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October 25, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Two Recap (Red Sox Edition)

by Ben Lindbergh

Throughout the World Series, we'll be providing two recaps of each game, one with a focus on the winner and the other devoting a longer look to the loser. This is the Red Sox entry for Game One. The Cardinals edition is here.

Say this for the Red Sox: they made Michael Wacha work. In his first three postseason starts, Wacha put away the Pirates and Dodgers in an average of 4.09 pitches per plate appearance. The Red Sox suffered the same fate as the right-hander’s previous playoff victims, but they didn’t go down easy, forcing him to throw 4.75 pitches per batter faced. They took 21 of his 24 first pitches, drew four walks—tied for the most the 22-year-old has allowed in his brief big-league career—and ran his pitch count up to 114, the most he’s thrown in a major-league start.

Research by Sam Miller confirms the conventional wisdom about the Red Sox: pitchers who pounds the zone make their patience work against them, reducing them to something like a league-average offensive team. Game One (and maybe Four, and maybe Seven) starter Adam Wainwright, despite his miniscule walk rate, isn’t one of those pitchers: he doesn’t walk anyone, but only because he gets less disciplined hitters to chase. Compared to Wainwright, Wacha throws a slightly lower percentage of pitches in the typically called strike zone; his 49.9 percent zone rate was 129th out of 252 pitchers who threw at least 1000 pitches this season. He’s not really a Red Sox killer, either.

So by sticking with their plan at the plate, the Sox got Wacha out of the game after six even, his earliest exit this October. Their reward? Two innings of unhittable Carlos Martinez, chased down by a dose of ridiculous Trevor Rosenthal. Although Mike Matheny did the Sox a favor by letting David Ortiz face Wacha for a third time in the sixth—and Martinez instead of a warmed-up Randy Choate in the eighth—he made things more difficult for them by going to Martinez an inning earlier than usual. Martinez and Rosenthal combined for 35 pitches, 31 of which were fastballs with an average velocity of 97.2 miles per hour. And of those 31 heaters, 25 were strikes. Knocking tough starters out served Boston well against Detroit in the ALCS, but there was no soft bullpen underbelly for the Sox to feast on in the seventh last night.

  • Thanks to the Cardinals’ aggressiveness, his own good command, and what Brooks Baseball suggests was a couple extra inches of horizontal movement on his breaking balls (relative to the regular season), John Lackey averaged over a pitch less per batter (3.65) than Wacha and lasted two outs longer. Pop quiz: Which Game Two starter will earn more money in 2015? Answer: They’ll both make close to the major-league minimum. The Cardinals aren't the only team with cost-controlled starters!

  • A big part of Boston’s home field advantage comes from its outfielders’ experience in playing balls off the weird walls of Fenway, but in Game Two, the walls worked against them. Jacoby Ellsbury has played center field in Fenway for parts of seven seasons, but even he still hasn’t mastered the art of anticipating the carom. Here’s where he was when the camera cut to him on Matt Holliday’s leadoff triple in the fourth, with a Family Circus-style dotted line representing the route he took to where the ball ended up:

    The extra base Holliday took because of that unpredictable bounce gave St. Louis its first lead of the series. The Cardinals didn’t get another hit in the inning, but after Matt Adams lined out to second, a Yadier Molina grounder drove in the run.