SAN FRANCISCO -- On a team that features a pair of postseason heroes in the starting rotation, one of them a former National League Cy Young Award winner and the other a two-time serious contender for pitching's top award, the rock of the starting rotation in 2012 was someone else entirely. Right-hander Kyle Lohse was as indispensible as any member of the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals, pitcher or hitter.
Lohse, who turned 34 earlier this month, led the Redbirds in starts and innings, providing quality work in bulk as the Cardinals dealt with a number of pitching injuries. He was the only Cardinals pitcher to top 200 innings, and only Adam Wainwright joined him in reaching the 30-start plateau. A pitching staff best known for the heroics of Wainwright and 2005 NL Cy Young Award recipient Chris Carpenter leaned heavily on Lohse in 2012.
The stability offered by Lohse during the regular season helped the Cardinals get through injuries to Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook -- three-fifths of their projected starting rotation from the spring. Lohse took the ball, threw strikes and got deep into games, helping take the pressure off of a bullpen that was beleaguered early in the year.
Now, as the club's rotation has hit a bit of turbulence in the postseason, it turns to Lohse again to smooth things out. To have him get into the final third of the game would be a significant boon for a team that has leaned heavily on its relievers lately.
"We've had our ups and downs as the rotation goes," Lohse said. "I thought coming into the playoffs, we've been doing a pretty good job in September and things just haven't worked out. You can't put more pressure on yourself to go out there and do more just because you need to."
Key stat: In his only other NLCS start, Game 3 in 2010, Cain pitched seven innings of scoreless two-hit ball.
Key stat: In his first two postseason starts this year, Lohse is 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA over 12 2/3 innings pitched.
At Busch Stadium
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 7.94 ERA Career: 3 GS, 0-2, 8.27 ERA
2012: 16 GS, 8-1, 2.33 ERA Career: 73 GS, 30-17, 3.40 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 2 GS, 1-1, 6.94 ERA Career: 8 GS, 2-3, 4.94 ERA
2012: N/A Career: 5 GS, 3-2, 3.78 ERA
Loves to face: Matt Holliday: 8-for-40, 10 K Hates to face: Carlos Beltran: 7-for-18, 1 HR, 5 RBIs
Loves to face: Aubrey Huff: 5-for-27, 4 K Hates to face: Ryan Theriot: 12-for-22, 2 2B, 3 3B
Why he'll win: Dating back to the middle of August, Cain has lost only one start -- Game 1 of the NLDS, in which he allowed three runs on five hits over five innings.
Why he'll win: Run support was the only reason Lohse didn't pick up a win in Game 4 of the NLDS. He lasted seven innings and gave up just one run on two hits.
Pitcher beware: Cain hasn't escaped the sixth inning in either of his two starts this postseason.
Pitcher beware: Lohse's only other NLCS start came in Game 4 last season, when he allowed three runs on six hits over 4 1/3 innings.
Bottom line: After a career year, Cain is just the pitcher the Giants want on the mound as the series heads to St. Louis.
Bottom line: After winning a career-high 16 games in the regular season, Lohse has continued his brilliance into the postseason.
Lohse started for the Cards in the NL Wild Card playoff game against Atlanta, and again in Game 4 of the NL Division Series against Washington. And when manager Mike Matheny had a choice between Lohse and Wainwright to start Game 3 of the NL Championship Series on Wednesday in St. Louis (3 p.m. CT on FOX), with the series tied at one game apiece after the Giants' 7-1 win in Game 2, he went with Lohse. Both Lohse and Wainwright will be fully rested, but it will be Lohse getting Game 3 (and likely a potential Game 7), and Wainwright waiting until the fourth game.
That's partly a result of the heavy load that Wainwright has shouldered in his first year back from elbow surgery. But it's also evidence of the trust that Matheny and his staff have in Lohse.
It's a trust that, in a sense, has been a long time coming. He's evolved over a 12-year career from a high-emotion power thrower to a more collected, controlled pitcher who throws a wide variety of pitches to a wide variety of locations.
The current version of Lohse leans on a sinking fastball and a changeup, augmenting them with a slider and occasional curveball. This was the second straight season he posted a career-best walk rate, allowing him to pitch efficiently deep into games.
"I feel like a completely different pitcher," Lohse said. "Back in those days, you look at my approach, I was out there throwing four-seam fastballs, trying to blow it by guys. You're not going to have too much success at that at 94 miles an hour. ... I didn't really have a sense of an approach of what I'm trying to go out there and do. Right now I'm trying to get ahead of guys, it's no secret, I'm trying to expand the zone, trying to get hitters to hit my pitch and my location."
While Lohse is not the prototype postseason hurler, overwhelming hitters with pure stuff, his location, movement and unpredictability have made him a handful for opposing hitters. A pitcher who put up a 5.54 ERA in the first nine postseason appearances of his career is dealing so far this October. He's allowed two runs on eight hits over 12 2/3 innings, with St. Louis winning both of his starts.
"He's been incredible at making pitches, from Day 1 in Miami, Opening Day, right up until his last start," Matheny said. "That just takes a great deal of physical skill and just mental toughness, to stay as locked in as he's been. But that's pitching. Pitching is location and changing speeds and height levels. And he understands the effectiveness of that."