Cards’ Flaherty can state case for Cy Young vs. D-backs

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Don’t look now, but St. Louis right-hander Jack Flaherty has interjected himself into the National League Cy Young conversation.

Since July 7, Flaherty has been nothing short of an ace.

Flaherty, who is scheduled to oppose Arizona right-hander Mike Leake in the second game of a three-game series in Phoenix on Tuesday, is 6-3 with a 1.07 ERA in 14 starts, a stretch that began with a 1-0 loss at San Francisco on July 7, when he gave up one run and two hits in seven innings.

Flaherty (10-8, 2.96 ERA) has 113 strikeouts against 21 walks in 92 1/3 innings in that span, holding opponents to a .148 batting average. He has given up more than two runs only once in the run, as the Cardinals have pulled away to a 3 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central with their 9-7 victory in the series opener Monday.

While the Cardinals have clinched a postseason berth, Monday’s loss eliminated Arizona from playoff contention.

“It’s not like (Flaherty) found a pitch or did anything too dramatic,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said.

“He’s been able to put everything together consistently. This guy has had success in this league prior. (It’s) just the consistency of a couple of things. His in-between start effort is tremendous. His preparation is outstanding. His attention to detail is very mature. Then it is just about going out and executing his pitches, controlling counts.”

Flaherty’s season record is more a reflection of his run support than his stuff. He has been given an average of just over four runs a game, and his last three losses have come in games in which he gave up one, two and three earned runs.

He has taken the next step after his first full season in 2018, when he was 8-9 with a 3.34 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 151 innings.

“This is a league that can adjust to you,” Shildt said. “There are no secrets out there. To Jack’s credit, he has been able to grow from his own experience and other people’s experiences and has evolved to be able understand how to use his stuff. Understanding situations and not making situations bigger than they are. Just making pitches.”

Flaherty is 0-1 in one career start against Arizona, losing a 4-2 decision in Phoenix last season, but he will have the culprit that night on his side this time. Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer in the fifth inning was the deciding blow.

Leake (12-11, 4.38) is 3-3 since joining Arizona at the trade deadline and has made five straight quality starts, the most recent a 5-4 victory over Miami on Sept. 18, when he gave up two bases-empty homers.

He has given up a major league-high 40 homers, one more than Detroit’s Matthew Boyd. Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy gave up 41 last season, the most since Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo gave up 46 in 2011. James Shields gave up 40 in 2016, and no other pitcher has given up as many as 40 since 2005.

“For me, they are more of taking chances at this point,” Leake said of the homers. “Kind of learning and still continuing to grow, if that makes sense. The home runs are chance pitches that are not quite getting where they are supposed to get.”

Leake spent 2016-17 with St. Louis, where he was 16-24 with a 4.46 ERA. He pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a no-decision against the Cardinals on July 3 when he was with Seattle, and he is 5-7 with a 4.11 ERA against them in 18 career games, including 17 starts.

–Field Level Media

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