ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' vision remains narrow at the moment, the team closing in on a third straight division title and all the while insistent that it isn't looking beyond that goal. But when things settle and a postseason roster begins to be built, the Cardinals will find John Lackey boasting a season resume as strong as anyone in what has been baseball's best rotation.
With another seven-inning quality start to help the Cardinals to a 3-1 win over the Reds on Tuesday, Lackey enhanced his candidacy for being tapped as the team's top postseason starter. Others in the Cardinals' rotation have had better games. But no one, from start to finish, has been as consistent as the veteran who, before the Cardinals agreed to insert incentives into his contract, entered the year poised to make the Major League minimum.
This was Lackey's 19th consecutive start of at least six innings, the longest such stretch of his career. His 2.18 ERA during that run is the fifth-lowest mark in the Majors.
And consider that Lackey has been even more dominant at home.
He's pitched at least six innings and allowed no more than three earned runs in every one of his 16 outings at Busch Stadium. Only twice has he actually been unable to finish seven. His ERA? A paltry 1.97.
"I take pride in throwing innings, for sure, and being there every five days for the boys," Lackey said after Tuesday's win, his 13th. "It's something we've kind of needed. It's been good to be that guy."
He allowed a solo homer by Jay Bruce in the first inning of Tuesday's start and then maneuvered his way through trouble with a trio of timely double plays. His 28 double plays induced this year are tops in the National League.
"When he's throwing the ball well, we want him on the mound," manager Mike Matheny said. "Especially when you start talking about us being two guys short in our bullpen, we don't have any problem of letting John know, 'This is yours.'"
Lackey's deep start did help the Cardinals cover the absence of Jonathan Broxton and Trevor Rosenthal, both of whom were being rested due to recent workload. With 207 innings pitched, Lackey has now covered 27 2/3 more than anyone else in the rotation.
Lackey is in line to start twice more before the end of the regular season, at which time the Cardinals will have to determine where he fits in a postseason rotation. Inserting him as a Game 1 starter (assuming the Cardinals do capture the division crown) would line Lackey up to start at home -- where he's been best -- as many as two times in a best-of-five NL Division Series.
Lackey has started two World Series-clinching games in his career already, but acknowledged on Tuesday that he can't remember a stretch where he's ever felt better than he does now.
"As far as arm strength and knowledge and execution," Lackey said, "they've all come together pretty well for me."