Lohse has a case for one-game playoff start

ST. LOUIS – As the defending World Series champs prepare for what they hope will be another memorable push deep into the postseason, the question has already begun to spur discussions and debates around town.

Should they qualify, who will start the one game Wild Card playoff?

Some say Adam Wainwright. Others say veteran Chris Carpenter, who will make his season debut Friday at Wrigley Field. But Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, the pitcher currently on schedule to pitch the one-game playoff reminded why he’s no slouch either.

Continuing his run as the Cardinals best and most consistent starter this season, Kyle Lohse tossed seven shutout innings and allowed just four hits to help the Cardinals beat the Houston Astros, 4-1, in the series opener at Busch Stadium.

It was the league leading 21st time this season that Lohse went at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less. Lohse improved to 15-3 on the season and lowered his ERA to 2.71, the fourth-lowest total in all of baseball.

So how would Lohse feel about starting a potential one-game playoff should the Cardinals qualify?

“I’d love to,” Lohse said. “I’m not one to shy away from big spots. I feel like if it comes down to me pitching that wild card game, I want the ball. I feel like I’m not going to go out there and be somebody I’m not. I’m going to go out there and pitch the way I have all year and I think that’s good enough.

“I’ve seen how it could work. I can’t do anything about it until we get there. Today was good, tomorrow starts a new rotation for me and I’ve got all my work to do. I’m not looking past my next start.”

Lohse may not be the flashiest or most well known starter on the Cardinals staff. But it’s hard to argue with anyone calling him their best this season. The right-hander has allowed more than three earned runs in just four of his 31 starts and has given up two or less in 23 of them.

If not for some bad Luck, Lohse could easily be leading the league in victories. He arguably should already have at least 20 wins. The right-hander has 13 no decisions this season, including nine in which he gave up two earned runs or less.

“To be able to be as consistent as he’s been is really a huge testament to the style of pitcher he is right now and you can’t take that away from him,” said manager Mike Matheny. “He’s striving on being that guy for us to really set the bar for the rest of the starters and he’s been that all season.”

Asked if Lohse should be in the mix for the Cy Young Award, Matheny said, “If we would have been able to hold some of the leads that he had, you guys could do a better job looking up those numbers, but there’s no question he’d right in the top of that mix.

“Still with a 15-3 record he’s got to be there in the talk, but he had a lot of bad breaks that happened when the bullpen couldn’t hold on to it or some freakish things during his starts that took some wins away but he should be right there at the top of the league leader in wins in my opinion.”

The veteran right-hander signed a 4-year, $41 million extension with the Cardinals in the fall of 2008 but the first two years couldn’t have gone any worse. While pitching with a rare forearm condition in 2009-10, Lohse struggled to a 10-18 record and a 5.54 ERA.

But the right-hander has certainly earned every penny the past two seasons after surgery fixed a rare forearm condition and allowed him to return to form. He led the World Series Champions a year ago in both wins and ERA, going 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA. He earned the start in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Phillies.

And he could end up getting the nod in a big game yet again.  Lohse has two regular season starts remaining and his current schedule would have him start the fifth to last game of the year. That would put him on turn to start a possible one-game playoff for the second wild card spot or the wild card game itself, likely in Atlanta against the Braves.

The current schedule has Carpenter and Wainwright pitching in the final series of the year, making them unavailable for any one-game playoff situation.

But with the way he’s pitched this year, it would be hard to have any problem with Lohse getting the start. And while the debate is sure to remain the topic of conversation at the water cooler the next two weeks, Lohse plans to get ready for Sunday’s start against the Chicago Cubs.

“We’re not talking about that until it happens,” Lohse said. “We still got a ways to go and anything can happen between now and then. We just have to get there. We have to play every day like it’s our last.”

The Cardinals have 14 games remaining in the regular season and enter Wednesday with a 1.5 game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild card spot.