THE REDBIRD REVIEW
It was good to see Jack Flaherty standing on the mound at Busch Stadium during a pleasant Labor Day afternoon. The Cardinals’ offense failed to show up, but we can’t say that about Flaherty. The Cardinals were embarrassed 6-0 by a very bad baseball team, but the loss didn’t really matter. That’s because the Cardinals may have gained a quality starter. They appear to have strengthened their rotation with Flaherty’s return. And that, my friends, would go down as a win.
The Nationals skunked the Cardinals 6-0 but Flaherty certainly pitched well enough to earn a victory for his team. This was for real. This was Flaherty’s best start since he threw six scoreless innings against the Royals on Aug. 13, 2021. This start wasn’t fluky. Flaherty had good stuff … even if we didn’t see his best stuff. If this was the beginning of a new phase in Flaherty’s career, we can mark it down as a positive start. And it was especially reassuring because Jack can build on this. He wasn’t roughed up. He maintained poise. He was a tough competitor. His slider had a sting. There was no reason for teammates to make excuses for him, or to rationalize a shaky outing. Flaherty pitched effectively, and did so without trauma or drama. No spin is necessary.
I don’t understand the local compulsion to take everything Flaherty does and compare it to his finest season, 2019. Good grief, the dude hasn’t pitched regularly since June 2021. The first and best things he must do is reestablish a regular presence, his own confidence, and a level of consistent reliability. If Flaherty does that, then we can start yapping about 2019.
This was a swell first step: five innings, 91 pitches, six hits, one run, one walk, one hit batter, and six strikeouts. He left the proceedings with an above-average Bill James Game Score of 58. For a guy that’s been through so much – most of it negative – it was a fine way to start all over again.
In particular I liked four things about Flaherty:
1) His slider had venom. He threw 27 of them. The Nationals swung at the slider 21 times, missing seven times, for a terrific whiff-swing rate of 33.3 percent. In 11 at-bats that ended with the Flaherty slider, the Nationals had two hits for a .182 average.
2) The Nationals didn’t barrel a single Flaherty pitch. They hit five balls hard, which is a reasonable amount. And he limited the Nats to one run despite being on the wrong side of batted-ball luck. The batting average on balls in play against him Monday was .400. (That really hurt him with his four-seam fastball.) The luck factor wasn’t with him. You can’t accurately assess the quality of his performance without taking note of this.
3) When encountering trouble in this game, Flaherty was a bulldog. With men on base, the Nationals went 3 for 15 (.200) with five strikeouts. With runners in scoring position Washington went 1 for 9 with four strikeouts.
4) Flaherty had a strikeout rate of 26 percent, delivering needed punches for a rotation that has a weak 18% strikeout rate this season.
5) There were no signs of duress. None. Flaherty was cool under pressure. That just reinforces the opinion that he was really ready to go this time … unlike his aborted comeback earlier this season.
The next test for Jack: consistency, consistency, consistency.
Accounting Department: On Labor Day the Cardinals lost and the Brewers won. The Crew picked up a game in the standings but the first-place Cardinals lead the NL Central by 7 and ½ games. According to FanGraphs the Cardinals have a 97.1 percent shot of winning the division … Monday’s loss was only the third by the Cardinals in the last 21 home games … the Nationals have the worst winning percentage (.356) in the majors this season. But the Nats have won three in a row, having defeated the NL East-leading Mets (twice) and the NL Central-leading Cardinals by a combined score of 20-2. That’s baseball … the Cardinals were 48-44 on July 14. Since that point they’ve gone 31-12, and in MLB only the Dodgers (34-12) have put up a better record.
More On Flaherty And The Rotation: Dakota Hudson was bumped from the rotation and sent to Triple A Memphis to open a spot for Flaherty. This was a smart decision because Hudson can benefit from making a couple of starts at Triple A instead of doing the usual bullpen sessions to sharpen himself between starts; that didn’t work too well for him. Hudson will return to start one of the doubleheader games against the Reds on Sept. 17.
With Flaherty on board, the Cardinals rotation has a chance to improve their recent trend – which was on a positive track, anyway. In their 23 games since losing a series at Coors Field Aug. 9-11, the St. Louis starting pitchers have a 2.88 ERA that’s fifth-best in the majors and No. 2 in the National League over that time. The Cards went 18-5 in the 23 games. Flaherty rejoins a rotation that already was prospering through the trade additions of Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana.
Worst Thing I Can Tell You About the STL Offense: Monday’s shutout loss was the 13th of the season for the Cardinals. That’s tied for the fourth-highest shutout count by a major-league offense this season. Moreover the Cardinals have scored only one run in a game 13 times this year. That means the Cards have scored no more than one run in 26 games; only nine MLB teams have done worse than that.
What does this mean? (1) Remember the Albert Rules, which are: blame everything on hitting coach Jeff Albert, but he does not receive any credit whatsoever when the Cardinals score lots of runs. (2) This gives us something to worry about during the countdown to the postseason. How are the Cardinals going to score enough runs to win against the best teams when they’ve been shut out or held to one stinkin’ run in so many games?
Paul Goldschmidt’s Quiet Period: Goldy has been human since clouting two homers and knocking home five runs in his team’s 8-3 win at Wrigley Field on Aug 25. In 44 plate appearances over his 10 games since then, Goldschmidt is batting .200 with a .314 slug and .678 OPS. He has only one homer and two RBI in the 10 games. But his eight walks during this stretch has fueled a solid .364 onbase percentage.
