Why did the Cardinals let ace Jack Flaherty throw 100 pitches in a game decided after the first inning?


It’s not often that you see all suspense of a winner-take-all game in the MLB playoffs deflated by the end of the first inning, but that’s pretty much what happened Wednesday during Game 5 of the NLDS between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals batted around and then some in the first inning, hanging a postseason-record 10 runs on the Braves and increasing their lead to 13-0 in the third inning.

Obviously, that was great for the Cardinals. That didn’t stop them from making an odd choice on the pitching side, however, of a game that had been all but decided.

Cardinals let Flaherty throw 100 pitches with double-digit lead

While the bats got it done for the Cardinals on Wednesday, their starter Jack Flaherty was the reason to be confident going into the game. If there was a Cy Young for the second half of a season, the right-hander would have been a shoo-in. Flaherty posted a 0.91 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 99.1 innings after the All-Star break.

Flaherty was the hottest pitcher in baseball entering the playoffs, but the Cardinals unexpectedly didn’t need an ace on Wednesday. They just needed a pitcher to eat innings. Flaherty was definitely up for that job, but so was everyone else in the Cardinals bullpen.

That situation led some to expect Flaherty might only see a few innings of action, if any, before getting pulled to keep him fresh for the approaching NLCS.

The Cardinals let him pitch as much as he could instead, eventually pulling him from the game after six innings of work and 104 pitches.

ATLANTA, GA  OCTOBER 09:  St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty (22) throws a pitch during the National League Division Series game 5 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves on October 9th, 2019 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jack Flaherty could have exited early on Wednesday The Cardinals still gave him a full workload. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was definitely an interesting choice on the part of Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. Because Flaherty was given a full workload, the earliest he could reasonably pitch in the NLCS is Game 3 on Monday. Had he pitched, say, two innings on Wednesday, he might have been able to start even earlier.

That’s still a fine problem for the Cardinals to have, but it’s puzzling at a time when teams are doing everything possible to get an edge in the playoffs.

Mike Shildt explains why Flaherty stayed in

After the game, Shildt was asked why he didn’t pull Flaherty earlier in the game. The manager cited Flaherty’s desire to stay in, an apparently very high pitch count that hadn’t yet been breached and the desire to give the Braves no way to mount an incredible comeback.

From a transcript of the news conference:

We thought about that. Jack had the longer fifth, got out of it with a ground ball. And typical Jack, he wanted that sixth inning, he wanted to go out -- he wasn't real pleased with what that looked like.

And we were on a pretty strict count at that point with him. But he went out, I think he had maybe a 10-pitch inning, if that, for a clean six. It was good for his mentality, the way he was competing.

But you know at some point, look, you can't -- we score 10, that's a really good team over there. So you don't want to sit there and take it lightly. You want to make sure you bring it home. Hard to start managing for the next series before you win this one. But I understand the question and we thought about it. And once he got to the sixth, it was clearly enough.

Whatever the reason for staying in, Flaherty will now almost certainly need to wait until Game 3 before he takes the mound next. Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright will likely be the starters for Game 1 and 2 instead in the NLCS. Whether losing the option of as much Flaherty as possible hurts the Cardinals remains to be seen.

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