The only thing on earth hotter than the St. Louis Cardinals might be the 23-year-old hurler at the top of their starting rotation.
In fact, Jack Flaherty's hot streak predates the Cardinals' 23-8 stretch since August 9 by a month. In a dozen starts dating back to July 7, the right-hander has racked up a 0.80 ERA with 95 strikeouts and 18 walks in 78.1 innings.
"That's what pitching looks like," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said after Flaherty shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday to notch his second straight start of eight scoreless innings, according to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Phenomenal job."
Because Flaherty started 2019 off with a 4.90 ERA through his first 17 assignments, the run he's on is probably too little, too late to make a real difference in the National League Cy Young Award race. Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Hyun-Jin Ryu are still the men to beat there.
As far as the Cardinals must be concerned, however, what really matters is their previously beleaguered rotation now has a clear No. 1 for the postseason, not to mention 2020 and beyond.
It's not the biggest surprise Flaherty has found a groove as a major league ace. He was a first-round pick in 2014 and a consensus top-100 prospect by 2018. Last year also saw him embark on a rookie season that featured a 3.34 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 151 innings.
In light of these things, the real surprise was how much Flaherty struggled through the first three months of this season.