Before I tell you why Lance Lynn will be the MVP of the NLCS, let me give you a little backstory on the big fella from Brownsburg, Indianapolis.
For a guy who won 48 games in his first two seasons in the Cardinals rotation, Lance Lynn hasn’t gotten a lot of love from the fans. There were a variety of reasons and they were blunt.
“He’s not a team guy. He pouts on the mound.”
“He gives up too many big innings.”
“He isn’t as cool as Joe Kelly.”
“He breaks down in the second half of the season.”
“He gets a lot of run support.”
They aren’t completely false, but they hide a good pitcher who is thriving at the moment. Lynn did hit walls in 2012 and 2013 in the rotation. He would glide through April and May only to run into a brick wall in June and July.
Lynn doesn’t pout on the mound. He is an intense individual. No one said Chris Carpenter pouted. Jaime Garcia is known for pouting. Lynn is a fireball out there, taking every pitch and moment seriously.
Lynn did allow the big inning in more than a few of his starts in 2012-13. He would be fine until the 5th or 6th and then allow 3-4 runs. However, those starts weren’t as frequent as some would think. Mistakes are often exaggerated depending on how fans feel about the player.
Lynn doesn’t make jokes with Jim Hayes or make himself as outgoing as Adam Wainwright. He isn’t here to be a comedian or try to be extra kind to the media, who have a job to do and can’t be trusted to write heartwarming things. Lynn’s job is to pitch and that has been his job since the moment he stepped on a baseball field.
I was critical of Lance Lynn last year but I always thought there was more he could do. I didn’t think he had reached the ceiling of his ability. I wasn’t confident in him taking the mound in the playoffs. Then I had to take a further look at his stats. I had given Lynn the eye test up until I saw that his fielding independent ERA was actually lower than his regular earned run average in 2013. Lynn didn’t depend on his fielders as much as other pitchers. Lynn is old fashioned. He can strike batters out. He had 180 and 198 strikeouts in his first two seasons in the rotation. He doesn’t walk a lot of batters either. His back to back seasons of 200+ innings is also a big factor in his value. In a day and age where pitchers are dropping like flies and “quality” starts are cheapening overall innings counts, Lynn has been a horse in that department as well.
While other will pouring happy Redbird syrup over Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly last year, they didn’t give Lynn any credit for his work during the regular season. They had no idea how much the man would grow in 2014.
He won 15 games. Sure, he did that in 2012 and 2013. His ERA was down to 2.74 and he only allowed 13 home runs in 203 innings pitched. His strikeouts went down but so did his WHIP(walks and hits per inning). Lynn was able to satisfy the baseball cards mafia and become an economical pitcher on the mound. He wasn’t letting his emotion get the best of him. Here’s the crazy thing. He was better in the second half of 2014 than the first half, when it came to individual pitching stats. He also won those 15 games without as much run support. In 2012 he received 5.1 runs of support. He only got 3.2 in 2014. Lynn was pleasing the baseball card stat mafia and the hardcore sabermetric crowd. In 2014, he became a complete pitcher and someone that an analyst could mistake for a top of the rotation arm.
That is why I like Lynn to be the MVP in this series against the Giants. He has been the secret weapon for this rotation. He isn’t Adam Wainwright on the mound or in front of the camera but he is a steady performer who isn’t wilting and only getting stronger. A game after Waino was banged around in LA, Lynn held the Dodgers in check for 6 innings, allowing 2 runs on 7 hits and striking out 8. It wasn’t a brilliant outing but it stabilized the rotation.
On Sunday, he will stop the Giants and propel his team into San Francisco. This is Lance Lynn’s time to shine. He will take center stage and own it. While Waino will pitch well in this series, Lynn will be the one that finally convinces the national media, fans around the world and the critics in St. Louis that he not only is here to stay but he will be a top of the rotation guy for years to come. He’s smarter these days. He doesn’t depend on his defense. He throws three different fastballs. A four seam, two seam and a cutter. He mixes in a curveball but 80 percent of the time on the mound, Lynn fires fastballs. There’s an old school devilish streak in that pitching style that is hard to dislike.
Lynn may answer questions with 2 short sentences and not smile a lot, but he knows what his job is and does it well. On this stage this next week with his team reaching for a chance to go to the World Series, Lynn will be ready.
He remembers the 2012 NLCS as much as anybody. In two starts in the National League Championship series against The Giants, Lynn only pitched 7.1 in two starts, throwing 151 pitches and allowing 8 runs(4 earned). The second start, Game 5, against Barry Zito at Busch Stadium, was particularly ugly for Lynn. The Cards were up 3-1 with a chance to close it out. Lynn wasn’t just outpitched by Zito on his home turf, but he made a crucial error that led to 4 unearned runs. He only lasted 3.2 innings and didn’t give his team the innings required. The Giants won that game and the next two in route to a shocking upheaval of the Cards. There’s no way Lance forgets that and he will take that mental ammo to the mound this weekend and next week in San Francisco.
After a start in August, someone asked Lynn about his newfound attitude. Lynn offered that he had found the balance on the mound when it came to emotion and intensity. He said he was able to control it now. I can admit I have enjoyed watching the man pitch this season.
On Sunday, look for Lynn to take that next step. The step from being a good regular season starter into being a legit postseason horse.