October 28, 2013
World Series Game Five Preview: Red Sox at Cardinals
While the end of Game Four wasn’t quite as wild as Game Three’s crazy conclusion, last night was the first time a postseason game ended on a base running play since Game Five of the 1936 World Series (according to Baseball Reference). Propelled by Jonny Gomes’ huge three run home run and a strong bullpen performance, the Red Sox evened the series 2-2 and at a minimum ensured the series will return to Boston. Here is a preview of Game Five of the 2013 World Series.
PECOTA odds of winning: Cardinals 56.9%, Red Sox 43.1%
Projected Starting Lineups
With multiple off days and series that don’t always go the distance, it isn’t uncommon in the postseason for starting pitchers to go on longer rest than usual. However, tonight’s matchup features two pitchers in Lester and Wainwright who will both be going on four days rest in a Game 5 matchup of each team’s presumptive ace.
With the notable exception of St. Louis’ Game 6 NLCS clincher against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, the team has struggled significantly against left-handed pitching this year, and Lester was more of the same in Game 1, overwhelming the Cards in a signature performance on Wednesday night. Much attention was paid to an alleged foreign substance on Lester’s glove, but more attention should have been paid to how he used his overpowering arsenal of pitches to dominate.
Lester’s pitch selection reminded me of in-their-primes Kevin Brown or Curt Schilling, with pitches that were hard, harder, and hardest. Lester mostly abandoned his off speed offerings (particularly his change-up) in favor of a fastball/cutter combination. He generated 63 strikes between the two pitches, and hitters had trouble squaring up, putting the ball in play 18 times on the fastball/cutter but generating poor contact.
While not a complete bounce back to Lester’s peak 2009-2010 levels, 2013 did represent a big step forward for Lester in reclaiming some of the form that made him the Sox ace during their run for the American League pennant. Interestingly enough, while he was better against lefties this year, his opposing slash line against left-handed batters (235/278/392) wasn’t demonstrably better than it was against righties (257/324/388). If there is an advantage Lester has against lefties, it’s that he’s far more difficult to hit, with a 25.8 percent strikeout rate against them compared to “only” a 17.9 percent whiff rate against righties.
The issue of the splits is more important where the Cardinals line-up is concerned. The club was tenth overall in OPS but a sickly 26th out of 30 teams against southpaws. If Allen Craig can’t play the field tonight (a good possibility given how gingerly Craig ran the bases in the ninth) the club has to run Matt Adams’ left-handed bat out there. Adams isn’t a complete slouch against left-handers, but it is a clear downgrade. Shane Robinson and Pete Kozma are likely to fill in for Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso, but neither one of this hitters is an impact bat.
The Cardinals counter with Wainwright, who had been terrific in the postseason before his clunker in Game 1. Even with that poor game factored in, Wainwright has been dominant this October, striking out 24 batters in 26 innings with only two free passes. You might beat Wainwright, but he’s not going to beat himself.
If there is anything to watch for in the numbers, it’s that Wainwright’s velocity was lower against the Red Sox than it was in his three previous postseason starts. Brooks Baseball had Wainwright averaging 92 MPH on his four-seamer and 90 MPH on his cutter compared to a minimum of 93 MPH on both pitches in earlier postseason games. This could be a one-game blip on the radar, but it’s certainly worth watching in the early going against Boston.
If there’s a silver lining for Wainwright (aside from the fact that we shouldn’t be overemphasizing one game), the only Red Sox who picked up an extra base hit off of him in Game One likely won’t be in the line-up for Game Five. Mike Napoli has been sitting in favor of David Ortiz because of the lack of a DH in NL parks and will likely sit again. The Red Sox might not have as much BABIP luck against Wainwright in Game 5, and certainly can’t rely on two Pete Kozma errors in the first two innings again tonight.
PECOTA has loved the Cardinals throughout this series, and tonight’s contest is no exception. It is difficult to expect Wainwright to get hit hard two times in a row, and there’s a good chance that he will turn things around and be the difference maker tonight.