A healthy Jack Flaherty is pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals once again. He returned to the mound to face the Washington Nationals on Labor Day. Flaherty lasted five innings and gave up one run in his return, while striking out six batters. If he can remain healthy, he makes the club significantly more dangerous in the playoffs.
It’s been a long time since Flaherty has been healthy for an extended period. He started the season on the Injured List, and briefly returned in June. He was ineffective across his three starts. Flaherty surrendered five runs while only pitching eight innings, and did not last beyond the third inning in any of those three games.
Because of the injuries, it’s easy to forget just how good he can be when healthy. In 2019, Flaherty had a 2.75 ERA across 33 starts and pitched just short of 200 innings. He placed fourth in Cy Young voting. Flaherty was not spectacular in 2020, but he returned to form in 2021. He only started 15 games last year due to multiple IL trips, but he was effective. Flaherty went 9–2 with an ERA of 3.22.
A Healthy Flaherty Means Changes to the Rotation
Adam Wainwright isn’t going anywhere. He continues to shrug off any concerns about his age, and goes deep into games even on nights when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Jordan Montgomery has been otherworldly since joining the team. Montgomery has a 1.47 ERA in six starts as a Cardinal. He gave up five runs to the Atlanta Braves on August 27, and a single run to the Colorado Rockies on the 17th. Jose Quintana has been a very good addition as well. Quintana has yet to allow more than two earned runs in an outing as a Cardinal.
Despite being an All Star in 2022, little attention is being paid to Miles Mikolas who is quietly having a very good year. The odd man out is Dakota Hudson. He has failed to complete the fifth inning in six of his last eleven starts. During that time, he is 4–7 with an ERA of 5.86. He may eventually join the bullpen in long relief, although it’s likely Jake Woodford remains in that role. The Cardinals could shift to a six-man rotation, but for now, Hudson has been optioned to Memphis to stay sharp in case he is needed.
Flaherty Could Boost Cardinals in Playoffs
Assuming Flaherty returns to form before the end of the season, the Cardinals have great options for any playoff series. With a month left to play, the Cardinals are leading the NL Central by eight and a half games. While it isn’t a foregone conclusion, it appears they will be the three seed in the National League. If that is the case, whoever gets the final playoff spot is going to have to win a three-game series at Busch Stadium against some combination of Wainwright, Montgomery, Flaherty, Mikolas, and Quintana.
It would have been difficult to predict in June that Oli Marmol would have this great problem ahead of him, but barring a collapse, either from the team or a couple of pitchers, the manager is going to have to sit high quality starting pitchers in the first round of the playoffs. If they all stay healthy, and are performing, there won’t be any reason to bring anyone back on short rest if the Cardinals make it beyond the first round. Right now it looks like this rotation could be positioned for a deep playoff run.
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