St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn may have saved his spot in the starting rotation with a solid six innings Wednesday when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to one run in a game the Cardinals eventually won 5-1.
But his spot in the rotation should have been safe regardless, even if he might not have deserved it with his recent performances.
Lynn has a 13-10 record but had been awful or close to awful in his five previous starts before Wednesday as the second half of his season fell apart for the second consecutive season.
He began the season nearly the same way he did his rookie year in 2012. He won 10 of his first 12 decisions in 2012 and won 10 of his first 11 this season, but what happened next is what keeps Lynn from being a force in the rotation.
Lynn went 3-3 after the All-Star Break in 2012 until the Cardinals sent him to the bullpen in late August to rest and work on his mechanics.
That decision helped, as Lynn all four of his starts in September as the Cardinals made their push to qualify for the second wild-card spot. Of course, the Cardinals could afford to let Lynn regroup in the bullpen for a couple of weeks because they had a rotation that still had Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia, and Chris Carpenter was on the way back from the disabled list.
They had no such luxury this season when Lynn lost five of six decisions between Aug. 4 and Sept. 5 and saw his earned run average jump from 3.78 to 4.37.
Lohse signed with the Brewers in the offseason, Garcia blew out his shoulder in May and Carpenter never could get back from his arm injuries. Plus, manager Mike Matheny does not yet have enough confidence in Jake Westbrook to move him back into the rotation from the bullpen, which is where he’s been since he returned from a back injury.
The Cardinals also have two rookies already in the rotation with Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and their only other options are rookies Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, who have both been inconsistent in their first seasons in the major leagues.
So Matheny must continue to give the ball to Lynn every fifth day regardless of his performance. The pressure in this situation is not on Matheny; it’s squarely on Lynn, who must consistently pitch well for the Cardinals to maintain their slight lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division to avoid having to play in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, as they did against the Atlanta Braves in 2012.
Lynn often gets frustrated when his outing does not go perfectly. For example, he gave up three homeruns and four runs total in five innings Sept. 5 against the Reds in Cincinnati, and his body language after each was terrible.
It’s fine to be frustrated. The Cardinals certainly wouldn’t want their pitchers to be happy after they give up a homer, but they also need their pitchers to refocus immediately and get the next hitters out to avoid a bad at bat becoming a bad inning and a bad game. The Cardinals lost Lynn’s latest start against the Reds 6-2 in part because he struggled to bear down and push through the adversity that is part of nearly every Major League Baseball game.
He was much better Wednesday against a much weaker lineup. The Brewers don’t have near the quality hitters of the Reds, who could easily be a playoff opponent for the Cardinals this year.
But the Cardinals don’t necessarily need Lynn to be a postseason starter. They can find three pitchers to take care of the starts in October. They instead need Lynn to be at his best in September so they are positioned for success once the playoffs begin.