Kyle Lohse vs. Jake Westbrook vs. Jake Westbrook's Heavier, Less Impressive Self

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 3: David Freese #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals misplays a line drive against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on May 3, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Pirates beat the Cardinals 6-3. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

I am at least a little comforted by Jake Westbrook's ERA rising above 2.00. The Cardinals lost fairly conventionally Thursday; they had a not-quite-quality start from Westbrook, their run-scoring didn't quite track with their hitting, and there was a particularly annoying hook on which to blame things by the end, in their inability to turn five late-inning walks into a sustainable rally. Occasionally a team needs to lose games like those, lest the part of me that was once devoted to whittling fertility idols out of mammoth tusks and blaming old crones for the disappearance of the sun get too antsy about things turning ominous.

Tonight Kyle Lohse will get his chance to double back toward his usual ERA, which gives us the chance to continue speculating about which back-of-the-rotation veteran will impress the longest. I think Lohse is likely to be the better pitcher this season, but I give Westbrook a good chance of running away with the battle for who can impress most.

He just has too many advantages, thanks mostly to how bad he was last year. Westbrook is in the rare and I guess enviable position of being a sinker specialist who both significantly underperformed his FIP last year and had a particularly bad, not necessarily permanent decline in his peripherals. He was worse than he looked last year, and he's likely to be better this year; given how low expectations were for him back in March, before we knew he'd (additional advantage) lost a ton of weight, he'll have to really crater to avoid impressing the average Cardinal fan in 2012.

Lohse already used up all those credits in 2011, when he recovered from both injury and an unrepeatably disastrous season to lead the team in wins and ERA. Now he's got to stay healthy and maintain effectiveness despite his conspicuously low strikeout rate. His current K:BB ratio of 3.5 would be one way to pull off the upset, of course.

At the Post-Dispatch lboros and some other guys discuss Carlos Beltran, with our Eternal President closing on a note most of the panel seemed to share: The question about Beltran is going to be just how healthy he is, not how much he hits.

With Allen Craig back on the team the Cardinals are back to the level of depth we were excited about throughout the hot stove league season; they can afford the loss of one of their three veteran sluggers while still remaining above-average at all three positions. Craig's two doubles Thursday should be proof enough that he's healthy, and that the team can wait for Berkman to be healthy, but Beltran's legs remaining underneath him during a five week stretch in which Lance Berkman's played just five games is among the most important developments of the season to date.

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