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October 23, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game One Preview: Cardinals at Red Sox

by Bret Sayre

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I know it’s in season to congratulate the Red Sox and the Cardinals for making it to the Fall Classic—and they certainly deserve the accolades—but they are not the only groups worthy of weathering the journey. We, the general baseball following universe, deserve a congratulations. Sure, there were plenty of amazing games/moments, but here’s a quick list of things we (the baseball-consuming public) have had to endure this October thus far:

  • A Fredi Gonzalez-Don Mattingly chess match—though that term is used loosely. They may have been using a chessboard, but I’m pretty sure half the pieces were mostly eaten candy bars).
  • A four-hour regulation game in which one run was scored. In fact, this was not only the longest such game in major league baseball history, but it was a full 36 minutes longer than the previous record holder (a Milwaukee/Oakland matchup in May of 1997)
  • The 38th time that we were taught the name of Mike Napoli’s beard. It’s called “The Siesta,” and it’s likely because there are no fewer than three children napping in it at all times.

Despite the best attempts of some, we made it out on the other side stronger for all of this. And we are rewarded with a World Series matchup featuring the two best teams in baseball—a sight we don’t often see in the wild card age. So put on your red party hats and proudly display your empathy for Daniel Nava—it’s the Red Sox and the Cardinals!

Here is a look at the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game One of the World Series:

Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) at Red Sox (Jon Lester) 7:30 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Cardinals 52.1%, Red Sox 47.9%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs Lester (L)

Red Sox vs Wainwright (R)

Matt Carpenter (L) 2B

Jacoby Ellsbury (L) CF

Carlos Beltran (S) RF

Shane Victorino (S) RF

Matt Holliday (R) LF

Dustin Pedroia (R) 2B

Allen Craig (R) DH

David Ortiz (L) DH

Yadier Molina (R) C

Mike Napoli (R) 1B

Matt Adams (L) 1B

Jonny Gomes (R) LF

David Freese (R) 3B

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S) C

Jon Jay (L) CF

Stephen Drew (S) SS

Pete Kozma (R) SS

Xander Bogaerts (R) 3B

The Set-Up:
It’s no secret that PECOTA loves Adam Wainwright almost as much as I do, so the Cardinals playing the role of favorite in this game should not be shocking even with the game being played at Fenway Park. With the spacing between the end of the League Championship Series and today, we’re seeing as much of an ace-off as is possible in this series, as Wainwright takes on Boston’s staff leader, Jon Lester. The forecast is calling for a game time temperature in the mid-40s with showers possible—and it could reach as low as the 30s by the end of the night.

Focusing In:
While it seems like thus far in the playoffs, the attention has been mostly focused on the starting pitchers in the other dugout, Jon Lester has continued to pad his October resume. In his three postseason starts in 2013, Lester is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 19 1/3 innings—actually lowering his career playoff ERA slightly to 2.49 in 61 1/3 innings. He’ll try to stay hot on a cold, and potentially wet, Boston night—although hailing from Tacoma, Washington, Lester is no stranger to this type of weather.

One thing to watch out for, however, with Lester is his fastball velocity. After two-and-a-half months of elevated velocity between early August and mid-October (93.35 MPH through end of July and 94.17 MPH since), Lester dipped back down more than 1.0 MPH in his Game Five start against the Tigers in the ALCS than he was sitting during his first two starts of the postseason. It’s not a coincidence that his last outing was his worst of this playoff run.

Lester is likely to have at least a little bit of an advantage the first time or two through the Cardinals’ lineup, as the whole team has accumulated only 12 plate appearances against Lester in their careers. He also has an ERA nearly a half a run lower when pitching on five days rest as compared to all other combination of days. Well, that may not matter very much, but it is over a 500-plus inning sample—so maybe it will.

Amazingly, it seems as though Adam Wainwright—the Cy Young contender and major league leader in innings pitched during the 2013 season—was just pacing himself to have a little extra oomph in his back pocket for the playoffs. After averaging just 92.1 MPH on his four-seam fastball during the regular season, that number has jumped to 93.7 MPH in October. The success he’s found has also jumped up this month, but that’s just par for the course for the big right-hander.

In his career, Wainwright now has a 2.10 career playoff ERA in 55 2/3 innings with a ridiculous 62:7 strikeout-to-walk rate. He’s had only one postseason start with a Game Score of less than 60 in his career (his NLDS Game 5 performance against the Nationals last season) and that doesn’t even touch on his run as closer for the 2006 World Series winning Cardinals—where he didn’t give up a single earned run and struck out 15 in 9 2/3 innings.

On the hitting side, no one in either dugout comes into the World Series hotter than Red Sox’ leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury. In fact, Ellsbury’s .400 postseason average is not only the highest of any player on either roster, but that next highest batting average belongs to Cardinals’ first baseman Matt Adams—and Adams is hitting .268. That’s how much offense has been down this October. And even if Ellsbury does keep getting himself on base, he’s going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to add to his six postseason steals going up against Yadier Molina. And in case you were wondering, there are only 16 stolen bases in all of October that don’t belong to Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their leadoff hitter hasn’t been performing nearly as well as his Boston counterpart. Matt Carpenter, after being a legitimate MVP candidate during the regular season, has hit .167/.250/.262 with 11 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances. That may not seem like a ton of punchouts, but a lot of Carpenter’s regular season success was due to a big increase in his contact rate.

Matchup to Watch:
In his major-league career, Allen Craig is hitting .302/.336/.549 with 21 homers in just 368 at bats against left-handed pitching. He also hasn’t played since September 4. With a healthy Craig, the Cardinals go from having a National League lineup trying to fit in at an American League park to one that is on par with the upper-echelon offenses of the junior circuit. The only problem is that we don’t know how healthy he is (or how rusty he is). Lester is a pretty good matchup for the returning masher, as he’s strongest against all types of left-handed fastballs and Lester has relied on some form of his fastball (four-seam, two-seam, or cut) more than 75 percent of the time this year.

My Prediction:
I think both pitchers throw well enough to warrant a victory, but the Red Sox end up pulling this one out by a score of 4-3 after a big hit from Dustin Pedroia.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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