'We're way better than this': Cards look for answers as skid continues

May 4th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Just outside the Cardinals’ clubhouse at Busch Stadium is the team’s video room, and from that general area emanated two shrieks of frustration following Thursday afternoon’s loss. Seconds after the outburst, pitcher entered the dressing area. As it turns out, he was just getting started, delivering a critique of his performance and his team’s approach to attacking hitters with two strikes.

Flaherty, who is seen as a stopper for the Cardinals’ staff, had plenty to say after he surrendered 10 runs, nine hits and one walk, as well as another two-strike home run in the Angels’ 11-7 win over St. Louis at Busch Stadium. The Cards lost for a sixth straight time, allowing their third sweep of the season.          

After being staked to an early 2-0 lead, Flaherty gave up four runs in the second inning, with three of them coming on Luis Rengifo’s home run off a rolling 76 mph curveball in a 2-2 count. It was the MLB-worst 19th two-strike home run allowed by a Cardinals pitcher.

He exited in the next frame after getting hit in the left hand by a Rengifo comebacker, ending his day at 2 1/3 innings.

“If I was average, or put together an average start, we’d win this game, because guys came out and swung it and gave me two runs,” said Flaherty, whose ERA jumped from 3.94 to 6.29 following the worst performance of his MLB career. “Then, I can't go put up a shutdown [inning] after we get two runs there, and I give up the home run.

“Things just continue to unravel. We’ve got to do a better job as a staff, in general, and I’ve got to do a better job. I just take it [to mean] it wasn't good enough.”

The Cardinals had hoped to use this homestand to get their season back on track following a 2-8 West Coast road trip to close out April. But the flip of the calendar and the Angels offered little relief, as the visitors completed their first sweep of the Cards in franchise history. In 10 series so far, St. Louis is just 2-7-1, sitting 10 games back in a division it was expected to win. That has led to some boos from an increasingly uneasy fan base.

, who had two hits and two RBIs after the Cardinals had fallen behind 11-2, said he had no problem with the fans venting their frustration. The players also had much higher expectations than a 10-22 record and the franchise’s worst start in 50 seasons.

“One thing that I like about our fans is they have high expectations,” said Goldschmidt. “I’ve said that before when things are going good and bad, too. Look at the performance. It doesn’t lie.”

Flaherty, who can become a free agent at season’s end, hoped to regain the command he had in 2019 and early in the '21 season and become the kind of ace the Cardinals could count on to stop a losing streak. He did that two weeks ago in Seattle, pitching well enough to interrupt a two-game skid. But Thursday’s outing resulted in a 13th loss over the past 16 games for St. Louis, which now owns the NL’s worst record.

“Of course, everybody’s [expletive] frustrated,” Flaherty fumed. “It is what it is, but we’re way better than this. That’s the thing -- we know we’re better than this and we’re going to climb out of this. At some point, we’re going to figure it out. I was hoping it would be today and I was hoping to put together a good start, but I didn’t do it.”

Particularly at issue, Flaherty said, is how the Cardinals’ pitchers are approaching two-strike counts. The team ranks last in MLB in two-strike average (.218) and homers (19) allowed. In all, nine St. Louis pitchers have allowed a two-strike homer, with (five), (four), (three) and Flaherty (two) leading the way.

Catcher Yadier Molina retired following the 2022 season and pitching coach Mike Maddux left for the Rangers to be closer to his Texas home. The Cardinals signed free-agent catcher to replace Molina and promoted pitching strategist Dusty Blake to pitching coach. Those moves have yet to yield favorable pitching results.

“We have to do a better job of putting guys away,” Flaherty said. “Whether that’s throwing the pitches that are actually going to put guys away or executing better. … I just saw they had [nine] hits off me with two strikes, so you’ve just got to do a better job of executing.”