MLB playoffs: Why Cardinals' decision to leave in Jack Flaherty with big lead could come back to bite them in NLCS

The Cardinals completely trucked the Braves to get to the National League Championship Series for the fifth time in the past nine years. The Cards overcame a 2-1 series deficit with back-to-back wins to close things out and turned Game 5 into a laugher early on. It was a near-perfect night for St. Louis. The only blemish was manager Mike Shildt's use of ace Jack Flaherty. That was managerial malpractice in my book. 

The Cardinals led 10-0 after the top of the first inning. The game was over, for all intents and purposes. Playing the rest of the game was a formality. It was time to get the bullpen up, looking ahead to the NLCS. Flaherty was warmed up, but if he didn't throw any pitches in the game, surely he could be ready to start Game 1 of the NLCS or Game 2 at minimum. It wouldn't have been the end of the world to have Flaherty throw one inning if they didn't have time to get anyone ready for the first. 

After the top of the second inning, it was 11-0. Shildt should have told Flaherty he was done. Surely someone could have been ready to pitch by now and the Cardinals have a good bullpen. Just turn it into a bullpen game and save your ace. 

After the top of the third inning, it was 13-0 Cardinals. The Braves had long since been buried. The series was over. And Shildt just kept sending Flaherty back out there. 

I could keep going. He ended up extending Flaherty to six innings and 104 pitches. 

What if he had picked up an injury? 

Further, Flaherty batted for himself in the top of the sixth after hitting Ronald Acuna with a pitch that could have been deemed intentional by the Braves. What if they decided to retaliate and hit him with a pitch? 

They didn't, but how is none of this stuff going through Shildt's head? Even if it was, he didn't act on it. Now Flaherty can't pitch until Game 3 of the NLCS, a series in which the Cardinals are going to be the underdog. Unless they extend the series to seven games or win before seven, Flaherty will pitch just one time in the series while two inferior pitchers are going to potentially get the ball twice through six games. 

Not only that, but Flaherty is already pushing his workload to levels never before seen. He threw 182 2/3 innings last season between Triple-A and the majors last season. He's now at 209 between the regular season and the playoffs. What if he hits a wall? The Cardinals will need at least four more starts from him if they have hopes of winning the World Series. Is he really going to stay fresh once he gets up in the 235-inning range? 

We have no way of knowing how things will transpire moving forward, but I'd sure have loved to have those cards in the deck. 

Shildt told reporters after the game that he didn't even think about pulling Flaherty until after the fifth (via Joe Trezza) and taking him out earlier would've been "pretty brazen." 

I'm completely lost on the idea of keeping the bullpen fresh. Throwing one inning and then having a day off Thursday is all the freshness bullpen arms need and they are far less important as individuals than Flaherty. He should be the priority. 

It's hard to botch a 13-1 win, but looking at the big picture, Shildt may have done just that. The name of the game isn't to win the NLDS. If this was the World Series, it would have been acceptable even if unnecessary. That the Cardinals start the NLCS against a really tough opponent in two days makes this a major error. 

Shildt just won a series in which he pulled a lot of correct levers, but if they lose in the NLCS behind some poor starting pitching performances, we will look back as his mind-boggling handling of Jack Flaherty in a blowout Game 5 NLDS win. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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