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Is an improved Lance Lynn ready to become a playoff force?

The St. Louis Cardinals will learn something about how much Lance Lynn has grown and matured this year when he takes the mound Saturday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a pivotal post season game.

Lynn is one of the winningest pitchers in the National League over the past three seasons. But he's never done particularly well in the playoffs, helping to stoke his reputation as a lucky pitcher who was done in by good teams because of his tendency to have a blowup inning.

The big righty quieted even his most vocal critics in 2014 by eliminating his mental lapses and the troublesome frames that plagued him. The result was his lowest ERA in a full season as a starter by more than a run. He finished at 2.78, good enough for eighth-best in the National League. Lynn posted his lowest run total in a full season despite the fact that he pitched more innings than he had before. Lynn, for a significant portion of the season, was the Cardinals' best pitcer.

So, today we'll see if all that improvement can be translated to the high pressure situation of a playoff game.

Lynn will face a tough and desperate Dodgers lineup that will be looking to score early and often to erase the bad memories of a terrible opening game in which they blew a 6-1 lead with Clayton Kershaw on the mound.

If he can dominate -- and if the Redbirds can prove that their 10-run outburst Friday night wasn't a fluke -- St. Louis could break the Dodgers' will and give themselves a chance to close out the NLDS at Busch Stadium Monday or Tuesday.

While I'm sure Lynn will feel the pressure pitching in front of a hostile crowd, he needs to keep his cool and remember that the real heat is on Los Angeles. The Cardinals have already done what they needed to do -- winning one game on the road to seize home field advantage -- a second win would be gravy on top.

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