ST. LOUIS — In the wake of a second sub-par start from club ace Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn is tasked Sunday with keeping the Cardinals from descending into an 0-2 pit in the NLCS.
Lynn pitched himself into the national conversation this year, reaching 15 wins for the third straight season on the back of a 2.74 ERA. 24 of his 33 outings were quality starts, and he held hitters to a .238 while averaging 6.2 innings per start.
Now, the 27-year-old will take the stage in Game 2, eager to show he’s evolved into one of the game’s elite.
“In 2011, I was a reliever, so a lot of different approach. I was a rookie in 2011, so I really didn't know what I was doing. I was just along for the ride,” he said of his first playoff run. “Now being this is my fourth straight NLCS, I have a little bit of a clue what's going on. Still don't have it figured out, but I'm looking forward to this one.”
Lynn faced the Giants twice in the 2012 NLCS, making it only 3.2 innings in both starts. The first was a five-hit, four-earned-run affair that the Birds eventually won 6-4. The second came in Game 5, when Lynn was tagged for four hits. the Giants scored four runs off him, though none of them were earned and the big righty struck out six.
None of his six October starts have reached six complete innings, and he often was derailed by an inning that mushroomed out of control. That is not the Lance Lynn that takes the hill in 2014, however.
“He's really just kind of, I believe this year, really figured out the kind of pitcher he needs to be on a consistent basis,” Mike Matheny said. “And we've talked about his demeanor on the mound. We talked about him harnessing his emotions and being able to stay consistent when things don't happen. Whether it is calls behind the plate or plays behind him, he has stayed the course and benefitted with consistency.”
That consistency shepherded the Cardinals to a division title this season, as Lynn acted as the team’s stopper while Wainwright struggled through August and Michael Wacha fought back from injury. Through Shelby Miller’s inconsistencies and Justin Masterson’s ugly starts, Lynn remained a fixed point in the St. Louis rotation.
He will be asked to carry the load again Sunday, matched up against the red-hot Jake Peavy as the Giants look to strike a decisive blow.
“I think we forget still that this is a relatively young pitcher,” Matheny said. “He's won a lot of games and has pitched some big games, and continues to shine on the big stage.”
Lynn will go a long way to restoring faith in the Gateway City if he can hold the Giants in check. As the series goes forward, the Cardinals need a pitcher to make a statement. Wainwright is 0-for-2 on that front but may get a third shot, as Matheny said before Game 2 there are no plans to skip him in the rotation.
“With what I know now, I'd say no. But we are always flexible and waiting to see. But this is our ace. We're not here now if we don't have him,” the manager said. “When he feels right, and sometimes it is goes from start to start. When he feels right, we want him on the mound as much as anybody in the game.”
With respect to Wainwright (whose 20 wins and 2.38 ERA certainly command it), the Cardinals may want him on the mound, but the guy they need there is Lance Lynn.