ATLANTA – Snubbed from the All-Star team on multiple occasions and lost among rotations featuring Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse could be considered one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball.
He’ll get the chance in the spotlight come Friday.
The Cardinals have tabbed Lohse to start their one-game, winner-take-all wild card showdown against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. And it says something about the season he’s had that Lohse was selected even though Wainwright was available and deserving of consideration as well.
Lohse went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts for the Cardinals this season. He allowed more than three earned runs in just five starts all season and was easily their most consistent starter from the season’s start to finish.
“It feels real good to know that they trust you enough to go out there and pitch in a one-game playoff,” Lohse said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid. I get to go out there and do it. I’ve had a good year, I feel like I did everything I could this year to help us get in this position and I’m going to do everything I’ve been doing all year come Friday.”
The right-hander has certainly enjoyed the best years of his 12-year career in St. Louis. He was 63-74 with a 4.82 ERA in eight seasons before joining the Cardinals in 2008 and is 55-35 with a 3.90 ERA in five years since.
Lohse won 15 games during his first season with the Cardinals in 2008 before signing a four-year, $41 million extension that fall. But pitching with a rare forearm condition the next two seasons from 2009-10, he went just 10-18 with a 5.54 ERA.
He arrived healthy in 2011 and has earned every penny the last two seasons. Lohse went 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA last season, leading the eventual World Series champions in both wins and ERA.
Proving to be one of the best pitchers in the National League when healthy, Lohse has combined to go 30-11 with a 3.11ERA in 63 starts the past two seasons. And his teammates would agree.
“He’s been our most consistent guy all year,” said Carpenter. “You might not think he’s an exciting guy because he doesn’t throw 95 miles-per-hour, he doesn’t strike out 250 guys a year, but when he’s healthy, the year he came here and he won 15 games and the last two seasons, he’s been one of our best pitchers that goes out there every fifth day. He’s been consistent. You can count on him doing what he’s doing and you can count him on to win.
“He deserves this game. He deserves to go out there and take it on and I’ve become close to him, he’s able to take that pressure and handle that responsibility. I know he’s going to be looking forward to it. I’m excited about watching him go out and pitch.”
As impressive as Lohse’s numbers appear in 2012, they actually should be even better. The right-hander has nine no decisions in which he allowed two earned runs or less and his three losses came by scores of 3-2, 3-2 and 5-4. It’s not a stretch to say Lohse should have at least 21 or 22 wins.
But when the Cy Young talk comes up in the National League, R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are the usual names mentioned. Lohse is nowhere to be found.
“That’s up to you guys,” Lohse said. “I come here, I prepare myself and I do my work. You guys have been around and I’m not a guy that’s going to stand up and say, ‘Look at me.’ That’s not in my nature. I love the pressure and all the other stuff that comes along with winning a big game but I’m not going to go out there and try to top myself.
“I’m not out there saying, ‘Hey look at my numbers, I should looked at as something different.’ I did my job if I keep us in the game, pitch well and it’s not up to me to validate myself. People can think what they want. I don’t really care.”
Lohse struggled in his only start against the Braves this year, allowing five earned runs on two home runs and nine hits in five innings on May 30 in Atlanta. It was one of just four starts all season where he allowed five earned runs.
Some of the individual numbers of Braves hitters against Lohse aren’t pretty either. Chipper Jones is 6-for-13 with a home run, Freddie Freeman is 2-for-3 with a home run, Dan Uggla is 5-for-15 with a home run and Martin Prado is 6-for-14.
But none of that matters come Friday when the slate gets wiped clean.
“It was a rough one, but you learn,” Lohse said of the earlier meeting. “That was kind of a turning point for me, that month. I figured some things out that I did incorrectly that game and it’s fun. I’ll make the adjustments I need to make and we’ll go out there and have a good plan. My thing all year has been to go out there and execute a game plan and to put together something good and go out there and do it.
“I don’t think a whole lot of stuff matters other than what I go out there with that day. I felt great and healthy coming down the stretch here and I’m going to go out there with my best stuff and go as long as they let me.”
Lohse watched last year while Carpenter won a deciding Game 5 in the Division Series with a 1-0 win over Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Then he watched as the ace went out on three days rest and beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series.
But that won’t be the case Friday. All eyes will be on Lohse as he looks to continue what he’s done the past two seasons. And maybe this time folks will notice.
“I’m ready,” Lohse said. “I’m excited to get a chance to go out there and get to feel what ‘Carp’ got to feel last year. It’s been a good year and I just want to keep it going.”