ST. LOUIS -- If the Padres need a full deck to shuffle the Cards in the NLDS, they might have an ace in the hole: discarded starter Brian Lawrence.

The odd-man out in pre-series designs, fifth-starter Lawrence is the first to point out that this has not been a good season, from a personal standpoint. But it's not over yet -- and redemption and satisfaction could be right around the corner.

Should the NLDS go to a decisive fifth game on Monday and Jake Peavy's hopes of coming back with his fractured rib go unfulfilled, Lawrence could be the man to take the ball from manager Bruce Bochy and challenge the Cards at Busch Stadium.

Bochy has Woody Williams and Adam Eaton lined up for Games 3 and 4 at PETCO Park, but is withholding a decision on Game 5, if it arrives. Peavy would love to get the call, but the Padres won't do anything to jeopardize his long-term future. Even with the medical staff's OK, he'd have to convince them he wouldn't alter his delivery and cause potential harm to his arm.

Lawrence had struggled badly in September, giving up 19 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings. But his past two outings -- nine scoreless, three-hit innings against the Giants on Sept. 29 at PETCO Park and one inning of scoreless relief against the Cards in Game 1 -- have the durable right-hander in a confident frame of mind after a long season of ups, downs and more downs.

"I definitely feel comfortable," Lawrence said. "Mentally, there's nothing I'm going out there trying to overcome. I'd welcome the opportunity to go out and pitch a Game 5 if it comes to that."

Lawrence faced the Redbirds once this season and did not have a decision, giving up three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. He's 1-4 against them in seven career appearances with a 4.17 ERA, and he's 1-3 with a 4.18 ERA at Busch Stadium.

"I didn't have a good season," Lawrence said, reflecting on a 7-15 record with a 4.83 ERA in 33 starts. "We had a better season last year and didn't make the playoffs. But as far as pitching goes, we have one of the best staffs around. We've got five guys -- six with Chan Ho [Park] -- who can go out and win a game. When we go to the bullpen, there's nobody better than ours."

Lawrence was responding to a question about the popular notion that the Padres can't win without Peavy, their ace.

"If somebody says we have one [starting] pitcher, they haven't been paying attention," Lawrence said. "I've had a horrible year, but I can go out and beat anybody."

Lowdown from Loretta: Like Lawrence, second baseman Mark Loretta hasn't had the kind of season he'd anticipated, following a banner 2004 in which he made the National League All-Star team while producing career highs in average (.335), homers (16), RBIs (76) and runs scored (108).

A torn ligament in his left thumb suffered in mid-May derailed Loretta, and he's just now feeling whole and totally confident again after batting .280 with three homers, 38 RBIs and 54 runs scored in 105 games.

"It's been kind of a rocky year for me," he said. "I didn't have a great start, and then I had the injury and missed [almost] 60 games. There have been three or four days or a week where I've felt pretty good overall, and then had a little bit of a lapse with the thumb and a little bit of a wrist issue on my right hand.

"I haven't really had the consistent good feel for more than, I'd say, a week at a time since I've been back."

Loretta finished strong the final week of the season in the leadoff spot with Dave Roberts, culminating in a three-hit night as the Padres clinched against the Giants at PETCO Park.

Batting third in Game 1 with Roberts back, Loretta had an RBI single during the three-run ninth and went 1-for-5. He worked starter Chris Carpenter for 25 pitches his first three at-bats, including one of the game's turning points in the third inning. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Roberts bolted for third and Ryan Klesko went for second on a full count, and Loretta hit a bullet right at Abraham Nunez, who was moving toward the bag to cover.

Positioned normally off the bag, Nunez would have had difficulty reaching the ball, and it could have been a two-run double to give the Padres a 2-1 lead.

"That's baseball," Loretta said. "They were able to capitalize on their good fortune. That's what good teams do."

With Eric Young leading off Game 2 against lefty Mark Mulder, Loretta was in the No. 2 hole.

"Second is probably my most natural spot to hit in the order," Loretta said, "[to] utilize making contact, possibly hit and run, that type of thing."

Young at heart: His first postseason start since 1995, when he played second base and was the catalyst of a Rockies outfit that gave the Braves fits in the NLDS, had Young feeling 20 years younger than the 38 on his birth certificate.

"This is what it's all about -- baseball in the fall," he said, preparing to face a pitcher (Mulder) he's had success against in the past, batting .389 (7-for-18) against the former Oakland star with three doubles and three walks. "Every pitch means something. The energy level is so high, it makes you want to get out there and make good things happen.

"[The Cardinals are] good, but if we play the game the way we can, we can compete with anybody."

A .444 postseason hitter coming into Game 2, Young homered and drove in two runs in Game 1 after entering as a pinch-hitter for Roberts against southpaw Randy Flores in the eighth inning.

It was the Padres' second pinch-hit homer in their postseason history. Jim Leyritz unloaded in Game 2 of the 1998 NLDS. Young hit a two-run homer against the Braves' John Smoltz in Game 3 of the '95 NLDS on his way to batting .438 (7-for-16) in the four-game series claimed by eventual World Series champion Atlanta.

On deck: Williams (9-12, 4.85 ERA) faces fellow right-hander Matt Morris (14-10, 4.11) in Game 3 on Saturday night at 8 p.m. PT.