ST. LOUIS -- It's hard to think of things Adam Wainwright hasn't yet accomplished or experienced in his already impressive Major League career, but he's going to check one more box on Thursday.
Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium (7 p.m. CT on FOX) -- with the Cardinals ahead in the best-of-seven series, two games to one -- will mark the first LCS start for Wainwright in his seven-year big league career. He's made postseason starts. Wainwright has gotten the final out of the World Series. But as a starter, this is the deepest he's ever pitched in October.
Maybe more important, it's also the first time Wainwright has started in the postseason following a dud of an outing. On Friday, in Game 5 of the Cardinals' NL Division Series win against the Nationals, he got all of seven outs and was knocked around for six runs by an aggressive Washington offense. The St. Louis lineup and bullpen famously bailed Wainwright out, of course, and the Cards advanced to the NLCS.
It was nonetheless an extremely unfamiliar sight to anyone familiar with October baseball -- Wainwright had been charged with two runs in 23 1/3 innings in his postseason career before that start. He joked that it was by design, since he'd pitched well and lost in two previous postseason starts.
Key stat: All three of Lincecum's outings this postseason have come in relief, going 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA over 8 1/3 innings.
Key stat: Wainwright made the shortest start of his career last time out, lasting only 2 1/3 innings of NLDS Game 5.
At Busch Stadium
2012: N/A Career: 5 GS, 3-1, 3.21 ERA
2012: 17 GS, 10-6, 3.73 ERA Career: 80 GS, 44-26, 2.70 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: N/A Career: 7 GS, 5-1, 2.89 ERA
2012: 2 GS, 1-1, 2.13 ERA Career: 6 GS, 2-4, 3.04 ERA
Loves to face: David Freese: 0-for-4 Hates to face: Carlos Beltran: 7-for-14, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBIs
Loves to face: Gregor Blanco: 1-for-6, 1 K Hates to face: Hunter Pence: 11-for-38, 3 2B, 1 HR
Why he'll win: After enduring the worst regular season of his career, Lincecum has seemingly returned to normal out of the bullpen this postseason.
Why he'll win: Wainwright was stellar in two starts against the Giants this year, allowing only three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings.
Pitcher beware: For all his struggles this season, Lincecum was especially inefficient on the road. In 16 road starts, he went 6-6 with a 6.43 ERA.
Pitcher beware: On five days' rest this season, Wainwright was 6-6 with a 4.41 ERA.
Bottom line: Under perhaps the greatest scrutiny he's faced in the big leagues, Lincecum will make his return to the Giants' starting rotation.
Bottom line: Wainwright was bailed out in his last start thanks to a brilliant comeback by the Cardinals' lineup, and now he has a chance to bounce back.
"The last game, I completely choked," Wainwright said, before quipping, "All part of my plan. You lose the first two and you're pitching great, you've got to wake the team up. I don't want them out there sitting back on their heels. I purposely went out and pitched terribly to be unselfish."
The joke was met with appropriate laughter, but it's not entirely unreasonable to wonder what Wainwright has in the tank at this point. In his first season following elbow surgery, the Cardinals expressed a desire to limit his innings -- perhaps to somewhere in the 150-180 range. Instead, Wainwright is at 206 2/3 and counting.
Of course, that's not the whole picture, and neither is Wainwright's rocky start on Friday. In Game 1 of the NLDS, he tossed 5 2/3 very strong innings against those same Nationals. Wainwright finished the regular season with an excellent start against Washington. It's been an up-and-down year for the right-hander, who finished April with an ERA in the sevens, pitched brilliantly from May through most of August, then hit a bump over the season's final few weeks.
To Wainwright and manager Mike Matheny, the truth is that the midseason run, and the rocky September run, are just some of those things that happen to pitchers.
"We've seen him have some exceptional runs this year, and just like any other pitcher, some struggles -- especially a pitcher coming off Tommy John [surgery]," Matheny said. "Early on, he had a little trouble with his consistency and just finding the feel. But in general, he's responded very well, and most of that's been by his hard work."
There's some data to back that contention. Wainwright's velocity in the last start against Washington was right in line with where it's been all year. His curveball had outstanding break. Wainwright certainly missed some locations, and the Nationals were certainly all over what he did throw. But there was little indication that his stuff was in any way compromised.
"I would say, right now, my curveball is probably the best it's ever been," Wainwright said. "And I would say the zip of my fastball is maybe a touch down from where it has been in the past. But I think physically, from a 'How's your arm feeling?' kind of standpoint, my arm feels probably better than it usually does at this point in the year, for whatever reason, whether it be all the rehab or whatnot. But certainly, the beginning of the season was a grind for me. ... I'm well past that now. My arm feels great."
If Wainwright and the Cards advance, his next start will almost certainly be in the World Series. That would be an awfully nice turnaround from what he had been facing: the idea of ending his season on a sour note, with a poor outing and a defeat.
"One thing I'm very confident about," Wainwright said, "I look at the last game and I didn't pitch well, but I am so confident that this team and organization is going to give me so many more chances in the playoffs to rebound from that that I really don't even worry about that last start. For one, we won the game. For two, I plan on having a long postseason career. I really think we have a team and an organization that's going to make that happen. You just look to your next start, and hopefully I have a whole lot more playoff starts to prove that I'm worthy of pitching in the LCS."