Before play started on Monday evening, Fangraphs gave the Cardinals nearly a four-in-five chance of making the playoffs as one of the Wild Card teams. It made sense to start thinking about who the Cardinals should start in the one-game playoff, even if making it to the Wild Card game wasn’t a sure thing. Then they suffered one of the most frustrating losses of the season that, along with the Rockies’ blowout win in Philadelphia, dropped the playoff odds nearly 20%. Suddenly, it seemed premature to be thinking ahead to a one-game playoff.
Unfortunately, I had already asked the question on Twitter.
Who would you rather start the Wild Card game for the #STLCards?
— Colin Garner (@colingarner22) September 24, 2018
I don’t think I need to go into why the choice comes down to Jack Flaherty or Miles Mikolas. Furthermore, if you look at the numbers over the entire season, the choice is pretty clear.
Those numbers are by no means comprehensive, but it’s clear that Mikolas has done a better job of preventing runs than Flaherty. Flaherty can seem more dominant at times because he strikes out 30 percent of opposing batters, but it’s offset by walks and the propensity to give up homers. It appears that Twitter made the correct choice.
The most likely scenario is the Cardinals travel to Milwaukee for the Wild Card game, although after Monday’s win and Cubs’ loss, the Brewers are only 1.5 games back in the Central. It still makes sense to look at Flaherty and Mikolas’ numbers against the Brewers.
Now the numbers seem to tilt in favor of Flaherty. He’s struck out more and walked less against the Brewers than the league at large. Mikolas, on the other hand, has been worse against the Brewers than he has against the rest of the league.
I still don’t feel super comfortable going with Flaherty, so let’s break it down by individual start against Milwaukee.
Flaherty has been “dominant” in three of four starts against the Brewers compared to once for Mikolas. Despite his dominance, the Cardinals have won only one of those starts. On April 3rd, Dominic Leone gave up back-to-back homers in the ninth. On June 22nd, Jesus Aguilar hit two homers in a 2-1 loss. Monday night was equally brutal. I don’t think the performance of the rest of the team should influence the Flaherty vs. Mikolas discussion, but it’s an unusual coincidence.
Mikolas, on the other hand, has had two below-average starts and two very good starts. The two bad ones came just a week apart, as you can see. April 2nd was his Cardinals debut and first MLB appearance since 2015. Want a non-analytical reason to go with Mikolas? He rarely walks opponents, and with the Cardinals’ struggling to limit free passes in recent weeks, at least Mikolas would (presumably) make the Brewers earn their hits and runs (knock on wood). Another point in favor of Mikolas is that the Brewers will not face him during this series. They would, however, see Flaherty twice in a span of eight days.
Despite his mediocre outing last night and the fact that the Brewers will see him twice, I’d still go with Flaherty. He gives you a better chance at a dominant start, and the numbers bear that out. The Brewers have yet to score more than three earned runs in a game against him, and Flaherty hurt himself with walks more than the Brewers did with hits on Monday.
Unfortunately, the schedule may not allow for the Cardinals to choose who starts a week from today. The rotation currently lines up for Mikolas to pitch on Saturday and Flaherty on Sunday in Chicago. Should the Cardinals need to win those games, neither would be available on Tuesday. Let’s hope the Cardinals have the option to go with Flaherty or Mikolas, as both have proven to be more than capable of shutting down high-powered offenses.
Thanks for reading.