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October 24, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Two Preview: Cardinals at Red Sox

by Ben Carsley

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Cardinals (Michael Wacha) vs. Red Sox (John Lackey) – 8:07 p.m. EST

PECOTA Odds of Winning: Cardinals 58%, Red Sox 42%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs. Lackey (R)

Red Sox vs. Wacha (R)

Matt Carpenter, 2B (L)

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)

Carlos Beltran, RF (S)

Shane Victorino, RF (S)

Matt Holliday, LF (R)

Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)

Allen Craig, DH (R)

David Ortiz, DH (L)

Yadier Molina, C (R)

Mike Napoli, 1B (R)

Matt Adams, 1B (L)

Jonny Gomes, LF (R)

David Freese, 3B (R)

Xander Bogaerts, 3B (R)

Jon Jay, CF (L)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)

Pete Kozman, SS (R)

Stephen Drew, SS (L)

Game One went about as well as it possibly could have for the Red Sox, and as poorly as it could have for the Cardinals.

Sure, David Ortiz’s third-inning blast could’ve landed in the bullpen instead of in Carlos Beltran’s glove. But given that Beltran’s catch may cost him some time—and given that Boston won by a margin of seven runs anyway—even the lone bright spot for St. Louis yesterday looks like it could play in the Red Sox’ favor.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, their hottest pitcher takes the mound in Game Two in one Michael Wacha.

You’re probably vaguely familiar with the stats by now. Wacha has thrown 21 innings in the postseason thus far, giving up just one earned run and striking out 22 batters in that span. This follows a regular season that saw him pitch 64.2 innings in the majors with a 2.78 ERA and 2.92 FIP.

Wacha was renowned as a prospect for his changeup, and we’ve seen why in the playoffs. In Wacha’s Game Two NLCS start against the Dodgers, batters swung and missed at a third of his off-speed offerings, per Brooks Baseball. He got considerably fewer swings-and-misses in his Game Six start, but still threw his changeup 23 times for 16 strikes in Game Six.

None of the Red Sox have faced Wacha before, of course, and manager John Farrell isn’t expected to deviate from his standard lineup. There remains the chance that Farrell will return to starting Daniel Nava over Jonny Gomes against right-handers, but Boston’s manager indicated before the series that Nava would not start until the series moves to St. Louis.

While there’s comparatively little tape on Wacha to this point, it’s not as if the Cardinals have significant experience against Boston’s starter, John Lackey, either. Only Beltran and Holliday have faced Lackey in their careers, and they’ve combined to go 0-for-20.

Lackey has made two postseason starts thus far. The first was a lackluster effort against the Rays, but the latter was a masterpiece. Lackey threw 6.2 innings of shutout ball against the Tigers in Game Three of the ALCS, striking out eight and walking none in what would be a 1-0 victory over Justin Verlander.

Overall, Lackey has now allowed four earned runs in 12 innings this postseason, striking out 14 and walking three.

The Cardinals’ lineup doesn’t figure to change much from Game One, aside from Jon Jay starting in center field over Shane Robinson. However, as of publishing time, there’s no real indication yet about whether Beltran will be able to go after hurting his ribs while trying to rob Ortiz’ grand slam in the third. X-rays on Beltran’s ribs came back negative, but he’s being ruled as a “game time decision,” and even if he does play it remains to be seen whether he’ll be at full effectiveness.

If Beltran can’t go, it seems most likely that Robinson would man right field, as he did after Beltran’s exit yesterday. Allen Craig is limited to DHing, so don’t look for him to man Fenway’s expansive right field. Of course, Robinson would be a significant downgrade from Beltran, who’s hitting .250/.375/.525 this postseason and who remains one of the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitters.

Both teams should have all members of their bullpens ready to go. The Red Sox used Junichi Tazawa for just one batter in Game One, then used Ryan Dempster, who figures to be used only in mop-up duty, in the ninth. The Cardinals, meanwhile, ran through five relievers after Wainwright’s five-inning performance, but none threw more than one inning, and three relievers pitched just one-third of an inning each.

Finally, a note on defense: the broadcast team yesterday kept referring to St. Louis’ good regular season fielding percentage to express their shock about the Cardinals’ defensive miscues, but as Ben Lindbergh observed in his recap, the Cardinals were not a good fielding team during the regular season. The Red Sox didn’t fair much better.

My Prediction: PECOTA has the Cardinals as big favorites in this game, but it might be underrating Lackey based on his pre-Tommy John surgery struggles. Wacha has been dominant as of late and should prove a challenge for Boston, but he’s facing an offense that has conquered or outlasted the likes of David Price, Verlander, Max Scherzer and Wainwright so far this postseason.

I’ll chalk this one up to whether Beltran is able to play. If St. Louis’ right fielder is in the lineup, look for them to even the series at one game apiece. If not, look for the Red Sox to navigate around the bats of Holliday and Craig and do just enough against Wacha to take a two-game lead to St. Louis.

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

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