Lohse can strengthen Cards' NLCS advantage

Lohse can strengthen Cards' NLCS advantage

ST. LOUIS -- Waiting his turn is nothing new for Kyle Lohse, who will be going on 11 days' rest when he takes the mound for the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday.

The Cards started Lohse in Game 1 of their NL Division Series at the Phillies on Oct. 1. Since then, the 31-year-old has been in a holding pattern. Now, the veteran right-hander is in position to give his team a firm grip on the series.

After St. Louis held off Milwaukee, 4-3, in Game 3 on Wednesday night, the Cardinals lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1.

If there is any extra pressure to give his team a comfortable grip on the series, Lohse isn't acting like it.

Tale of the Tape: Game 4
2011 regular season
Overall: 33 GS, 13-10, 3.69 ERA, 66 BB, 134 K
Overall: 30 GS, 14-8, 3.39 ERA, 42 BB, 111 K
Key stat: Career-best 23 double-play balls (6th in NL)
Key stat: Career-best 2.00 BB/9, fifth-fewest total walks in NL
At Busch Stadium
2011 regular season: 3 GS, 2-1, 3.43 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 4-4, 3.50 ERA
2011 regular season: 14 GS, 6-5, 3.67 ERA
Career: 57 GS, 22-16, 3.73 ERA
Against this opponent
2011 regular season: 5 GS, 3-2, 5.34 ERA
Career: 19 GS, 8-8, 3.91 ERA
2011 regular season: 3 GS, 1-2, 2.37 ERA
Career: 17 GS, 4-8, 4.80 ERA
Loves to face: Lance Berkman, 3-for-32
Hates to face: David Freese, 6-for-17
Loves to face: Corey Hart, 2-for-17
Hates to face: Ryan Braun, 9-for-29
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA in two second-half starts in St. Louis
Why he'll win: 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his past three starts at Busch Stadium
Pitcher beware: Only one runnner caught stealing in 20 attempts this season
Pitcher beware: 0-3 record in seven playoff appearances (two starts)
Bottom line: Slow things down
Bottom line: Keep rolling at home
"We've got to win every game," he said. "We don't look at it as we are going to take it easy just because we're leading the series."

Game 4 will feature a couple of battle-tested starters as Lohse is matched against Milwaukee left-hander Randy Wolf.

Lohse hasn't seen game action since Oct. 1, making him well rested.

"I don't really see it being too big of a problem since I was able to do it successfully during the second half," Lohse said. "You know, I would have liked to have been out there before, but the way it worked out, I'll take the extra rest and I'll be ready."

Lohse previously went 10 days between starts in midseason. On July 8, he faced Arizona, going 6 2/3 innings, and he next pitched on July 19 against the Mets, working 5 2/3 innings.

"During the second half, I had a couple of layoffs like that where actually I think right before my last start against Milwaukee," Lohse said.

Lohse had a span of eight days off before he took on the Brewers on Sept. 6, when he threw six shutout innings in a win.

Being ahead in the series marks the first time in quite a while the Cardinals have had a little breathing room. They came from 10 1/2 games back in late August to win the NL Wild Card, and they trailed the Phillies 2-1 before claiming the best-of-five NLDS.

"We've got to win two more games, and it isn't different, just because you're up 2-1," right fielder Lance Berkman said.

The Brewers won the first game of the NLCS.

"I hope we don't lose two in a row just to put our backs up against the wall," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "We are really not going to stop and think about it, because there's so much yet to do. But if you stop and think, you may get distracted and you start walking around and digging yourself, and we don't want to do that."

Tunnel-vision certainly is needed in the postseason.

Like the rest of his team, Lohse has it.

Typically, when a starter gets an extra couple of days between starts, he will throw more than one side bullpen session. Lohse's situation in the playoffs has been different, because he's been available in the bullpen.

"I've just tried to stay sharp, throwing flat grounds," the right-hander said. "I had my regular bullpen session the other day, and felt good. Maybe I threw a little bit more than I normally would have, just to kind of get a little of the extra energy and just try to stay sharp. I'm doing everything I can to keep myself mentally prepared, and that's about all you can do."

Lohse enjoyed a solid regular season, going 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 30 starts. He logged 188 1/3 innings, and he was effective throwing strikes, walking 42.

In the regular season, Lohse was 1-2 (2.37) in three starts against Milwaukee. Lohse may have not pitched in a while, but he brings plenty of playoff experience to the mound on Thursday.

The veteran has reached the playoffs with three different teams -- also Minnesota and Philadelphia -- and this will be his eighth appearance and third start. Lohse has 18 2/3 playoff innings under his belt, but he has yet to record a win.

Lohse also is no stranger to adversity. In late May 2010, he underwent surgery after experiencing a rare forearm injury. The procedure was called fascial release surgery, and it is an unusual condition for a baseball player.

Getting sharp and fully healthy has taken a while. In 2010, he was 4-8 with a 6.55 ERA in 18 starts.

"Health is a key part of him being what he can be, which is what he's been this year most of the time," La Russa said. "He showed a lot of guts the last couple of years, going out there with 75 percent of his ammunition and at times getting his brains beat in. This year, he's been healthy."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.