How good was Lance Lynn in 2011 ?
He had shown flashes of brilliance throughout his minor league career, so there was reason to expect him to be a contributor when called up on June 2. His major league debut was shaky, but it is important to remember that it was coming on short rest. Just four days earlier, Lynn had thrown seven strong innings against Omaha in a win. His next start at Houston was much better, allowing just a single run over five innings and earning his first major league win.
It was when he was recalled for the second time on June 21 that things took off for the young right hander. Instead of being placed in the rotation, Lynn was assigned to the bullpen. As a result, he could go max effort and that fastball become a lethal weapon. Instead of cruising at around 90 MPH, it screamed in at 95 or better. That set off all of his other pitches and he no longer looked vulnerable on the mound. Quite the opposite.
That was not lost on manager, Tony La Russa, and pitching coach, Dave Duncan. Lynn was quickly moved from first man in to the late inning role, alternating with Jason Motte as the setup man for Fernando Salas. When Salas was unavailable, Lynn was even given an audition for closer, and he made the most of that opportunity.
His rookie season stats are impressive: a 1-1 record, 1 save and a 3.12 ERA. In 34 1/3 innings of work, he allowed 25 hits, 11 walks and 40 strikeouts. Those numbers scream late inning reliever, perhaps even a closer (more than one strikeout per inning and a nearly 4:1 K/BB ratio). But if you look at just his numbers as a reliever, the ERA drops down to 2.15, which is more in line with a 1.05 WHIP and 1.2 K/IP.
Unfortunately, that remarkable story came to an end in August, when the big reliever strained his left oblique while pitching. Or so we all thought. The injury turned out to be severe, and he would eventually be placed on the 60 day disabled list. That move made him eligible for post-season, should the Cardinals advance to the League Championship Series. In early August, that seemed to be a big IF.
Without the benefit of a minor league rehab assignment, Lynn found himself on the NLCS roster and called into immediate action in the first game. He appeared in the first three, but it was what he did in the second game that makes him a hero. The Cardinals had jumped out to a big lead early, but the Brewers were clawing their way back in the game. Trailing 7-2 in the fifth inning, the Brewers had loaded the bases with just one out. Lance Lynn comes into the game to face Rickie Weeks, who had homered in his last at bat. Lynn throws one pitch and Weeks grounds into an inning ending double play. That was the turning point and the Brewers never threatened again in the game, and for the most part, the rest of the series.
It wasn’t just that one performance in the NLCS. Lynn was as good as anybody out of the bullpen. Here are his individual line scores, and it is an impressive sight.
|NLCS Game 1||1||0||0||1||1||0|
|NLCS Game 2 W (1-0)||2/3||0||0||0||0||0|
|NLCS Game 3||1 1/3||0||0||0||0||0|
|NLCS Game 5||1 1/3||0||0||2||1||0|
|NLCS Game 6||1||0||0||0||0||1|
|WS Game 2||2/3||0||0||0||0||0|
|WS Game 3 W (2-0)||2 1/3||1||1||3||2||2|
|WS Game 5||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|WS Game 6||1 2/3||3||3||4||0||1|
|WS Game 7||1||0||0||0||0||1|
This is just the first chapter in the story of Lance Lynn. He will be an important part of the pitching staff in 2012, and hopefully, for many years to follow.