ST. LOUIS -- While the home portion of the team's regular-season slate wrapped up with a stinging 8-4 loss to the Brewers on Sunday, the Cardinals left town knowing they were assured of returning to Busch Stadium for at least one more game. And whether that's as a host for the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser or to open a best-of-five NL Division Series against the Wild Card winner, the club may have already found its pitcher.
John Lackey put a bow tie on a tremendous six-month showing at home Sunday. While Trevor Rosenthal's blown save cost Lackey an opportunity to become the fourth pitcher to win 10 games at Busch Stadium III, he nevertheless lowered his home ERA to 1.92 by allowing one run over seven innings.
It was the 15th time in 17 home starts that Lackey had gone at least seven innings deep. All 17 qualified as quality starts, meaning he pitched at least through the sixth and allowed no more than three earned runs.
"You head into a season and you know that a guy is prepared," manager Mike Matheny said of the 13-year veteran. "You know that he's not scared of a situation or of taking on any role. He just wants the ball to pitch. You could see he was putting in all of his work. This has been a very obviously needed run by John Lackey."
Lackey's road results have not been as stellar -- a 4-5 record and 3.69 ERA over 15 games -- though he's been reliable enough to throw 25 quality starts overall, the fourth-highest total in the NL. Eight years after leading the American League with a 3.01 ERA and finishing third in the Cy Young Award voting, Lackey said he feels he has been even more consistent in 2015.
"I feel like I've put together a pretty good run this year," Lackey said.
Lackey will make one final regular-season start in Atlanta next weekend and then await his postseason assignment. The Cardinals have not said where Lackey would fit into the playoff rotation, though he's almost certainly going to get the ball for one of the first two NLDS games should the Cards finish as division champs. He'd also get strong consideration for a win-or-go-home Wild Card affair, and the Cardinals could tweak their rotation around an upcoming off-day to position Lackey for that start.
Either way, the Cardinals hope to see him on the Busch Stadium mound several more times before he enters free agency at season's end.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.