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October 30, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Six Preview: Cardinals at Red Sox

by Bret Sayre

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One would think that it’s very difficult for a team to go on the road and win the final two games of the World Series with their backs up against the wall, as the Cardinals are facing right now. However, history tells us otherwise. If you make an assumption that most World Series teams are somewhat evenly matched, you’d expect a specific team to win two games in a row around 25 percent of the time. Throw in the heightened atmosphere and lack of home field advantage, and you might expect that number to go down, but it turns out it’s exactly 25 percent. In World Series history, there have been 24 teams facing a 3-2 deficit as they went on the road for Game Six. That road team has prevailed six times. Can the Cardinals make it seven? They’ll turn to their rookie sensation to get them there.

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

Cardinals (Michael Wacha) at Red Sox (John Lackey) 7:30 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Cardinals 64.1%, Red Sox 35.9%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs Lackey (R)

Red Sox vs Wacha (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

Xander Bogaerts (R) 3B

Jon Jay (L) CF

Stephen Drew (L) SS

Daniel Descalso (L) SS

David Ross (R) C

The Set-Up:
PECOTA has been all over the Cardinals this series, and this game is no exception. In fact, it’s the most one-sided any game of the series has been thus far—which is even more interesting because PECOTA knows not how white hot Michael Wacha has been over the past few weeks. In a rematch of Game Two, which the Cardinals took 4-2, he’ll face off against John Lackey, the man essentially left for dead by many of the Boston faithful prior to the season.

Focusing In:
What else can we say about Michael Wacha at this point? His 1.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts over 27 innings this postseason is impressive enough, but the fact that he’s doing it at the end of his first professional season is astonishing. If he picks up the victory in Game Six, he’ll become one of just three pitchers in major league history to win five games in a single postseason, along side Randy Johnson in 2001 (who won both Games Six and Seven of the World Series) and Francisco Rodriguez in 2002.

However, things are not all drum circles and unicorns with the big right-hander. In Game Two, Wacha may have gotten the victory, but he was also forced to work harder than in any of his previous postseason starts—the Red Sox made him throw 114 pitches in six innings (his shortest start of the playoffs). Additionally, their patient approach paid off as he walked four batters and allowed more than a base runner per inning for the first time in October. At some point, fatigue might set in with the rookie and when it does, it will likely come in the form of a loss of either command or velocity. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the latter happened in Game Two. Wacha’s fastball velocity, which was above 95 MPH in all of his previous postseason starts, averaged 93.7 MPH in Boston six days ago.

His opponent, however, sported an average fastball velocity that was his highest in over two months. And despite being handed the loss in Game Two, John Lackey was outpitching Wacha until the fateful seventh inning when he left two runners on base for Craig Breslow to clean up. We all know what happened at that point. To further complicate things, Lackey was then brought in to pitch the eighth inning in Game Four—his first relief appearance in the postseason since Game Two of the 2002 World Series. You’d think that his stuff would have ticked up a little coming out of the bullpen, but in fact, it went in the other direction. Lackey’s fastball dropped more than a mile and hour and he did not induce a single swing and miss in 17 pitches.

The biggest question on the pitching side for Boston in Game Six is how John Farrell plans to utilize his bullpen in those middle innings if Lackey is doing anything but dominating. Letting Jon Lester bat for himself in the seventh inning of Game Five was potentially as much of a reflection on his lack of confidence in his bullpen as it was a vote of confidence for Lester (who was shoving at the time). If Lackey can’t make it through the sixth inning, will he bring in Felix Doubront for a couple of innings to bridge the gap to Koji Uehara knowing that Jon Lester may be able to fill that role in Game Seven if it gets there. A lot has been made of the Cardinals’ struggles against left-handers this entire season, so having a southpaw ready for extended action makes a lot of sense.

And speaking of things that have been given a lot of attention, David Ortiz continues to make a mockery of this game in the World Series. Because it’s still fun to put in print, he is hitting .733/.750/.1.267 against Cardinals’ pitching. And yes, that gives him an OPS over 2.000. His WPA (Win Probability Added) is 0.91 for the series through just five games. To put that into perspective, in the previous 76 games of Ortiz’s playoff career, his WPA was 2.32. He is having an historic series, but even if he continues this, it still won’t be the most impressive offensive performance in a World Series against the Cardinals. Back in 1928, Lou Gehrig went 6-11 with four homers, nine RBI, six walks, and zero strikeouts in 17 plate appearances as the Yankees swept St. Louis. His WPA for that series was 0.99 in just four games.

There’s also a chance for another player to claim a place of his own in history over the next two days. Koji Uehara now has seven saves this postseason, tied for most all time with four others (surprisingly, Mariano Rivera is not one of them). Can you guess who they are?* One more and he’ll have the record all to himself with eight.

Matchup to Watch:
While there have certainly been plenty of on-the-field matchups that have lived up to billing, the most interesting (and hotly debated one) has come from the sidelines. During the first five games of the World Series, both John Farrell and Mike Matheny have made their share of decisions that have drawn ire from all corners of the baseball-loving universe. With Farrell, it’s been a case of consistently leaving his pitchers in the game too long, as Ben Lindbergh has touched on in almost every post-game writeup this series. With Matheny, it’s a reliance on his mid-game gut over his pre-game planning. With two such tightly matched teams, the odds of the series turning on a manager’s poor decision making has only been heightened by their track record over the past week.

My Prediction:
I’m going with PECOTA on this one and calling for a fitting Game Seven to the series. The Cardinals take this game by a score of 6-3, behind some timely hitting by Yadier Molina and Matt Adams.

*The four pitchers Uehara is tied with for the all-time postseason saves record: John Wetteland in 1996, Troy Percival in 2002, Robb Nen in 2002 and Brad Lidge in 2008.

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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