ST. LOUIS — Check Shelby Miller’s numbers and he looks like the right man to start Game 2 of the NL Division Series for the Cardinals.
Miller was the Cardinals’ top starter this season at Busch Stadium, where Game 2 will be played Friday afternoon. He went a team-best 10-3 with a team-low 1.75 ERA in 16 starts. Compare those with his road numbers — 5-6, 4.57 — and he seems like an even more obvious choice to follow Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright in the best-of-five series.
But the Cardinals see otherwise. In what was a surprising decision at least to me, manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday afternoon that right-hander Lance Lynn will start Game 2. Matheny was not ready to say if Miller, Joe Kelly or Michael Wacha would start Game 3, which will be played on the road Sunday.
“It’s something that he’s earned,” Matheny said. “He has been very consistent for the last several starts. He’s really got a good tempo, a good feel for the ball, a good feel for the mound.”
Part of my surprise that Lynn was moved ahead of Miller was my memory. It went back further than the past several starts.
As awful as Lynn was in August — 1-4 with a 5.84 ERA — he arguably was the Cardinals’ top starter in September when the entire rotation was going strong. In five starts, Lynn went 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA and 36 strikeouts to 11 walks in 29 2/3 innings.
While there’s no questioning how different August and September were for Lynn, no one seems to have a good answer about what changed. Matheny said “weird stuff was happening” to Lynn and that he learned from it.
“He’s also carrying a great amount of confidence,” Matheny said. “Hopefully that’s something he’s going to be able to take to another level.”
Lynn was just as vague about his turnaround, almost like he didn’t think he pitched that differently.
“Being better when you need to be,” he said of his September surge. “You want to be as good and as confident as you can be at this time of year. I feel like I am.”
During his rough month, Lynn at times became visibly frustrated on the mound, which didn’t help his performance. He would be pitching well and then, boom, one broken-bat hit or a teammate’s misplay would cost him his focus and he would fall victim to a big inning.
With the proper guidance — Lynn has talked about Chris Carpenter being a huge help — he was able to regain his cool late in the season even when an inning looked like it was going awry.
“That’s part of the game,” he said of his struggles. “You can’t let it get to you. You’re going to have your good games, your bad games, your good innings, your bad innings. You can’t let them fester and turn into a problem or something that you take with you every time you go throw a fastball. You learn from it, you move on, you let it go and you get ready for the next one.”
Like Miller, Lynn also enjoyed far more success at home (9-3, 2.82 ERA) than on the road (6-7, 5.15). Like Lynn, Miller also came on strong in September after a rough stretch in August. Both finished with 15 wins, though Miller’s 3.06 ERA was almost a run better than Lynn’s 3.97.
Another area in which the two are quite different is post-season experience. Miller, 22, made only two relief appearances last October after a late-season call-up, working a total of 3 1/3 innings and giving up two runs.
Lynn, 26, has pitched 22 innings in the past two postseasons, including starts in Games 1 and 5 of the 2012 NLCS. Even though he hasn’t fared particularly well — he has a 4.50 postseason ERA — he knows the feeling of pitching in October more than any other pitcher on the club other than Wainwright.
“It’s not my first playoff experience, so it’s not anything new,” Lynn said.
Still, he admitted it was “an honor” to find out he would be starting the second game of the Cardinals’ postseason. Lynn said he found out shortly after he showed up for Tuesday’s workout. He said he was called into Matheny’s office and was told, “You’ve got Game 2.”
Lynn acknowledged his manager, turned around and walked out. He’ll get a chance to do his talking on the mound in Game 2.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.