The St. Louis Cardinals pulled off a remarkable second-half comeback to make the postseason, and, in the process, saw right-handers Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson blossom into an elite one-two pitching punch.
Last season Flaherty was one of the best young starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, recording a 3.34 ERA and holding opponents to a .199 batting average over 28 starts. This season has been a continuation of his 2018 success and then some.
In 32 starts, Flaherty has recorded a 2.85 ERA and 0.99 WHIP — which is fifth in MLB — while totaling 225 strikeouts and holding opponents to a .195 batting average. He’s overpowering hitters with his four seamer, deceiving hitters with his slider, and coming up clutch against potent foes.
Flaherty has arguably been the best starting pitcher in the sport the last 10 weeks. In the 15 starts he has made since July 2, Flaherty has recorded an astonishing 1.00 ERA, totaled 124 strikeouts, held opponents to a .142 batting average, and averaged roughly 6.2 innings per start. His second-half dominance could potentially put him in line to be a finalist for the National League Cy Young Award.
Last season Hudson came out of the Cardinals bullpen. This season manager Mike Shildt opted to insert Hudson into the starting rotation; it was the best audible of the offseason.
In the 32 appearances he has made this season, 31 of which have been starts, Hudson has recorded a 3.45 ERA. While he’s putting a lot of runners on base, he’s evading trouble, pitching at an efficient level, and giving the Cardinals a chance to win whenever he takes the hill.
Hudson has a consistent four-pitch arsenal (sinker, slider, four seamer, and curveball), but he heavily relies on his sinker and slider. Him doing so is an immense reason why he occasionally labors through at-bats and puts runners on base. In fact, his 1.41 WHIP is 57th among qualified starting pitchers. But he has continually been able to avoid giving up big hits and blowing games open.
It’s his first season as a full-time starter and only his second season in the big leagues. All in all, what more could the Cardinals ask for from a second-year pitcher? He’s already a reliable top-of-the-rotation arm.
Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright has been electric recently. Plus, Wainwright and Michael Wacha have a great deal of postseason experience under their belt, and 2018 ace Miles Mikolas has turned a corner after a bumpy start to the regular season; this is a deep starting rotation.
There’s plenty of potent pitching trios and duos in MLB, especially among postseason teams. The Los Angeles Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Walker Buehler; the Houston Astros have Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke; the Washington Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin; the Tampa Bay Rays have Blake Snell and Charlie Morton; the Atlanta Braves have Mike Soroka and Julio Teheran.
At the same time, Flaherty and Hudson are potent themselves and just as important to their team’s success as the aforementioned pitching trios and duos. They also have the upside, given their youth (Flaherty is 23, and Hudson is 25), to improve in the coming years.
The Cardinals were stagnant, looked dead in the water, and were searching for answers around the MLB All-Star break. Now they’re 90-69, going to the postseason, and likely going to win the NL Central. Yet their offense, which includes Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and others, has continued to underwhelm.
While Wainwright has been superb recently and Wacha and Mikolas have been better since the All-Star break, this pitching staff’s reliability, as a whole, comes down to Flaherty and Hudson. They’ve been the Cardinals’ two best starters, served as co-aces, and taken pressure off the rest of their pitching staff to perform at a high level.
Without the duo’s rise to prominence, the Cardinals wouldn’t be going to the playoffs; they’re the two factors that have evolved over the entirety of the regular season.
Questions will arise as to how Flaherty and Hudson will fare in October, as they’ve each never made a postseason start and will have their hands full in such play. In all likelihood, the Cardinals will face-off with the Braves in the NL Division Series, meaning their pitching staff will have to amass a potent offense which features the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Josh Donaldson, among others.
That offense is a power bunch. They swing for the fences, rope line drives to all fields, and have the firepower to put up double-digit runs on any given night. It’ll be paramount for the Cardinals to prevent the Braves from getting a lot of runners on-base the first time through the order, especially for Hudson’s sake, as it could lead to an early hook and put a lot of pressure on their bullpen.
Flaherty and Hudson aren’t hard-throwers; their velocities each chill in the low-to-high 90s. They’re deceptive, pitch to their strengths, and have improved in every leg of the 2019 season. If their success continues in the postseason and perhaps they get more production from their offense, the Cardinals will be as dangerous as any team in the postseason.
Regardless of factors pertaining to postseason success, one thing is abundantly clear: Flaherty and Hudson have become a potent pitching duo.