This back-and-forth World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals will get a redux of the game that started it off when Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright oppose each other in the pivotal Game 5 on Monday night.
If there has been a common thread through the series, it is mistakes hurting the losing team. Wainwright was the losing pitcher in Boston last week thanks in large part to two critical errors by shortstop Pete Kozma.
To his credit, Wainwright didn't put the blame for that 8-1 loss on anyone else's shoulders than himself. Via MLB.com:
Tonight was a clear case of the starting pitcher -- me -- going out there and setting the wrong tone. It was terrible. You cannot walk the leadoff hitter of the game [Jacoby Ellsbury], especially a guy who is as dangerous as he is on the basepaths.
Lester's Game 1 start generated some controversy after there was a suspected foreign substance on his glove. The Cardinals didn't raise an issue with it, and Lester said that it was rosin.
Considering how good Lester was in Game 1, you can understand why there might be some who suspect he was doctoring the ball. That particular matter is closed, so we can just attribute the success to the 29-year-old southpaw's ability.
It will be interesting to see if anyone in the St. Louis dugout is paying close attention to the way Lester's cutter is moving, because that was a difference-making pitch in the series opener.
Let's first examine how the Cardinals lineup fared against Lester last Wednesday.
|Cardinals vs. Lester in 2013 World Series|
(*Jon Jay took over for Carlos Beltran in the third inning)
Things will change in the lineup in Game 5 obviously due to the NL ballpark.
As you can see, Lester had tremendous success against St. Louis' lineup. That isn't an accident, either; the Cardinals have had problems all year against left-handed pitching.
|2013 Cardinals' Splits vs. Pitchers|
What's fascinating about the Cardinals' issues against southpaws is the lineup doesn't skew left. Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams and Jon Jay are the only core players who hit from the left side. Carlos Beltran is a switch-hitter, though one that is far more effective hitting left-handed (.871 OPS in 2013) than right-handed (.729 OPS).
Everyone else hits right—they just don't do it as well against left-handed pitching for whatever reason. It also doesn't help that Jon Lester is one of the best southpaws in baseball and devised a great game plan versus St. Louis.
Lester leaned heavily on his cutter during Game 1. Much more than usual, per Brooks Baseball.
|Jon Lester's Cutter|
|2013 Split||Pct. Thrown||HMov||VMov||Strike Pct.|
|Regular Season||23.96||1.80 inches||5.69 inches||21.44|
|World Series, Game 1||33.93||1.84 inches||5.18 inches||26.32|
Lester's cutter has always been the key to his success, though it's a pitch he threw less frequently in the middle of the 2013 season—going from 29 percent usage in April down to 17 percent in August before rediscovering it in September (27.5 percent) and October (25.87 percent).
It should come as no surprise that Lester's month-to-month ERA varied as such, going from 7.62 in June to 3.13 in July to 2.97 in August to 2.57 in September.
In addition to disproportionately relying on the pitch in Game 1, Lester's cutter resulted in a groundball rate of 18.42 percent and line-drive rate of 0 percent. The Cardinals were unable to square the pitch up, which gives the Red Sox pitcher a huge advantage heading into Game 5.
Unless the Cardinals have figured something out since then and now, or the lefty doesn't have the same command he did in Game 1, it's going to be a long night in St. Louis for the home team Monday night.
Moving to the home side of things, Adam Wainwright had one of those rare games where he looked human in the loss. It wasn't all his pitching's fault, as the defense let him down with two early botched plays from Pete Kozma and a pop-up that Waino should have caught, but the Cy Young candidate didn't do enough to limit the damage after the mistakes.
The Red Sox knocked Wainwright around to the tune of six hits, five runs (three earned) and one walk with four strikeouts. On the plus side, the right-hander only gave up one extra-base hit (Mike Napoli's bases-loaded double in the first inning).
|Red Sox vs. Adam Wainwright in 2013 World Series|
This group will have a much different look, with David Ortiz sliding into the first base slot and Mike Napoli being relegated to the bench.
However, the loss of the DH hasn't been a problem for the Red Sox in 2013. They played four interleague series in NL parks, and had nearly identical numbers in those games.
|Red Sox 2013 Splits|
|at NL Parks||353||.275||.334||.473|
Another factor that got lost in the Red Sox's convincing Game 1 win is the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino went hitless against Wainwright. Since he won't have to worry about Napoli, all Wainwright has to do is contain Pedroia and Ortiz to keep the lineup at bay.
One stat that should be alarming for Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals is the lack of swings and misses against his curveball. Everyone knows the hook is his best pitch, one that can make even the best hitters look like minor leaguers.
Unfortunately, because the Red Sox are such a good and patient lineup, the Cards ace has to be especially pinpoint with his pitches against John Farrell's squad.
|Whiff Percentage vs. Adam Wainwright's Curveball|
|Split||Swing %||Whiff %||LD %||BIP %|
|2013 Regular Season||43.33||14.94||3.84||14.83|
|World Series, Game 1||37.14||8.57||8.57||17.14|
If you want to know how Game 5 is going to go, be on the lookout for Waino's curveball early. He threw that pitch more than any other in Game 1 (35 times), which speaks to the trust he has in it and how ineffective his four-seam fastball and cutter were in the game.
Given Wainwright's history in the playoffs, not to mention the lack of defense last Wednesday in the loss, I wouldn't bet on a repeat.
In fact, my expectation would be that both Lester and Wainwright look like the No. 1 starters they have been for their respective teams all season. Had the Cardinals not made so many mental mistakes in Game 1, it probably would have resembled a classic pitching duel.
Bottom line: If these two offenses get an opportunity to push a run across against the opposing pitcher, they better take advantage of it.
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