Welcome back to the Big 3, a weekly feature taking a look at the three biggest takeaways from the Cardinals’ last week. Whether it’s a particular player, a moment, or a trend, the Big 3 will have you ready to talk Cards all week long.
A road trip with the resurgent Phillies and first-place Brewers leaves the Cardinals 3-4 for the week and in a slightly worse spot than they were last Monday. This team can only tread water for so long before a substantial turnaround to restore faith in its status as a postseason contender becomes highly implausible. We’re not there yet, but with each passing week of mediocrity, a dreary conclusion to the season comes into focus. We’ve got three takeaways from the week that was, so let’s hop right in:
1. It could always be worse
I don’t doubt that this sprinkle of optimism to lead off this edition of the Big 3 might rub people the wrong way: ‘After another week where the Cardinals fell short of expectations against quality competition, feet should be held firmly to the fire. Why’s this guy blowing sunshine?’
I get it. But honestly, this is a pretty relevant takeaway in context of how pathetic this week almost was for the local nine. The Cardinals started the week getting walked off by the Phillies Monday, and ended up losing that series, their third in a row. Then they were blown out of Miller Park 11-3 on Thursday before wasting a gem by Jack Flaherty Friday, again losing in walk-off fashion.
As Saturday’s game hung in the balance in the eighth inning, it truly felt like the entire season was on the line. A big hit for the Brewers would’ve had them in line for a sweep on Sunday, and a potential 8.5 game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central.
That might’ve been all a frustrated John Mozeliak would have needed to call it a year and go into sell mode.
As it happened, the Cardinal bullpen hung on Saturday, and the offense came alive Sunday to leave Milwaukee with a series split. These Cardinals are, by no means, in good shape right now. They haven’t performed well on a consistent enough basis to inspire confidence in their ability to climb back into a playoff spot.
But with two wins to close the week, the Cardinals, once again, did enough to rope us back in ever so slightly, to tease us a little longer.
2. Jack Flaherty is for real, for real
How many times does a guy need to strike out a baker’s dozen before we realize he might be something special? Like, really special?
All winter, 2018 was billed as ‘Alex Reyes SZN’ with Jack Flaherty lurking in the background as a guy who might still be a year away from cementing himself in the starting rotation. The puzzle seemed to fit: Adam Wainwright could go out on a high note with one final season, Flaherty could hone his craft in Memphis until getting another taste of the big leagues in September, and his real time to shine would come in 2019—you know, when he’s more prepared for the spotlight.
Well, Wainwright went down, and Flaherty became the bandage. Still, it was a temporary fix. Reyes was coming soon. Well, Reyes arrived. Reyes got hurt again. And Flaherty kept doing his thing.
What he did Friday reveals how good he can be—not some day, but present day, this day, right now.
Though the Cardinals squandered Flaherty’s 13-strikeout performance Friday—his second of the year—his effort remains one of the biggest takeaways of the week. Flaherty took a no-hit bid into the seventh. In his last three starts, he’s thrown 18.1 innings and allowed only two runs on six hits. Oh, and he struck out 26 batters in those outings.
In 57.2 innings, Flaherty’s season-ERA is down to 2.50. Here’s the list of NL pitchers with a lower ERA and at least 50 innings pitched this season:
Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Jon Lester, Mike Foltynewicz, Ross Stripling.
That’s the list. In all of MLB, Flaherty is 11th in ERA among pitchers with at least 50 innings. We’re talking ace-like production, right now. All-Star consideration, Rookie of the Year chatter—all valid, at this point.
Oh, and he’s 22 years old.
No more waiting. Jack Flaherty has arrived, and he’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun for a long while in St. Louis.
3. Yadier Molina is not human
Now onto a guy who’s been a heck of a lot of fun for a long while in St. Louis and is clearly not finished yet. It’s almost impossible to wrap your mind around the insane power surge Yadier Molina is putting on at this stage in his career. In 2017, Molina’s 18 home runs were his most since 2012, and good for his first double-digit home run season since 2013. It came, seemingly, out of nowhere.
Yet this season, he picked up right where he left off. And this past week, he topped himself in remarkable fashion.
In a single week, Molina launched five home runs and enjoyed two multi-home run games, single-handedly powering the Cardinals to Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Brewers. By June 23rd, Molina had already clinched another double-digit home run season.
Remember, folks: he missed an entire month of baseball with an unfathomably excruciating injury. And still, he's already to double digits once again.
Among NL catchers, only Yasmani Grandal has matched Molina’s 11 home runs, and he’s taken 60 more plate appearances to get there, exactly 24% more than Molina’s needed.
It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t compute.
My advice: don’t strain yourself trying to understand it. Just enjoy it. And while you’re at it, give Molina the All-Star votes he deserves. He’s currently in fourth-place among NL catchers.