Kyle Lohse entered the season as the Saint Louis Cardinals No. 2 pitcher. He was their plan B in case anything went wrong with their ace Chris Carpenter.
It turned out things did go wrong with Carpenter. The 37-year-old required mid-season surgery, and since then he hasn't been his usual self. His decline has hurt the Cards rotation, to be sure. But sometimes plan B's end up working out better than the original plans in life—and in baseball. Lohse is such a case.
Lohse thus became the new ace of the Cardinals, and though they preferred (naturally) to win game 6 and have him available for game 1 of the World Series, having the staff ace available for a Game 7 is precisely what manager Mike Matheny wants and needs. Teammates seem to agree.
"Lohse was our ace this year," Skip Schumaker stated definitively.
Indeed he was.
Lohse posted the finest season of his 11 year MLB career, with an ERA of 2.86 and a 16-3 record. He logged 211 innings while allowing a WHIP of 1.090 and striking out 143 on the season. Lohse, in fact, was robbed of a 20-plus win season due to lack of run production in some of the losses and non-decisions.
It was Lohse that the Cardinals chose to pitch the wild-card play-in game against the Atlanta Braves, so it's fitting that they'll return to what prolonged their season to begin with tonight against the San Francisco Giants.
It will be the biggest start of his career, and he embraces the challenge.
"It's not my first elimination game of the year...it's going to be fun to be in this atmosphere. It's going to be fun to feel it," Lohse said regarding the task at hand.
Composure will be key, as it's easy for a pitcher to get shaken when things go awry in a game of such monumental importance. Lohse's take is simply that it will be "fun to block it out."
Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright has all the confidence in the world that Lohse can reproduce the greatness he has already shown this postseason.
"I'd love to see Kyle go out and dominate that game. He's definitely earned his stripes with us. We trust him to go out and pitch a good game," Wainwright said.
Wainwright will likely pitch in relief if Lohse finds himself in a bind, but that's unlikely. He has only given up four earned runs in his three postseason performances, and he's pitched at least five innings in all three games. His best performance of the postseason resulted in a loss, though, as he held the Washington Nationals to one earned run in seven innings while striking out five.
Game 3 was a challenge for Lohse though. He found himself in a number of jams, and he walked five while allowing seven hits. He just emerged from each jam with aplomb and was able to keep the Giants from putting runs on the board.
So, perhaps the real issue isn't even whether or not Lohse can pitch well enough for the Cards to pull this off. He can.
The real pressure is going to be on the Cards bats to produce the runs necessary to allow Lohse's dominance to matter. If they can give him the run production, they'll find themselves back in the World Series with a chance to repeat as MLB champs.