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Cards may have been too quick to start Lynn

After late-season resurgence vs. weak opponents, struggles emerged in Game 2

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals don't make many mistakes in this area, but it is possible that they overestimated the recent resurgence of Lance Lynn.

Lynn, handed the start in Game 2 of a National League Division Series against Pittsburgh, was hit hard and often on Friday by the Pirates. The result was a 7-1 St. Louis loss to tie the best-of-five series at a game apiece.

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The Cardinals got very little done offensively against Pirates rookie starter Gerrit Cole, so Lynn was far from solely to blame for this defeat. But Lynn's performance was a reminder that less than one month ago, his position in this rotation was precarious.

After a series of inadequate starts, including two against the Bucs and one against the Reds, Lynn was basically given one more chance. That was Sept. 11 in Milwaukee, where he gave up no earned runs over six innings. Lynn then threw three more quality starts to finish the regular season.

But those four straight positive starts may have been somewhat misleading. Two came against the Brewers, one came against the Rockies, one came against the Cubs. There isn't anything resembling a winning team in that trio.

There wasn't any recent evidence that Lynn would fare well against a postseason-caliber team. Perhaps this was a scheduling quirk, but the evidence that Lynn had turned his season around turned out to be something less than substantial.

This is not said to diminish in any way Lynn's ability, which is obvious and considerable. The right-hander won 18 games in 2012, his first full season in the Majors. Even after struggling in the second half this season, Lynn finished 15-10 with a 3.97 ERA.

But while Lynn was 2-1 in five starts against Pittsburgh this season, he also had a 5.60 ERA against the Pirates, the highest of any Cards starter. And after pitching very well out of the bullpen in the 2011 postseason, Lynn struggled in the '12 postseason, going 1-2 with a 5.72 ERA over six appearances, two of which were starts.

On Friday, Lynn gave up five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. Among the seven hits he allowed were three doubles, a two-run home run and an RBI single to Cole.

"From the get-go, I had good stuff," Lynn said. "I made four pitches, and they all went for extra-base hits."

But it was somewhat more than that.

"The only time he got into trouble is when he didn't control the counts," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of Lynn. "I thought he established his offspeed pitches as well as we've seen him do that all season long. But when we got into disadvantaged counts, it was a completely different at-bat. So that was pretty consistent."

On paper, at least, the Cardinals have a surplus -- a healthy surplus -- of starting pitching. The Cards at this point in the NLDS are going with Joe Kelly in Game 3, Michael Wacha in Game 4 and putting Shelby Miller, a 15-game winner as a rookie, in the bullpen. Miller worked one inning in relief on Friday, giving up one run.

There are not many clubs that would have the luxury of taking a 15-game winner out of the rotation. In fact, it appears the Cardinals are the only club in this situation. But they can point to the numbers against Pittsburgh and make sense of their decisions.

Kelly was 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA against the Bucs. Wacha, who flirted with a no-hitter for 8 2/3 innings against Washington in his last start, gave up two hits over nine innings during two appearances against Pittsburgh. Miller, meanwhile, was 0-4 with a 5.32 ERA against the Pirates.

"I'm not a gambler by nature," Matheny said when he was asked about the selections for starters in this series. "Just take the information in. Just like we've talked with everybody from the beginning. We're really happy with how all of our starters ended the season. We felt very comfortable throwing any of them in any particular spot. But when this day became available to throw [at] home, [with] the way Lance has been throwing the ball, we were very comfortable with getting him in there, the same way with Michael or Joe or any of them, and Shelby just the same."

Lynn wasn't terrible against the Pirates, but he also wasn't anything like good enough. Maybe this was a game destined to go in the other direction, given the quality of Cole's start for the Bucs.

But starting pitching has been a real source of strength and stability for the 2013 Cards. Friday in Game 2, St. Louis' starting pitching was one reason for a five-run deficit in the fifth inning.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

St. Louis Cardinals, Lance Lynn