gallegos and Ryan Helsley have teamed to pitch 7 and ⅔ scoreless innings, allowing only three hits and a walk with six strikeouts.

Zack Thompson, Bullpen Strengthener: The rookie lefty has been outstanding in his three relief appearances for the Cardinals. In 8 and ⅔ innings he’s given up only one run, three hits and two walks while striking out nine. As a reliever Thompson has a 1.03 and has limited opponents to a .103 batting average and .265 OPS. And his 29% strikeout rate is a real attribute.

Assuming that Jordan Hicks has a healthy and robust rehab assignment, the St. Louis bullpen should be more imposing soon.

For much of the season the big-three reliever contingent of Genesis Cabrera, Gallegos and Helsley has been supported by middle-inning relievers Drew VerHagen and T.J. McFarland and Nick Wittgren. (With rookie Andre Pallante in the mix, doing terrific work until moving into the rotation.)

OK, now imagine how this would look to opposing hitters: Thompson, Hicks and the repurposed and impressive Johan Oviedo building an essential bridge between the starting pitcher and the late-inning security team of Cabrera, Gallegos and Helsley. And depending on Flaherty’s condition and the state of Steven Matz’s comeback, Andre Pallante could head back to the bullpen as another outstanding presence for the mid-late innings. This potential bullpen procession looks a helluva lot better, yes?

Next On The Sked: Adam Wainwright vs. Eric Lauer, tonight at 7:10 Midwest time. Since the beginning of 2021 Waino has a 6.14 ERA in three starts at American Family Field, and the home-dwelling Brewers have batted .286 against him with a .365 OBP and .518 slug. Prediction: Albert Pujols goes deep on the lefty Lauer. Lauer had a 2.33 ERA in his first eight starts of the campaign. But in his last four starts, Lauer has a 6.33 ERA and has been popped for seven home runs in 21 and ⅓ innings. Opponents have slugged .581 against him with a .939 OPS over that time.

Thanks for reading …

– Bernie

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.