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Smoltz and Lohse: Different post-season bullpen histories

Unless/until one of them is named the starter for the National League Division Series game four, St. Louis Cardinals starters Kyle Lohse and John Smoltz are available in relief. The two veterans have vastly different bullpen portfolios, however.

Even the casual baseball fan probably knows a bit about Smoltz the reliever. Already on his way to the Hall of Fame as a starter for Atlanta, Smoltz moved into the closer’s role in 2001. It was a move designed to prolong his career following his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Smoltz spent four years as the Braves’ ninth inning man before returning to the rotation and is the only player in MLB history with 200 wins and 150 saves. His highest finish in the Cy Young Award voting following his 1996 selection was as a closer when he placed third in 2002.

As a reliever, Smoltz’ career ERA is 2.41, a full run under his starting mark. His WHIP in that role is a stellar 0.976.

In 11 post-season appearances out of the pen from 2001 through 2004, Smoltz allowed four earned runs in 18 1/3 innings for an ERA of 1.96. He fanned 16 and walked just four.

The open question is what percent of that pitcher the current 42-year-old version of Smoltz is.

Lohse’s pen history is less distinguished. His only Major League stint greater than a couple of games relieving occurred during his sixth and final season in Minnesota when he was bounced from the rotation and briefly sent to Triple-A.

That year, in 2006, Lohse’s 14 pen outings for the Twins made up over half of his career relief appearances. In 24 career relief games, his ERA is 4.28 with a decent WHIP of 1.20.

Despite the few relief appearances in the regular season, five of six Lohse’s career post-season outings have been out of the pen as he pitched in that role for the 2002 and 2004 Minnesota Twins and 2007 Philadelphia Phillies.

With Minnesota, Lohse allowed three runs in five innings in his one and only post-season start to date but yielded just one earned run and nine strikeouts in seven playoff innings.

It was an entirely different story in the City of Brotherly Love in 2007. While the ledger shows that Lohse was charged with a single run in 1 1/3 innings of the NLDS against Colorado, it was considered the turning point of the series.

Lohse, the scheduled game four starter (sound familiar?), was brought into the fourth inning of game two in relief of struggling starter Kyle Kendrick. The situation was tough – bases loaded – but there were two outs and light-hitting Rockies second baseman Kaz Matsui was up.

After getting ahead in the count 1-2, Lohse grooved a fastball which Little Matsui promptly drilled well into the right field seats of a stunned Citizens Bank Park. Matsui’s first career grand slam turned a 3-2 Phillies lead into a 6-3 deficit from which they would never recover.

Lohse never got that game four start as the Phils were promptly swept by Colorado three straight.

Let’s hope that chapter of the history book isn’t repeated here in 2009.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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