Update On Goldschmidt’s Bid For The NL Triple Crown? The Cards first baseman is still right there, but needs to heat up a bit. In two of the three categories Goldschmidt has been fortunate for one reason: his recent cool-down period hasn’t hurt his chances, not much, in the home-run and RBI races.
— Going into Tuesday Goldschmidt still leads in batting average (.328) but Dodger Freddie Freeman has closed the gap to four points (.324.) Freeman has done his part to cut into Goldy’s advantage by hitting .358 since Aug. 20.
— Goldschmidt is third in home runs with 34. Kyle Schwarber leads with 36, and Austin Riley has moved into second place with 35 big ones. This is a positive: Schwarber is giving Goldschmidt a chance; the big man in Phillly has only two homers in his last 24 games. Riley, Atlanta’s third baseman, is in a dangerous zone right now, having homered four times in his last five games to go ahead of Goldschmidt and get to within one home run of Schwarber.
— Goldschmidt leads Pete Alonso by one RBI, 107-106. Goldy is hanging on. Alonso could have taken the league lead by now, but the Met first baseman has only one RBI in his last 32 plate appearances (eight games.)
Let’s Return To The Subject Of Home Runs: The Cardinals depend on them. They need them. They aren’t the same offense without them. When the Cards fail to homer in a game they’re 19-22. When they hit exactly one home run, they’re 17-26. That’s a record of 36-48 when the Cardinals bang fewer than two home runs in a game. And when they hit two or more homers, they’re 43-8.
But let’s compare STL’s 36-48 record when they don’t hit at least two home runs in a game. Let’s apply that to the other NL postseason contenders.
Record When Homering Less Than Two Times:
Dodgers, 52-33, .611
Mets, 56-44, .560
Padres, 49-45, .521
Braves, 37-41, .474
Phillies, 42-50, .456
Cards 36-48, .428
Brewers, 30-46, .394
STL Offense Over The Last Two Seasons: Since the start of the 2021 season the Cardinals rank among the MLB top 10 in runs, homers, batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. This season the Cardinals are third in the majors in runs per game, lead MLB with a 117 OPS+, are second in slugging, and third in onbase percentage and OPS. Even with some slow times along the way, this has been one of the better attacks in MLB since the start of last season.
STL Offense Vs. NL Contenders in 2022: The Cardinals are 20-22 against the Dodgers, Mets, Braves, Brewers, Padres and Phillies so far this season. During the remaining weeks of the regular season the Redbirds will play four games against the Brewers and have three games against both the Padres and Dodgers.
How has the STL offense fared against the other six NL contenders this season? Here’s the answer:
3.9 runs per game
The Cardinals are five percent below league average offensively against the six times based on adjusted runs created (wRC+.)
Nolan Gorman, Free Falling: As you may have noticed (pardon my sarcasm) the rookie power bat is stuck in the worst slump of his nascent career. Going into Tuesday, Gorman is 1 for 15 with eight strikeouts since Aug. 27. His last homer flew on Aug. 11 at Coors Field in Colorado; since then, in 53 plate appearances, Gorman is batting .192 with a .250 slugging percentage and .500 OPS. His strikeout rate over that time is a glaring 37.5 percent.
No surprise here, but Gorman is having a streaky rookie year.
Mashing In May: in his 36 plate appearances for the month he batted .387 with a .677 slug and .1.150 OPS and had a 27.8 percent strikeout rate. In adjusted runs created he was 123% above league average for the month.
Swoon In June: 207 average, .368 slug, .618 OPS and a 31.4% strikeout rate. In adjusted runs created he was 24 percent below league average for the month.
Jolting In July: Gorman had a poor batting average (.211) but regenerated some power with five homers and a .437. In adjusted runs created he was 16 percent above league average for the month.
Aground In August-September: Hitting .216 with a .365 slug, .640 OPS and 34% strikeout rate.
Current Trend: In his last 71 plate appearances against all pitchers, Gorman has one homer in 66 at-bats and is slugging only .318 with a .586 OPS and 35% strikeout rate.
We hope Gorman keeps a positive attitude.
Just remember the words of the late and great Yogi Berra:
“Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting.”
Lars Nootbaar Vs. Juan Soto: I’m borrowing this from my friend John Denton, who does a superb job of covering the Cardinals for MLB.com.
Since the Sept 2 trade deadline…
— Nootbaar has a higher batting average, .259 to .245
— Soto has a higher onbase percentage, .408 to .390
— Noot has a higher slugging percentage, .528 to .394
— Noot has a higher OPS, .918 to .802
— Noot has more extra-base hits, 14 to 7
— Noot has more home runs, 6 to 3
— Noot has more RBIs, 18-6
— Noot has scored more runs, 23 to 20
Nootbaar’s team has the best record in MLB (25-8) since the trade deadline, and Noot played in all 33 of those contests. Soto’s new team is 16-16 since the trade sent him from Washington to San Diego. The Padres so far are 13-14 when Soto plays. But that should improve. He’s very good.
Tommy Edman Keeps Going: He had one of the team’s three hits Monday and it’s been fun to watch him take his at-bats. In his last 13 games Edman is batting .365 with a .389 OBP and .808 slug. He’s continuing to crank out the power; over the 13-game hot streak 12 of Edman’s 19 hits have gone for extra bases in the form of six doubles, a triple and five home runs. He’s also driven home 11 runs and scored 10 runs in the last 13 contests.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.