Lohse seeks first postseason victory in Game 3
Cardinals counting on right-hander to regain Series edge in Texas
ARLINGTON -- If there is a blemish on what the Cardinals have accomplished so far this postseason, it hovers over World Series Game 3 starter Kyle Lohse. Twice Lohse has taken the mound in October. Twice he has lost, posting a 7.45 ERA in the process.
That much is nothing short of a slow-developing trend. Going 0-4 with a 5.09 ERA over his first eight postseason appearances dating back to 2002, Lohse now boasts the second-most career regular-season starts (298) of any active pitcher without a playoff victory.
Call it nerves. Call it coincidence. Call it the fallout of playing for Tony La Russa. Whatever it is, Lohse is aiming to change it during Game 3 in Texas on Saturday night, a pivotal game for both teams. After the Rangers rallied late to take Game 2, the Cards are counting on Lohse to regain them the Series edge.
"They've got such power throughout their lineup in a ballpark that's going to be real crucial for me to keep it down and keep out of those big innings," Lohse said of the Rangers. "I'm not a flamethrower, so I've got to locate and hit my spots and keep them off-balance. I just really try to keep it simple."
It is a fine strategy, but one that went awry last week in the National League Championship Series. Pitching well over his first three innings against the Brewers, Lohse began crumbling in the fourth. Quickly came the hook.
- 2011 Regular Season
- Overall: 30 GS, 14-8, 3.39 ERA, 42 BB, 111 K
- Overall: 30 GS, 14-9, 3.39 ERA, 57 BB, 126
- Key stat: Career-best 2.00 BB/9. Fifth-fewest total walks in NL
- Key stat: Allowed just 13 HRs (fourth fewest among AL pitchers with min. 160 IP)
- At Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
- 2011: N/A
Career: 5 GS, 3-2, 6.75 ERA
- 2011: 15 GS, 8-5, 3.80 ERA
Career: 33 GS, 15-10, 4.73 ERA
- Against this opponent
- 2011: N/A
Career: 9 GS, 3-3, 6.66 ERA
- 2011: N/A
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: 8-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 16 road starts during reg. season
- Why he'll win: 5-0 with a 2.87 ERA in last seven starts (team is 7-0 in those games)
- Pitcher beware: 0-4 with 5.09 ERA in eight career playoff appearances (3 GS)
- Pitcher beware: Opponents hit .278 against Harrison at home this season; .235 on the road
- Bottom line: Rise to the occasion
- Bottom line: Just keep winning
"I got off to a good start, but I just made a couple of pitches that I wish I could have had back," Lohse said after that start.
Playing for La Russa in the postseason does not help. Whereas Lohse might have been allowed to work out of his own jams in a regular-season game, La Russa -- as per his reputation -- took no chances last week, removing Lohse in the fifth inning of Game 4 and Edwin Jackson in the third inning of Game 6. In the former case, it helped contribute to Lohse's personal October oh-fer.
His postseason career started off well enough out of the bullpen, with Lohse striking out six batters over five scoreless innings for the Twins in 2002. But he struggled somewhat in his only start against the Yankees the following October, then was ineffective in postseason cameos for the Twins in '04 and the Phillies in '07.
So far this postseason, it has been more of the same for Lohse, who is coming off his best regular season in years. Posting a 3.39 ERA over 188 1/3 innings, Lohse won 14 games, lost eight and produced the ninth-lowest ratio of walks per nine innings (2.01) of any starter with that many innings.
Lohse's signature control has been there over the first two rounds of the postseason -- he has walked just one batter in 9 2/3 innings. But the results have not. Coughing up two home runs in his first outing against the Phillies, and then four extra-base hits against the Brewers, Lohse has instead displayed a troublesome susceptibility to hard contact.
That won't fly against a Rangers lineup that punished right-handed pitching to the tune of a .460 slugging percentage in 2011. Though most Texas hitters do not boast extensive personal histories against Lohse, infielder Michael Young has haunted him, with three home runs in 30 career regular-season at-bats. Third baseman Adrian Beltre owns just one hit in nine lifetime at-bats against Lohse, but that too was a homer.
"The majority of their guys, it will be my first time facing them," Lohse said. "I'm not going to say it works completely in the pitcher's favor, but it definitely helps that they haven't faced me. This game's such a game of adjustments that I'm going to be looking at what they've done so far and they're going to be looking at me on film, and it's just who figures who out first."
Working against Lohse will be the warmer weather in Arlington, where the Rangers slugged a collective 95 points higher this season than they did on the road.
"I think you're always comfortable in your home ballpark," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "This is our home park, so we feel comfortable here. But that doesn't just automatically say you're going to win a ballgame. It's played between the lines."
So no, Lohse does not need to be perfect Saturday, but he may not be around long if he is not. The combination of Texas' bats and La Russa's impatience means that Lohse will need to be sharp early or risk another quick hook -- and another missed opportunity for his first postseason victory.
"That's the way he's been doing it," Lohse said recently of La Russa. "Our bullpen has been doing a good job. I don't think he's going to let anything happen too much. I know that going in."
"Mostly, it comes down to -- you make a move," La Russa said. "If it works, 'Hey, what a good move.' If it doesn't work, 'What was he thinking? He should have done something else.' That's just the name of the game."