SAN FRANCISCO -- Jack Flaherty was looking for a bounce-back game before going into the All-Star break.
His seven-inning, one-run day delivered. But the Cardinals offense couldn’t back him up, as St. Louis dropped the final game and series before the All-Star break, 1-0, to the Giants on Sunday afternoon.
Flaherty sailed through four perfect innings and six no-hit innings before his only mistake changed the game when Evan Longoria hit a slider down the middle 398 feet to left field.
Before Sunday, Flaherty was 0-2 with a 7.82 ERA and eight home runs allowed in his last five starts.
“I needed to get myself together,” Flaherty said. “Coming out and being on the attack more. Taking these adjustments from the whole first half and trying to put it all in one game. It’s more of a mentality kind of thing of where I’ve been at. And today was the best I’ve felt in regards to that.”
The Cardinals hope that Flaherty’s start is a catalyst for the second half, which begins Friday at Busch Stadium against the D-backs. St. Louis sits at .500 but only two games out of first place in the National League Central and a half-game back from the second-place Brewers.
Here are three questions that need to be answered in the second half.
Can the starting rotation go deep?
Flaherty showed what he’s capable of in Sunday’s start against the Giants. The Cardinals hadn’t had a starter go past the sixth inning since Michael Wacha on June 28 in a 2-0 loss to the Padres. Flaherty’s six-inning no-hit start was the deepest by a Cardinal this season.
The rotation going deep into games will be critical for the Cardinals as they begin the second half. Not only will it give the bullpen rest, but also the ability for matchup situations late in the game.
“When a guy is in control like that going six or seven -- we do that with our starting pitching and the way our offense is coming around, the way we play as the rest of the team, we’ll be a dangerous, dangerous team,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Not only in the regular season but beyond.”
The Cardinals starters have shown ability to go deep. Wacha threw seven against the Padres on June 28 and has taken no-hitters into the eighth and ninth before. Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas have made it through the eighth this year and have thrown complete games in the past.
“They know how to do it,” Shildt said. “But when you see it -- you see that rhythm, that tempo, that imposing of will -- it helps you say, ‘Hey, that’s how we do things, that’s how we pitch here.’ That can be contagious. Jack set that tone today, and Waino will pick it up after the All-Star break.”
Which offense is it?
The Cardinals started off the season 20-10 and averaged .267 with 40 home runs during 29 games in March and April. Then, as the record began to even out in May, the Cardinals offense stalled. In 53 games during May and June, the Cardinals averaged .228 with 57 home runs.
The last two series saw the Cardinals break out of that rut and score 27 runs in the first six games in July.
On Sunday, the Cardinals only had six hits, but four hard-hit balls in the seventh inning might have resulted in some runs had Giants center fielder Kevin Pillar not dove for two of them or left fielder Alex Dickerson not been in the perfect spot to catch Matt Wieters’ line drive.
“We hit a lot of balls right on the screws,” Shildt said. “That’s the thing. That’s why we love the game, and some days it reminds us of how humbling it can be. No excuse, but all you can do is hit it hard.”
Despite a 4-5 road trip to end the first half, the Cardinals saw improvement in the damage the offense did, and they hope to capitalize on that after the break.
Does their record say who the Cardinals are?
St. Louis is right in the thick of the National League Central that has the first-place Cubs (47-43) and last-place Reds (41-46) separated by 4 1/2 games, by far the closest division in the Majors.
After missing the playoffs for three straight years, the Cardinals have been adamant that 2019 is the year to win. Separation from .500 in the second half could help the Cardinals keep pace or jump ahead in the standings and get back to the playoffs.
“The record is what it is because that’s how we’ve played,” Paul Goldschmidt said. “We’ve played .500. If we want to make the playoffs, we’re going to have to play better in the second half. Hopefully we’ll come out and do it, starting on Friday.”