Braden Looper has been a favorite player of mine mostly due to his funny pre-pitch face and his ridiculous batting average for a pitcher. But I've found a new reason to like Braden Looper besides his goofy smile. He is pitching lights out.
As Cardinal fans have yearned for quality starts to take pressure off the bullpen, Looper has delivered his last five starts. Posting a 2.18 ERA over that span, Looper has gone seven innings four of the last five. Never allowing more than two runs a game, Braden has arguably become the most dependable starter for the Redbirds.
So what has Looper been able to do to make his starts last?
His strikeout to walk ratio has been phenomenal, four to one, which has kept his pitch count right around the magical 100 pitch mark. He has also made 65 percent of his pitches strikes, working effectively throughout.
The timing couldn't have been better for him to step up. Kyle Lohse has seemingly collapsed, losing four of his last five starts, and Carpenter is back on the disabled list. Looper has risen to the occasion.
The teams Looper has pitched against haven't been garbage either. Three of the four games have come against playoff caliber teams, including the National League's first and fourth highest-scoring offenses (Cubs and Phillies respectively).
If the Cardinals do slip into the Wild Card, this is what gives me great confidence to have Looper receive one of the four post-season rotation spots.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals haven't made the most of Looper's impressive set of starts, only winning two of the last five games. Looper might have gone longer in some of those starts if offensive help wasn't needed. Both games against the Phillies and Cubs were one-run losses that spoiled spectacular starts. This has been the story all season long, as the offensive has put up two or less runs in 11 of his games.
One area to nitpick would be his ratio of ground balls to fly balls, nearly one to one. This becomes a problem when he gives up a home run, which has been four times in the last four games. Luckily, they haven't made as significant of an impact as it suggests, as they have all been solo shots.
A start against the Pirates seems to be a game where Looper could keep the high level of play intact. Hopefully by the end, he is still wearing that smile.