I don’t know that St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty had enough in the tank to complete the no-hitter that he pitched into the fifth inning Tuesday.
But I do know that its absolute garbage that the no-no was allowed to be broken up by an ignorant defensive shift.
It doesn’t surprise me even a little bit that after the second-year major leaguer saw his effort wasted by a swinging bunt to an undefended part of the field that he lost his composure and began to get rocked after pitching so well. Blame it on youth if you want, but I think if it was veteran Adan Wainwright on the mound and the same thing happened, he would have been equally upset.
Pitchers grow up their whole life trying to get hitters to put the ball in play in a place where their fielders can handle it. When you get a grounder to third base with a man on first via a walk, the only thing in doubt should be whether there is time to get a double play. Instead, the wheels totally came off the wagon and a game that was a laugher suddenly was one again in question as a stupid decision let the opposition up off the floor.
As botched as the situation was, kudos to Flaherty for getting his composure back and not only getting out of the fifth inning, but also coming back to pitch a strong sixth inning. If he would have given up an untimely home run instead of getting out of the jam, more than half the lead he once enjoyed would have been halved. It’s just a shame he was forced into a situation where he went from pitching a gem to a mediocre result in which he gave up three runs in six innings. He pitched better than that and he deserved to be better taken care of by his coaching staff. It’s no secret that the St. Louis pitching staff has underperformed this season, fueling my recent speculation that the team needs to make a trade or sign a free agent to shore up the staff. So, it hurts even more when the team gets a rare excellent start that the manager doesn’t know what to do with it.
I’m curious to know if manager Mike Shildt makes the call on these shifts or if he’s getting orders from above. Because any self-respecting major league who is at all capable of the basic fundamentals of the game ought to be able to drop down a bunt. Especially if his team has been unable, halfway through the game, to buy a hit. Calling for a shift in that situation is beyond bone-headed. Shildt, in many ways, has received a free pass because he’s not Mike Matheny and the Cardinals have a winning record since he became the skipper. But no one is beyond being questioned, and when you’ve lost nine of your last 11 and have been plastered by your Central Division rivals, it’s got to make fans scratch their heads at least a little bit.
In my dreams, the Cardinals learn how to play defense and run the bases like the 1982 Redbirds. They figure out how to score runs without hitting the ball over the fence like the 1942 version of the team and learn how to be big game players like the 1967 squad. If there really is a Cardinals Way, I’d sure love to see it in the era of home run derby and strikeouts. A team that could consistently beat the shift by hitting the ball the other way and taking advantage of the misplaced fielders to take extra bases ought to be able to win 120 games in this environment. But, while they’re victimized by the shift, the Birds can’t take advantage of if when they’re at bat. Matt Carpenter came up with men on first and third and one out and, instead of hitting the ball where they ain’t, he hit right into the teeth of the shift to allow the Atlanta Braves to avoid further damage.
I wouldn’t complain that he pulled the ball if Carpenter hit a long fly to sacrifice home a run. But he didn’t exactly club the ball with authority. if you’re going to swing at a 3-0 pitch, you better get your money’s worth. And if you’re going to try to hit the ball over the shift, it would be nice if the ball at least cleared the infield dirt. Otherwise, why not take the free hit and RBI?
Speaking of questionable coaching decisions, how much longer can the Cardinals stick with Carpenter as the leadoff hitter? People make excuses for his .199 batting average because he supposedly is an expert at getting on base. But his .318 on-base percentage so far in 2019 hasn’t impressed. I’m not sure it’s sustainable. But right now, Dexter Fowler’s .305 batting average and .405 on-base mark would seem a better bet at the top of the order for a team that isn’t scoring runs on a consistent basis. The Cardinals seem these days to be too committed to doing things only one way. This roster has a ton of flexibility. I can’t help but think that this would be a better team if the manager used his players a bit more creatively.