ST. LOUIS--When St. Louis Cardinals righthander Lance Lynn made his postseason debut as a rookie in 2011 he had appeared in only 18 big-league games and hadn't pitched in more than two months, and yet he showed none of the youthful hesitance or awe that can bloom every October.
"I was just young enough and naive enough not to let it matter," he said.
Now he's experienced enough to know how much it does.
When the Cardinals open the National League division series against Pittsburgh this week at Busch Stadium, Lynn will start Game 2 of the best-of-five series, in part, because he has more experience than the other options. Manager Mike Matheny confirmed last week that ace Adam Wainwright would draw Game 1 on Thursday but waited until Tuesday to announce Lynn as the starter for Game 2. Lynn's assignment means when the series goes on the road the Cardinals are going green.
At least one of the two road games in the series will be started by a rookie, and both will be assigned to first-time playoff starters. The top-seed Cardinals wanted to know their opponent before finalizing the NLDS rotation, but their choices for the two road starts will be among Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. They combined for 11 innings in the postseason, all of them last autumn and none of them from Wacha.
Readying the rookies will be part of the team meetings today.
"Have the team together (and) just get a quick opportunity for our veterans to talk about what the expectations are and what some of the misconceptions are out there about what needs to be done," Matheny said. "It's really just reassuring them and reaffirming the philosophy we've had from day one. We just go play the game.
"I expect of them what I've seen from them all season long," Matheny continued. "I need them to really, truly believe that what they've done so far this year is exactly what they need to continue to do, regardless of how many people try to tell them it's different."
Young and naive is a fine way to go through October.
Lynn, still young at 26, pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in the 2011 National League championship series, his first postseason experience. He made a sudden move from relief to the rotation last October for the NLCS against the Giants and went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts, including the Game 5 that tilted the series. Lynn started strong this season before meandering through the middle of the season, undone by a mix of bad luck, bad innings and what Matheny described as an inability to shed the "clutter" from pitch to pitch.
On the brink of being jettisoned from the rotation in early September, Lynn found a foothold with three weeks to go. He finished with four consecutive quality starts and a 1.09 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. He struck out 30 and allowed only 27 baserunners while going 2-0.
"Being sharper, I guess," Lynn explained Tuesday after the Cardinals had an hour-long workout at Busch Stadium. "Being better when you need to be. You want to be as good and as confident as you can be at this time of year."
Lynn's resurgence dovetailed with the rotation flexing its strength in September. That's no coincidence. As Lynn rifled through his final four starts, all of them against losing teams, the Cardinals' starters as a whole had a 2.38 ERA from Sept. 11 on, the lowest in baseball. In September, the Cardinals' rotation had a 2.40 ERA, which led the majors. Overall, this season the Cardinals had a 3.42 ERA, which ranked second in the National League, and did so by getting 52 starts from rookies. Miller made 31 of them.
The Cardinals' brass had discussions every day over the weekend and will again today about the makeup of the 25-man roster. Some of the final calls will depend on the opponent, which became Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Matheny said "there are plenty of stats" to guide the Cardinals' choices.
Lynn brings divergent stats into the conversation when it comes to opponent -- a 3.38 ERA against Cincinnati; a 5.60 ERA vs. Pittsburgh -- but success at home. Only Wainwright had more innings at Busch this season, and Lynn's 9-3 record with a 2.82 ERA at home contrasted with a 5.15 ERA and a 6-7 record on the road. Matheny acknowledged that Lynn's home numbers and his experience edge over the younger pitchers were part of why he got the Game 2 honor.
"But more than anything else it's how he's been throwing the ball," Matheny said. "I like the way he's been rolling. It's a good fit."
Miller has even better stats at Busch than Lynn, with a 10-3 record and a 1.75 ERA. His road stats (4.57 ERA in 15 starts) are also better than Lynn's, which could have tilted the decision for Game 2. Miller's 0-4 record with a 5.32 ERA against the Pirates will loom as a consideration.
The Cardinals won all five of Miller's starts in September, and the 22-year-old rookie went 3-0 with a 2.76 ERA. His, however, was the highest ERA of the starters in September. Kelly went 4-2 in the month with a 2.10 ERA, second lowest to Wacha's 1.72. Kelly entered the final weeks of the season presumably targeted for a road start in the postseason because of his success there this season. Kelly went 5-1 with a 2.07 ERA away from Busch.
The righty was also unbeaten at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, a place the Cardinals rarely won this season. In 14 innings there, Kelly allowed one run (0.64 ERA).
"I like the mound," he said, somewhat facetiously.
Matheny said Tuesday that the team has "the information you (media) guys have," and that from that goulash of statistics they had to arrive at a rotation. Asked if the team would consider downshifting to a three-man rotation -- and using Wainwright on short rest for Game 4, if one is necessary -- Matheny said that topic would be discussed today. But "most likely not," he said. That leaves the road games, in hostile territory, to the kids. Whether it's Kelly and Miller or Wacha gets in the mix, their first postseason start will be a road start. Matheny said it's an outcome they accept to get Lynn the start at Busch.
The starters are certainly young and hardly naive, so Matheny suggested that with all those numbers available, there were only a couple he planned to stress to the rookies.
"It's still 60 feet, 6 inches (from the mound) and 90 feet to each base," the manager said. "They need to trust that. The expectation isn't any different from me or the coaching staff, and it shouldn't any different from themselves."
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