PITTSBURGH — The second half of the 2019 season set such a ridiculously high standard for Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty that anything he did short of a shutout during his scattershot, upended season of 2020 would have come up shy, like a pole vaulter clipping the crossbar with his heel.
Quietly, systematically, with his schedule unfolding predictably this season, Flaherty is gathering familiar momentum.
And now he takes it into a start against a familiar foil.
Flaherty can become baseball's first 5-0 starter Saturday night with a victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals' righthander and Boston Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez are two 4-0 starters with games Saturday, and Rodriguez's starts about 30 minutes after the Cardinals' game at PNC Park.
In his career, Flaherty has his most wins and his most successful numbers against the Pirates. In nine starts against the NL Central foes, Flaherty is 6-1 with a 1.89 ERA.
Wins are hardly the best measure of a starter, so consider what Flaherty has done since a dud against Cincinnati on opening day. More than half of the earned runs he's allowed so far this season in five starts came in that one game, when he allows six runs to the Reds. In two of his previous three starts, he's not walked a batter, and since opening day at Great American Ball Park, he's:
• He's allowed 21 batters in 24 innings (including hit batters), and has a 0.79 WHIP.
• He's struck out 23.
• He has held opponents to five extra-base hits in their past 82 at-bats against him, and hitters are slashing .159/.231/.244.
• He and the Cardinals are 4-0 in his past four starts.
Genesis Cabrera's two innings Friday gave the Cardinals their full-strength bullpen for a close game on Saturday. Both Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes along with setup man Giovanny Gallegos should be available after not throwing a pitch Friday in the Cardinals' win.
Flaherty is the only 4-0 starter entering play Saturday in the National League. The American League has three of them. In addition to Rodriguez, Cleveland's Aaron Civale and the White Sox's Carlos Rodon are also 4-0.
It helps of course that few starters have received as much run support as Flaherty. The Cardinals have won all five of his previous starts, including the opening day start. In Flaherty's games, the Cardinals have scored 39 runs.
That's almost eight runs per game for their opening day starter.
The lineup the Cardinals back Flaherty with Saturday will look familiar, and manager Mike Shildt has given every indication that it should and likely will for awhile here.
1. Tommy Edman, 2B
2. Dylan Carlson, RF
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Nolan Arenado, 3B
5. Paul DeJong, SS
6. Tyler O'Neill, LF
7. Andrew Knizner, C
8. Harrison Bader, CF
9. Jack Flaherty, P
1. Adam Frazier, 2B
2. Phillip Evans, 3B
3. Bryan Reynolds, CF
4. Colin Moran, 1B
5. Gregory Polanco, RF
6. Kevin Newman, SS
7. Ka'ai Tom, LF
8. Michael Perez, C
9. Trevor Cahill, P
There will be coverage throughout the evening here at StlToday.com and Sunday morning in the pages of the Post-Dispatch and online here.