Why Lance Lynn is important to the St. Louis Cardinals

All the weight Lance Lynn lost in the offseason allowed him to miss balls more athletically. - Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals are relying on more tenuous bets than the guy who strikes out a batter an inning.

Lance Lynn's ERA this year is better than Jake Westbrook's, but the contest is closer than you'd think it would be, given Lynn's 2.59 strikeout-to-Westbrook-strikeout ratio. His ERA+, 87, is 15th-worst in baseball; in the Bottom 20 only Jeff Samardzija has similar strikeout numbers. More to the point, he's now carrying a FIP two-thirds of a run lower than that ERA.

On a team that's otherwise tracking its peripherals closely—Adam Wainwright , thanks to those 15 earned runs a couple weeks ago, is the other exception—Lance Lynn has been a major source of confusion and frustration, in part because we couldn't just write off his second half as bad luck. He's underperformed his peripherals and his peripherals have gotten worse. What are we supposed to do with that?

Lance Lynn isn't the least fragile part of the Cardinals' rotation, but of all its members he has the most runway left. Joe Kelly just ended the best run of starts in his career with a strikeout-to-walk ratio still under two. Shelby Miller is 22, and at a new career high in innings pitched. Wainwright leads the National League in batters faced.

One thing that could work in the Cardinals' favor come the postseason is that most of the setbacks they've encountered so far haven't affected the best possible version of the team—the top-line guys who'll start as much as possible in the postseason. Allen Craig could be back by then; Yadier Molina will be starting every day no matter what. The significant drop-off between starter Nos. 4 and 5 the Cardinals spent most of the season dealing with will be irrelevant.

The wheels have never quite come off, they just keep losing spare tires.

But in a tied division, the Cardinals' beleaguered regular-season squad has a little less than three weeks to hold it together. That's where Matt Adams has come in, and David Freese, and where Pete Kozma's capacity for .600-OPS months will be tested one more time. It's where the Cardinals need Tony Cruz to hit so that they're running Yadier Molina into the ground for one month, instead of two.

Before we can worry about when and how often Lance Lynn will start in the postseason, the Cardinals need to get there. They've gone 4-8 in Lynn's starts since the All-Star Break. If he can just pitch well enough—can get the results, that is—to pull away from Jake Westbrook, it could be enough, by itself, to let the postseason Cardinals take over.

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