Kyle Lohse was an unlikely source of stability for the St. Louis Cardinals rotation this season, posting a 16-3 record with a 2.86 ERA over 33 starts for a team that suffered with struggles and injuries from Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
Now, as the Cardinals try to avoid a collapse after taking a 3-1 series lead, Lohse arguably represents the team's greatest reason for confidence as it enters Monday's NLCS Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants.
No, the 34-year-old veteran right-hander doesn't carry an "ace" label or have a perfect game on his resume like his pitching opponent Matt Cain. Nor does Lohse wield a household name or spots on many fantasy keeper league lists like his opponent.
But as Dave Cameron on Fangraphs writes, Lohse has actually been doing an excellent impression of Cain the past couple years, an outlier pitcher whose continued success has defied common thought in sabermetric circles.
Also, in this time, place and small sample size, Lohse has actually been performing better than the Giants pitcher. He is 2-0 in three starts this postseason, posting a 1.96 ERA with 13 strikeouts and seven walks over 18 1/3 innings pitched. That record includes a victory in the NL wild-card play-in game over the Atlanta Braves.
Cain, meanwhile, is 1-2 over three starts with a 4.67 ERA, 11 strikeouts and four walks over 17 1/3 innings pitched. The two pitchers met in Game 3 and while neither pitched well — Lohse walked five batters over 5 2/3 innings — it was the Cardinals who walked away with the win.
Lohse believes familiarity with the Giants lineup will give him a boost in Game 7.
"I've known these guys, now we played them six games," Lohse told reporters after Game 6. "I've seen enough of them. I know what I've got to do to be successful. I know last time I didn't have my best stuff, and I was able to stay away from the big inning.
"I know what I need to do, it's a matter of going out and doing it. I'm not going to lose any sleep, because I don't get any, so it won't matter."
Jon Roegele of Beyond the Box Score recently took an extended look at Lohse's stats and tried to find an answer for his sudden success after many year of basically being a league-average pitcher. His conclusion — which you should read — involves trust in his sinker ball, getting ahead in the count and a healthy dollop of luck.
"The bottom line to Cardinals fans, I'm sure," Roegele writes "is that they don't care how he's doing it, as long as he keeps doing it."
Both the Cardinals and Giants bullpens will be available should either starter falter early, but the team that gets the better outing from their appointed season extender will hold an obvious advantage.
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And while they might not have wanted him on the hill for a Game 7 in 2011 or a Game 7 in 2013, the Cardinals have to feel good with Lohse going out there for a Game 7 in 2012.
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