Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: Another Masterful Performance By Jack Flaherty. Plus, Tracking The Cubs

The Daily Redbird Review:

FIRST PITCH: Prospering from another night of parsimonious pitching, the Cardinals won for the 20th time in their last 25 games in a 1-0 victory over the Giants on Tuesday at Busch Stadium.

The first-place Cardinals remained three games ahead of the second-place Cubs, who defeated the Mariners 6-2 on Tuesday.

With the Astros losing at Milwaukee last night, the Cardinals have the No. 1 record in the majors since the All-Star break at 34-16. That’s a .680 winning percentage.

BASEBALL HERO: Jack Flaherty was masterful again, dominating the Giants during the finest starting-pitching performance of his young career. Flaherty was nicked for one hit in eight shutout innings, with eight strikeouts and only one walk.

Flaherty’s Game Score of 92 ranks first on his list of 61 career starts for the Cardinals. Flaherty’s top three Game Scores have all come over the last five weeks.

Here’s where Flaherty ranks among MLB starting pitchers in an 11-start stretch that began July 7:

— ERA of 0.90, No. 1

— Third with a fielding independent ERA of 2.44.

— Second with 70 and ⅓ innings pitched.

— Second with 2.7 WAR; only Justin Verlander (3.2) has more.

— No. 1 in allowing the fewest homers per nine innings, 0.51.

— No. 1 for lowest batting average against, .141

— No. 1 for lowest slugging percentage against, .224

— No. 2 for lowest onbase percentage against, .209.

— Fourth in strikeout-walk ratio, 5.0

— A strikeout rate of 32.3 percent that ranks ninth over that time.

TURNING POINT: One swing of the bat, from Marcell Ozuna in the sixth inning, produced a solo home run. The only run. And the only run that Flaherty and closer Carlos Martinez needed.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Flaherty and Ozuna led the way, of course. But Carlos Martinez is thriving during a busy stretch. Pitching for a fourth consecutive day, which is rare for a closer, Martinez worked around a ninth-inning hit to bag his 18th save on Tuesday night. In his last four appearances, all since Saturday, Martinez has allowed only one of 14 batters to reach base. He’s struck out seven and issued no walks.

Even with his frequent adventures and close calls, Martinez has converted 18 of 21 save opportunities this season.

This year MLB teams are converting only 63 percent of their save opportunities.

The Cardinals lead the majors with a save percentage of 80 percent.

Also…

Another wowee defensive play by center fielder Harrison Bader. A diving catch. He does this every day, right? … plus, there was another nice grab by right fielder Dexter Fowler.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: The Cardinals had only five hits and were held to three runs or fewer for the fifth time in the last seven games. They’ve scored four or fewer runs in six of the last seven. But because of the outstanding pitching, the Cardinals are 5-2 in the last seven contests.

SECOND GUESSING SHILDTY: Nada.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: He started Jack Flaherty.

BREATHLESS: Since 2002, the best second-half ERA by a Cardinals starter (minimum 10 starts) belongs to Andy Benes (1.71 ERA in ‘02.) Flaherty has a 0.85 ERA in 10 second-half starts.

ON DECK: Michael Wacha, working on three days rest, will start for the Cardinals (6:45 p.m. Wednesday) against the Giants’ cranky lefty Madison Bumgarner. Mike Shildt has his bullpen lined up to supply plenty of innings, so Wacha’s start will be relatively brief. Bumgarner has a 3.62 ERA on the season. But in July-August he worked to a 2.96 ERA and allowed a .212 batting average, .258 OBP and .358 slug.

TRACKING THE CUBS: I’ll make it easier to digest by breaking this off in notes form:

1. The North Siders rebounded from losing two of three at home to the Brewers by sweeping a two-game series against the Mariners at Wrigley Field. That gave the Cubs a 3-2 homestand. They’re off Wednesday and will open a four-game set at Milwaukee on Thursday. The Cubs are 8-7 overall against the Brewers this season but the Crew have gone 4-2 vs. the Cubs at Miller Park.

2. After missing four months of baseball while on personal leave to deal with a crisis in his marriage, Zobrist received an extended ovation from Cubs fans Tuesday and played a role in his team’s 6-1 victory by reaching base twice, and scoring twice. “It was a very warm welcome,” Zobrist told reporters after the game. “I just feel really grateful that I get to be part of this and be part of being a Chicago Cub. People make me feel special around here.”

3. Catcher Willson Contreras returned Tuesday after a one-month shutdown (strained hamstring) on the Injured List. Contreras provided immediate impact with two hits, a walk and a homer. But it’s not as if the Cubs were destitute at catcher during Contreras’ time on the IL. Filling in as the starter, backup Victor Caratini had a .358 OBP, .472 slug and .830 OPS in 25 games.

4. Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester on the return of Zobrist and Contreras:
“We missed them for a while, and then you add them back and it’s a boost, that shot in the arm.”

5. Kyle Schwarber is busting pitchers as of late; in his last nine games he’s batted .429 with a 1.036 slugging percentage — plus four homers and 10 RBIs.

6. The Cubs’ July 31 trade for slugger Nick Castellanos continues to pay off in a huge way. Castellanos kept up his barrage by smashing a three-run homer in Tuesday’s victory. In 31 games for the Cubs, Castellanos has 10 doubles, 12 homers, 24 RBIs, and a .709 slugging percentage.

7. Cubs manager Joe Maddon is all fired up by Schwarber’s hitting frenzy and the reappearance of Contreras and Zobrist.

“We should be full go,” Maddon told the media late Tuesday night. “They’re all energetic players. That’s what we need. September provides its own energy. Listen, we’re in a race. There’s no reason to show up and not feel that way. And watch Schwarber, that’s really fun to watch.”

8. Full go? Not quite? I’ll explain:

— Kris Bryant, bothered by a sore knee, is batting .229 with a .299 OBP and .397 slug since July 24.

— Javier Baez is batting .232 with a .281 OBP and .366 slug in 89 plate appearances since Aug. 6.

— After a strong first half in which he slugged .457, swatted 14 homers, and posted an .812 OPS, Jason Heyward has four homers, a .360 slug and a .660 OPS since the All-Star break. In park adjusted runs created (wRC+) Heyward was eight percent above league average offensively before the break; in the second half he’s 28 percent below league average.

— According to FanGraphs Cubs hitters have the worst contact rate (73.5 percent) among the 30 NL teams. And on pitches in the strike zone their 83.2% contact ranks 28th.

9. RH starter Yu Darvish — scratched from his last scheduled start because of forearm tightness — may or may not pitch on Saturday in Milwaukee.
Darvish has been excellent in nine starts since the All-Star break, with a 2.93 ERA and 33.6 percent strikeout rate. “Certainly we’re hopeful,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said during his weekly visit with a Chicago sports-radio station. “If not Saturday, then hopefully soon after Saturday.”

10. According to Wednesday morning’s Playoff Odds report at FranGraphs, the Cubs have a 35.3 percent chance of winning the division and 81.2% probability of making the playoffs.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie