Will the World Series Boil Down to a Battle of Bullpens
Was it inevitable that the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals would be meeting up in the World Series? After all, these are the teams that led their respective leagues in victories, and they are also teams that have very artfully dealt with the loss of key players who were either lost to injury or dealt off to other teams. In other words, they have really defined the term “great organization” to get here.
St. Louis reached this point with a lot of young pitchers, and without Allen Craig, the guy who hit .454 with runners in scoring position and will be back for this series after sitting out with a foot injury.
The Cards have been deadly at home, having won 24 of their last 29 games at Busch Stadium. The problem for them is that they are going to open with two games at Fenway Park, since the Red Sox, but virtue of the American League winning the All-Star Game, have the home field advantage.
In the odds to win the World Series as they are posted at Bovada.lv, the Red Sox, with four scheduled games at Fenway Park, are the favorites:
To Win World Series
Boston Red Sox -130
St. Louis Cardinals +110
One of the differences between the Cardinals and the Red Sox is that St. Louis is considered, at least by many astute baseball bettors, to have the two “aces” involved in this series, and both of them will probably get an opportunity to pitch twice. Adam Wainwright came down the stretch with some of his best pitching of the season, and he has been pretty strong in the playoffs. In the last 28-1/3 innings he’s thrown, he’s allowed only 19 hits and four runs. The Cards had won seven straight games he’d started until the sensational NLCS Game 3 performance from Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Wainwright, the 2010 Cy Young runner-up, has an impressive resume as a post-season pitcher, with an overall ERA of 2.10. Not all of that was as a starting pitcher, but in his last 30 innings in playoff competition, he’s allowed five runs and struck out 25. In last year’s National League Division Series, he got shelled in the fifth and final game (which St. Louis eventually won), but he wound up striking out 15 batters in eight innings (having started Game 1 as well).
As baseball bettors know, the guy who is on a run like few others coming into a World Series in recent years is rookie Michael Wacha, the former first-round draft choice out of Texas A&M. He has compiled a stretch where he’s allowed nine hits in 29-2/3 innings. In the post-season he is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA, giving up just one run. Is it time for him to be brought back down to earth? If that’s the case, it would be Game 2 at Fenway.
Boston has post-season heroes like David Ortiz, who could be in the midst of a playoff slump, yet still come up with a grand slam when his team really needs it, as he did in Game 2 of the ALCS off Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit. We know what Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury can do. We know that they are able to use the ballpark to their advantage, as evidenced by all the doubles they have been able to hit.
There may be a few weak spots in the Boston lineup, but there is one thing these guys do that can make up for some of it – they take a good look at pitches, and a lot of them, for that matter.
On average, the Red Sox made the opposing staff throw 158.5 pitches per game during the regular season, and it is the general consensus that the principal reason they were able to beat the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS is that they were able to get what amounted to three aces – Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez – taken out of games earlier than they normally would have been. They felt, and rightly so, that if they could get to a team’s bullpen and make them work, they could get an upper hand. This is not like the ‘old days,” when great pitchers gutted it out and went the whole distance when they were on their game. Managers are very mindful of pitch counts now, so the Red Sox were able to get to lesser pitchers sooner, as Jim Leyland took the bait.
Fans saw that illustrated in Game 1 of the ALCS, when Sanchez pitched no-hit ball for six innings, then had to be taken out because his pitch count was too high. The Tigers got out of that one with a victory, but the Sox were able to exploit the bullpen later in the series.
The major league average for pitches seen during a plate appearance is 3.84. Every member of Boston’s starting lineup exceeded that average except one (Shane Victorino at 3.83). That is not an accident; it is part of an overall philosophy that they would rather get deep into a staff, where there is a chance that one of those setup men, or even a closer, could be off their game.
Of course, the Red Sox have been very fortunate that their own closer has seemingly ALWAYS been on his game.
Koji Uehara, the 38-year-old right-hander who was a big star in Japan for years, was forced to come out of his role as a setup reliever and assume the role of closer when Andrew Bailey went down with an injury. Bailey himself (a former rookie of the year and All-Star) had to go from setup man to closer when Joel Hanrahan (another All-Star) was injured. Just imagine what kind of bullpen the Red Sox COULD have had. But as it stands now, they lucked into having an almost untouchable closer. Uehara has allowed two earned runs in his last 58 innings of work, and his WHIP ratio (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is the lowest ever for a pitcher with at least 50 innings.
St. Louis has a lineup full of run producers who are also clutch performers. As a team they hit .330 with runners in scoring position. And there are some genuine post-season heroes in this group. The most celebrated is Carlos Beltran, whose numbers in post-season play include 16 home runs and 37 RBI in 163 official at bats, a .337 average and a 1.173 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging average). This year he’s had twelve RBI in eleven playoff games. And now Bovada sportsbook bettors get see him play in a World Series for the first time.
Craig will be filling the designated hitter role for the first two games in Boston; what he does after that will be a decision left up to manager Mike Matheny. The absence of a DH in St. Louis may change things for the Red Sox, who will probably have to leave Mike Napoli, the guy who sees the most pitches (4.59 per appearance) on the pines.
Boston’s plan in the first two games should be relatively simple; they want to get to Wainwright, Wacha or both, with the desire to get into the Cardinal bullpen. Of course, they will likely find that this bullpen is better than the one Detroit has, with a lot of live arms like Kevin Siegrist (0.45 ERA), Seth Maness (2.32) and Trevor Rosenthal (2.63). You can put Shelby Miller in this group too. The Red Sox may find that a split at home benefits them, as they can then get to more “ordinary”: Cardinal pitchers like Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn.
But the same can be said for the Cards, who may feel they can exploit a Boston rotation that does not come off as being all that overpowering. Between Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy, there really isn’t a guy there you would hand the ball to if your life depended on it. Some baseball bettors might disagree with that, but when you have perhaps the two best starting pitchers in this series, who will probably get two starts each, as well as a bunch of guy who know how to hit in the clutch, you have a pretty good shot as a World Series betting underdog, no matter where the games are played.
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