The first Fenway Park portion of the '13 World Series has concluded with the Red Sox and Cardinals tied at one game apiece. The Red Sox blew out St. Louis in the opener 8-1 and the Cards fought back to win Game Two 4-2. Each team's win was largely aided by the poor fielding of the opponent.
The World Series moves to St. Louis with night games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. First some observations on Games One:
* Jon Lester. The debate is over. Jon Lester is an ace. Not only only did the 29 year old hurl 7 2/3 shutout innings at the Cards to gain the Game One victory, but he added to his place in postseason history. Of all the pitchers to make a minimum of 10 postseason starts ( Lester now has 10 plus two relief appearances.) Jon has the 3rd lowest starter's ERA of all time. The two guys ahead of him are Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Waite Hoyt. Lester's ERA for his starts is 2.07 ( 2.22 overall). Additionally, he has now pitched two World Series games, and he has won both, pitching 13 1/3 innings and allowing no runs. He will be ready for game Five.
* Adam Wainwright, the veteran Cardinal ace, was battered by the Bosox early and often( although he was not helped by the shoddy defense of his teammates and himself). Wainwright lasted only five innings. Many pundits began postulating after the second inning, that St. Louis manager, Mike Matheny, should have pulled Wainwright after that inning with his pitch count at 50, so he could come back on short rest in Game Four. Instead he threw 95 pitches in his five innings. There is still some speculation Wainwright could pitch Game Four on short rest if the Cardinals lose Game Three. I do not believe Matheny will try this, and the reason I think this is also a reason Wainwright may not be effective in this World Series. After Game One's five innings, Wainwright is up to a fraction shy of 270 innings pitched this year ( regular and post seasons). After watching him in Game One I think there is a real chance he is gassed or damned close to it.
* It was encouraging to see the Sox offense put 8 on the board, including 5 early on. Mike Napoli's bases clearing double and a Papi home run for two more were the big hits. And Ortiz came one ribs bruising grab by Carlos Beltran from hitting two home runs( the Beltran robbery prevented what also would have Papi's second grand slam of this post season). On the downside some of the slumping Red Sox , mainly SS Stephen Drew, are still not hitting.
* The Cardinals dropped double play turns ( Pete Kozma), pop ups to the mound ( Wainwright), showed no range on hits through the hole ( David Freese). The postmortem by the national media wondered why such a strong defensive team, that was near the top of the National League in fielding percentage could have played so poorly. Well here is a big part of the answer. The Cardinals ARE NOT A GOOD DEFENSIVE TEAM!! Fielding percentage is an antiquated way to judge defense. It does not account for range, for example. As matter of fact it can be detrimental to a player with good to great range penalizing for errors made on balls other players cannot reach. Other than Kozma ( although you could not tell in Game One) and Yadi Molina St. Louis has no good defensive players and no range anywhere except shortstop. Try this defensive measurement instead of fielding %. Defensive Efficiency. This is a percentage of balls put in play that are turned into outs. St. Louis was 12th in the NL and 18th in MLB in this category. They are not a good defensive team, and this will bite them again ( and again?) in this World Series.
And now Game Two:
* Michael Wacha came as advertised ( if not a little better). Going forward he is the St. Louis starter to worry about more than Wainwright. However as impressive as Wacha was, he was only able to complete six innings after reaching 102 pitches. In other words, the Red Sox were able to work him and drive his count, as they are wont to do. And when Wacha left the mound for the last time in this game, he trailed 2-1 due to another David Ortiz two run home run, his 17th career postseason blast. If and when Game Six rolls around, Wacha will be tough but not unbeatable.
* John Lackey pitched a fabulous game and as in so many instances in 2013, he deserved to win. If Lackey gets matched up with Michael Wacha again, I would feel perfectly comfortable with that. A World Series clinching win in Game Six would complete the rehabilitation of John Lackey in the eyes of Red Sox Nation.
