It’s still pretty early in the season. Not as early as it was in the first week, when people could be hitting .500 and a team like Detroit could be in first given a win on Opening Day. Not as early as it was in mid-April when people were starting to make a big deal out of the Royals being in first. Not so early that you can’t get a feel for teams and how things are going to go. That feel, for me, is that Milwaukee is going to be tough for the Cardinals all year long and nothing that happened in the past three games dispelled that notion.
Also, though, you get the feeling that Jack Flaherty is good. A quirky 2020 (that feels like such the understatement) and a couple of less-than-stellar outings to start 2021 had some people wondering what the Cardinals really had in their ace. I’ll admit, I didn’t necessarily think that Flaherty was overrated but I did wonder if maybe we had rushed to some conclusions given the second half of 2019. Flaherty is showing every time out that, truly, he is as good as we thought he was.
If you toss out the six-run Opening Day game (which, of course, he still won and has admitted to pitching differently once he got the big lead), Flaherty has a 1.47 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 11 walks in 43 innings. Batters are hitting .174 against him and the only home run he gave up was to Jesse Winker, the only score Cincinnati got off of him in a late April start.
Yesterday’s numbers are included in that paragraph. Milwaukee probably is the toughest team that Flaherty has seen this year (which might need to go into the equation–he’s seen Cincinnati twice, Washington twice, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Colorado) and he handled them much like he’s handled everyone else. Six innings, no runs, four hits, six strikeouts, two walks. That’ll play every time, especially when there is a bullpen as solid as St. Louis’s. It also seemed that Flaherty made quick work of some dangerous situations. For instance, Travis Shaw doubled to lead off the second, but he never moved. Luis Urias started the third with a single but was stranded at second. Both of his walks came in the fourth, one to lead off the inning, one with two outs, but nothing came of it. A one out single in the fifth brought the top of the lineup up with a runner on–no dice. Finally, Daniel Vogelbach led off the sixth with a double, but Flaherty was able to get the dangerous Shaw on his way to leaving yet another runner on.
So Flaherty only had one perfect inning, the first, but still was in complete command. He had to be, of course, because Corbin Burnes was on the other side, fresh off a stint on the COVID IL, and looking like the Cy Young contender that he has been all season long. The Cardinals got to him before he settled in, as Tommy Edman singled and then scored on a Nolan Arenado single, but that was all he allowed. He also stretched his most strikeouts before a walk streak out a ways before Edman finally drew a free pass off of him, so Tommy just ruined his day in all sorts of ways.
The Milwaukee bullpen held as well, with the Cardinals getting a little insurance in the ninth off of Angel Perdomo. Not that the Cardinals did much to get it–a couple of walks and the run actually scored when Perdomo tried to pick Lane Thomas off of third and threw it away. Still, it was a run and that gave us more breathing room when Alex Reyes came in and continued his coin-flip ways (though, to be fair, he did throw more strikes than normal).
The Cardinal offense had other chances, of course. There were a few times where they had a couple of runners on with nobody out or one out but were unable to capitalize. The difference in this series, where outside of that explosive eleventh in the first game they scored four runs, and many similar series is that it felt more like they just saw good Milwaukee pitching than being incompetent at the plate. Maybe that’s because the offense had been more consistent of late but even though they failed, it seemed like they took a lot of good at bats in the series. Milwaukee has some arms as well, though, and sometimes you have to tip your cap.
It feels like these two teams are going to be having this sort of matchup all season long and there’s a good chance the NL Central is going to be decided by how they turn out. Though maybe not–the two teams don’t meet again until August 17, which is insane, and they then face each other 10 times in September. So if things stay close, September should be exciting baseball. There’s a lot of time for one team or the other to put some distance between them, though.
We’ll see how it goes out in San Diego this weekend. It could be because the Cards have built out a good record on less than stellar teams, but 1) they haven’t always done that and 2) that’s how you win, beating up the bad teams and being competitive with the good. When you look at the pitching this team has, you can see them clicking off win after win. The top of the offense is producing well and the bottom contributes just enough to be effective. The defense has been all we could hope for. Right now, this has the feel of a team that could really go far.
As I said, a good test will be San Diego this weekend (though the Padres have some folks out due to COVID, so it might not be the truest of tests) and the road trip that starts a week from Monday, to the White Sox, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers, might be a real sign of how good this team is. If they have 35 wins by time they face the Reds in Busch in June, this summer could be a lot of fun.
We got our Hero from today’s game, so we need to find our Goat. I guess we’ll go with Tyler O’Neill, who struck out three times on his way to an 0-4 afternoon, leaving four on in the process. It was his first three strikeout game this month, which speaks to his approach since he returned from the IL I think.
Good afternoon for Arenado, who tallied three hits. Obviously St. Louis wasn’t concerned about Omar Narvaez‘s arm, as Edman stole second twice, Thomas stole third, and Paul Goldschmidt even swiped a bag. Great work by Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera, putting up two scoreless innings to turn it over to Reyes.
Fun in the sun this weekend as the Cards try to avenge that Wild Card series loss. We’ll see how well they manage it!