While Big Puma has had an unbelievable year so far, a much less discussed Lance has been hurled at the opposition as well, and garnered mostly positive results. I speak of course, of Lance Lynn.
Now, we cannot deny the obvious. The Cards bullpen has been less than stellar this season, and with very few bright spots. This could explain that slight cringe of hesitance every Cards fan gets when the starter is removed from the game, and his place is taken by a member of the struggling ‘pen. Will he throw strikes? Will he give up 5 straight hits? Will he walk the bases loaded (again)?
A bullpen is supposed to come in and shut the offence down; hold them off for the 7th, 8th and 9th. Or at least, that is how I see a bullpen. But again, whether it be Miller, Boggs, Motte, Batista, or Tallet jogging in toward the mound, I find my gut telling me to turn off the game, just to save myself the agony. Now every pitcher mentioned previously has had some good innings for the Cardinals. Motte and Boggs have blown hitters away, and Miller and Tallet have gotten lefties out. However, it seems they all have lacked a sense consistency that I think is key.
Thankfully, there have been a few “silver lining” pitchers that have proven themselves as being able to make outs. One of these has completely restored my faith in Cardinals closers. Fernando Salas may be one of the best surprises of the Cardinals’ season, earning 15 saves in 17 chances. Now I say restored my faith for a fairly obvious reason. The work of Ryan Franklin over the past few years had been good. However this year, my confidence in the Cardinals’ ability to finish a game was almost completely diminished, due in part to Franklin’s struggles. And it seems after Franklin blew his first save opportunities this season, La Russa agreed with me and switched to Salas. Thank God he did. Salas has been very reliable.
So, with Salas taking the responsibility of the 9th inning, that still leaves a gaping hole in the Cardinals bullpen around the 6th, 7th, or 8th. I mean, we all hope our starters can take the game into the 8th or 9th, but in reality, that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. What the bullpen needs is a guy who can come in during those late innings, or in jams with runners on, and make outs, plain and simple. Enter Lance Lynn.
While the lone start from the 6’5, 24 year old right-hander was not exactly what we had hoped, I was extremely impressed with his work out of the bullpen. His ability to throw strikes and get men out betters almost any that I’ve seen out of the bullpen this season. Lynn has a flamethrower fastball, and, when it is paired with his knee-buckling curve, he is very difficult to hit. In one of his recent outings against the Reds, he pitched a solid two innings, painting the outside corner with his fastball, and striking out four of the six batters he faced.
The final trait of Lynn’s that I wish to praise is his mound presence. While other Cards pitchers in relief this season labored in between pitches, Lynn gets the ball quickly and hurls it at the plate, effectively dictating the pace of the game. Lynn’s pace forces the batters to be ready for him and not the other way around. To be fair, pitchers like Motte have done this as well for the Cardinals, only without throwing as many strikes.
Lynn seems like the real deal, and with the help that we all know Dave Duncan will give, I think this former first-round pick could turn into that puzzle piece that has been missing from the Cardinals bullpen all season. Lynn can bridge the inning-gap in games, and get the ball from the starters to Salas, without too much damage done. If he does this effectively, then maybe Cardinals fans will stop covering their eyes and plugging their ears when a relief pitcher is handed the ball.