* The St. Louis bullpen is not the Detroit or Tampa Bay pens. On this night Carlos Martinez and closer Trevor Rosenthal did the job with Rosenthal striking out the side in the ninth. This bullpen will be a challenge for the Sox, getting to the seventh inning or so with a lead may be crucial. Koji Uehara got an inning of work, and I still think St. Louis will struggle just as much with the Boston pen as the Sox did in Game Two versus the Cards.
* By now all of the fans know the Red Sox likely gave away the game in the seventh inning with a number of poor defensive plays, all sort of intertwined. Without beating it to death here are four things that should have or could have happened, any of which keep the Sox 2-1 lead or at worst a 2-2 tie.
1. Saltalamacchia, on a great pitch to throw on, fires to third to nail Kozma stealing third on the front end of a double steal instead of not be able to find the ball in his glove and not throw at all.
2. When Matt Carpenter hits an one out bases loaded fly out to Jonny Gomes in relatively shallow left, Gomes throws a strike to the plate to nail Kozma and protecting the 2-1 lead. Instead his throw is up the first base side leading to:
3. Salty reaching for the errant throw instead moving to be sure to catch the ball leading to:
4. Craig Breslow backing up Salty perfectly but taking the ball ( which does not get to him if Salty catches it or Gomes throws it better) and attempting to get the runner at third and promptly air mails in to the seats. Breslow needed to either eat the ball or throw a strike to third for the third out.
So a frustrating play and result that could have easily been a 2-1 Sox win and a 2-0 games lead.
Now some thoughts about the games in St. Louis:
* Lack of the DH could really hurt the Red Sox. David Ortiz is locked in and must be in the lineup at first base. This will take Mike Napoli out of the lineup, removing our second biggest power threat and diminishing the defense at first. But the Sox are 4-0 with Ortiz at first in World Series play in the past, and were 4-2 with Papi starting at first in 2013. Also without the DH, Stephen Drew ( and Salty, too) have to hit. If Drew continues at his 4 for 42 pace and the pitcher is batting, too, that is two black holes in the lineup. If Drew should go o-fer in Game Three, and the Sox lose, Farrell may have to go to Bogaerts at short and Will Middlebrooks at third to try to get some offense.
* Fully expect to see Daniel Nava in left for Gomes, again in an attempt to boost the offense.
* There is every indication Games Three and Four could be high scoring affairs. With St. Louis starting Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn, even with no DH the Red Sox need to and should rake. And Jake Peavy, the Red Sox Game Three starter must repeat his ALDS Game Four sterling performance. If instead, Peavy gives another start like his ALCS effort the Cards offense will feast. And as for the Red Sox Game Four starter, is it Clay Buchholz, as expected(??) or Felix Doubront? Well take these numbers out for a test drive:
* In the 2013 season, St. Louis batters put up the following numbers against right handed pitchers:
Runs Scored 597 ( second in MLB to Boston's 603)
Batting Ave. .280 ( third in MLB to Detroit and Boston)
On Base % .343 ( third in MLB to Boston and Detroit)
Now the Cardinals stats versus left handed pitching:
Runs Scored 186 ( 12th in MLB)
Batting Ave. .238 ( 27th in MLB leading only Marlins, Cubs, and Mariners)
On Base % .301 ( 26th in MLB leading only Jays, Mariners, and both Chicago teams)
Based on these numbers Felix Doubront has to be the Game Four starter. Based on these numbers, and Buchholz' lackluster October and his seeming reticence to pitch it has to be Prince Felix. If Doubront is not the starter than he needs to be ready to come right in behind Clay at the first sign of trouble. I have a sneaky suspicion that Doubront starts.
* And after hopefully a strong Game Four by Felix, the ace lefty Jon Lester goes back to the hill, to really give the Cards a taste of left handed pitching that they so struggle against. At this point, I feel the blueprint for Red Sox success is to do all they can to split ( at minimum) games Three and Four. This would get them to Lester for Game Five with his strong post season record and left handedness big Sox plusses. Then the Red Sox could return to Fenway with two chances to wrap up the World Championship at Fenway Park for the first time in 95 years.
* I still like my opening World Series prediction of Sox in six.