Kyle Lohse on Opening Day? The Cardinals Have Done Worse
Granted, it’s only one game. Plus, the Cardinals are saving Wainwright for the home opener, Carp’s arm is dangling like a wet noodle and Garcia might get the yips. Undoubtedly, there are many reasons Mike Matheny is going with Kyle Lohse as his unlikely Opening Day starter. If you ignore him running on fumes in the postseason, Lohse was statistically the second best pitcher in the rotation behind Carpenter last year.
It’s just that Kyle Lohse is not the name Cardinals fans associate with the prestigious position of “Opening Day Starter”. The franchise has rolled out some pretty notable pitchers to man that spot over the last few decades – Carpenter, Tudor, Morris, Forsch, Kile. Names that made you think this could be the start of a great year.
That said, they’ve also had their share of names take the ball on Opening Day that make you think “I’ll probably be done caring about this team by June”. To make us all feel better, we went back and pulled some of the Opening Day hurlers that filled everyone with less symbolic confidence than Kyle Lohse does.
1980 – Pete Vuckovich
Honestly, there is nothing wrong with Pete Vuckovich as a pitcher. Hell, he won a Cy Young for Milwaukee two years later. But my generation grew up knowing him as Clue Haywood in Major League and when I see that he started Opening Day for the Cardinals in 1980, I laugh.
Then I look around to make sure he’s not standing behind me ready to crush my skull like an empty can of Mr. Pibb. In other words, he scares me.
1991 – Bryn Smith
1990 was his first year as a Cardinal and in pretty much every category he was mediocre. Record (9-8), ERA (4.27), WHIP (1.34), WAR (-0.8). Yet there he was in 1991 standing on the mound on Opening Day, red-beard glimmering in the Chicago sun as he shut down the Cubs to pick up the victory.
Not a bad pitcher, just not one that led anyone to think the rotation he headlined would be any less mediocre than he was during his stint in St. Louis. And we were ultimately right. He had a decent year, his best with the Cardinals, but the team stayed a few games above .500 the entire season, finished 84-78, spent zero days in first place and finished 14 out.
1992 – Jose DeLeon
It didn’t matter that Jose DeLeon had just come off his best season as a starter, finishing 1991 with a 2.71 ERA and 3.1 WAR. This was the 90’s, people. We watched Saved by the Bell, wore dress shirts with no collar and all we looked at when it came to judging pitchers was his wins and losses. Racking up 28 losses over the previous two years like DeLeon had done wasn’t easy for people to overlook.
Of his 13 years in the league, DeLeon had his three best seasons as a Cardinal, but his legacy amongst fans was less as an underrated starter and more as a shining example of the dark years when A-B did what they could to make St. Louis hate baseball.
1999 – Donovan Osborn
Going into the season, Osborne was already tagged as injury prone, making only 28 starts over the previous two seasons. He lived up to the reputation, going two innings in the opener, making his next five starts then shutting it down for the year. For those keeping track, his six total starts in 1999 were two less than Larry Luebbers had.
Only Larry Luebbers didn’t start Opening Day.
So fear not Cardinals fans, if our team had a rotation that included Pete Vuckovich, Bryn Smith, Jose DeLeon, Donovan Osborne and Kyle Lohse, Lohse would be our man then too.