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ANTA -- Lance Lynn is tied for the National League lead in victories. That may be rarefied air for a man 12 starts into his big league career, but Lynn didn't get to be 8-1 by chance.
He has been a nearly constant source of consolation for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. When replacing an ace of the staff, in this case the injured Chris Carpenter, the hope is for the next guy to be competent, reliable, useful. Instead of that, the Cardinals, with Lynn, got terrific.
Lynn was at it again on Memorial Day at Turner Field, as the Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves, 8-2, in the opener of a three-game series. This series represents a chance for somebody to get well. The Cardinals, beset by injuries, had lost 11 of their last 17 coming into this game. The Braves, in first place in the NL East just a week earlier, had been swept in two straight series and had lost seven games in a row.
Lynn was masterful, pitching seven innings, giving up two earned runs and allowing just five hits with one walk and eight strikeouts. He ran into a bit of two-out trouble in the fourth, when the Braves strung together three hits for two runs without making impressive contact. But before and after that, Lynn was in command.
How good was this performance?
"This was probably his best game," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He started on top. Really in his last start he was on the side, having a lot of side to side movement. [Today] he came driving the ball down through the zone. It was very impressive.
"You figure at this point they've seen quite a bit of him, and he's not a secret in the league anymore. For him to go out and with this start make it his best one, that says a lot about him. He was impressive today, all things considered. That's the kind of approach he needs to continue to have. He's going to have fun in this game for a long time if he can do that."
Lynn's only loss this year came against the Braves on May 13. He allowed up just three runs over six innings, but that start broke up a streak of excellence in which Lynn had given up a total of six runs over his first six outings.
"He had fire in his eye today, there's no doubt about it," Matheny said. "He knew that these guys got the best of him last time and he wanted to make sure that he did everything he could to give us a chance."
"It doesn't hurt my feelings any, that's for sure," Lynn said of beating the Braves. "They played a great game against me that day in St. Louis and there was a little added incentive in beating them today. But it was also the first game of the series and you want to get off to a good start and win the series."
Lynn agreed with his manager regarding the quality of his performance Monday. "I might have had my best stuff of the year, where I knew where everything was going for the most part," he said. "When you have that, you feel good, you feel confident and you're able to go right after people."
Lynn, 25, had demonstrated his worth pitching in relief in the 2011 postseason for the Cardinals. But still, Monday's outing was just his 12th Major League start. Pitchers in that sort of circumstance are not expected to pitch with such consistency. Lynn had a mild decrease in efficiency over his last three starts, but that was sorted out.
"I've been getting on the side of both my two-seamer and my four-seamer," Lynn said. Monday, he was back on top, literally and figuratively. He was throwing in the mid-90s to spots, running the four-seamer in on left-handed batters, effectively commanding both sides of the plate.
Along with being tied for the NL lead in victories with Cole Hamels of Philadelphia, Lynn has an ERA of 2.54. His WHIP is 1.07. His strikeouts-to-walk ratio is 3-to-1. He is where he is supposed to be. When Lynn was asked if he was "surprised" by his success this season, he did absolutely the right thing with this question, responding:
"No. With this team behind me, I've just got to go out there and get people out, because we're going to score runs. I have the luxury of having a great team behind me that scores lots of runs, so I'm just trying not to mess that up."
The Cardinals aren't surprised, either. What they see is a young pitcher whose intangibles are as impressive as his considerable talent.
"His approach has been great," Matheny said of Lynn. "What I have seen is even when he has some spurts where [his pitch execution] is not quite there, you can tell his makeup is right on. He's tough. He's got the kind of toughness that keeps coming. That's going to serve him well in this game."