• Starting pitchers: Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA)
• Scouting report on Wainwright: Not much went right for Wainwright in Game 1 against the Red Sox. A seven-pitch walk to Jacoby Ellsbury in the first was only the start of the 32-year-old’s rough night as he allowed three runs in the opening inning, partly due to poor defensive play behind him. However, with the series tied 2-2, Wainwright has another crack at giving his team the advantage moving forward.
“It’s a pretty clean slate [from my last start],” Wainwright said Sunday in his news conference at Busch Stadium. “I honestly don’t know why my mechanics were as bad as they were [and] my delivery was off as much as it was. But I feel like I’ve put a lot of good reps in in front of the mirror and watching film and feeling my delivery again.”
“I feel like I’ve made a lot of good adjustments to be ready for this next game to throw some quality pitches.”
In his Game 1 start, Wainwright’s curveball was his best pitch. He used his curveball for 15 of his final 33 pitches, a span that saw him retire seven straight batters before allowing a David Ortiz single in the fifth inning that he was able to pitch around. Overall, Wainwright went five innings, allowing five runs (three earned) on six hits and striking out four.
“I learned that they hit mistakes,” Wainwright said of his first career start against Boston last Wednesday. “And I learned that if I make mistakes in the middle of the plate up in the zone, they’re going to hit them.”
Overall, Wainwright is 2-2 in his four postseason starts with a 2.25 ERA. The right-hander has allowed seven runs (five earned) in his past 12 innings after allowing only two runs in his first 16 innings pitched of the playoffs.
• Scouting report on Lester: Putting aside the speculation that he was in some way doctoring his pitches in Game 1, Lester pitched masterfully, shutting out the Cardinals’ potent offense for 7 2/3 innings and striking out eight batters. The start was yet another in a string of successful starts Lester has made in October, something he says he doesn’t know how to explain.
“I feel like I’ve pitched pretty [well] throughout most of my seasons, and it’s just carried over into the postseason,” Lester said Sunday. “I don’t know what it is. I like this stage. I like knowing that I’ve got to go out there and give everything I’ve got for my teammates, because tomorrow might be our last game. You don’t know; I guess that just gives you that little extra focus.”
Of Lester’s 10 career postseason starts, seven have been of the quality variety — at least six innings pitched and three runs or fewer allowed. The 29-year-old has gone 5-4 in 12 postseason appearances overall, posting a 2.22 ERA. Of his 69 postseason innings pitched, 13 1/3 have come in the World Series, where he has yet to allow a run.
“I think the one thing that we all recognize is that the power stuff wins in the postseason,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday. “He’s got it, he maintains it, and yet, in addition to his physical strengths, there’s a level of concentration that he’s capable of maintaining that gives him the ability to execute consistently over the time he’s on the mound. Those two things combined are what’s given [him] the career performance he’s had in the postseason.”
This will be the first time in his career that Lester has made five starts in a single postseason.
Three Cardinals players to watch
• Carlos Beltran, RF: Beltran was only given one shot at Lester in Game 1, striking out swinging on four pitches before being removed from the game due to a rib contusion. Beltran has three hits in 10 World Series at-bats so far, two of which have come in his two at-bats with runners in scoring position. Beltran was left with a bat in his hand at home plate in the ninth inning of Game 4 after Kolten Wong was picked off first base to end the game.
• David Freese, 3B: Since singling in the ninth inning of Game 1, Freese has been held hitless in his past eight at-bats, a streak that’s resulted in him being dropped to seventh in the order. Of the 13 runners he’s left on base the past four games, six have been left in scoring position.
• Pete Kozma, SS: In keeping with pattern, manager Mike Matheny has selected Kozma to start at short in Games 1 and 3 while going with Daniel Descalso in Games 2 and 4. The difference between the two has been a wash offensively, as Descalso is 0-for-6 while Kozma is 0-for-8 through the first four games of the series. However, Kozma was the only St. Louis Cardinals hitter to not strike out in Game 1, seeing 13 pitches in his three plate appearances.
Three Red Sox players to watch
• David Ortiz, 1B: A lot of the talk leading into the World Series was about how many games Ortiz would play at first base over Mike Napoli. But Ortiz has ended that conversation, with a gaudy .727 batting average, a result of eight hits in 11 at-bats. His eight hits have accounted for a third of the Red Sox’s total in the series (24). He also has two of Boston’s three homers and he leads the team in RBI (5) and runs (5). He has collected hits in his past four at-bats and is the only Boston starter to not strike out so far.
• Jonny Gomes, LF: With outfielder Shane Victorino’s status still unknown following his late scratch before Game 4, Gomes re-proved his worth in the lineup to Farrell by hitting what turned out to be the game-winning three-run home run for Boston in the sixth inning, ending his 0-for-9 skid to start the World Series. Gomes also worked a 10-pitch walk in the fifth and a six-pitch walk in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game, a step back on the right track for a player with whom Boston has won eight of nine postseason starts.
• Xander Bogaerts, 3B: Bogaerts started off the series going 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 before turning it on in St. Louis to collect three hits in his past seven at-bats. The 21-year-old’s .231 average is third on the team behind Ortiz (.727) and Dustin Pedroia (.267).
Three key considerations:
• Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa has appeared in all four World Series games, the only pitcher on either team to do so. Farrell has used Tazawa to face just one batter in three of his four appearances, something the 27-year-old did in only two of his 71 appearances during the regular season.
• Sunday night’s win guaranteed that the series will shift back to Fenway Park for at least a Game 6. So far this postseason, Boston is 5-2 at home compared to 4-3 on the road.
• David Ross will be back behind the plate in Game 5, according to Farrell. Ross has caught all four of Lester’s starts this postseason, including Game 1 where he went 1-for-2 against Wainwright. It will be Ross’s second consecutive start since regular starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia made a throw that led to the obstruction call that ended Game 3.
Okay, this particular week on the schedule can be called “Ground Zero” at this point because it looks to be the ‘making’ or ‘breaking’ point. Needless to say, The Nation has gone Ape Sh!t and collectively pushed the panic button. Management as well needed to push a button or two… and ejected future HOF John Smoltz.
Now, don’t read too deeply into this, I am not a dedicated Smoltzie fan. I follow the Braves because of their Beantown connection and are my NL alternative, but have never been a ‘fan’. I liked the signing of this 22 year veteran because it added postseason experience in the form of a guy who would do anything the club requested of him, much in the mold of Tim Wakefield.
And to those keeping score… I’m pretty sure a nutless monkey could have figured he wasn’t coming to town to win a Cy Young.
The Sox are not in a tailspin, a meltdown or anything other than a funk. The pitching is going through it’s normal semi-seasonal spasm which just happens to be overlapping with the drought of power at the plate. Hell… nevermind power, how many times can you get two or three guys on with one or NO outs and not score?
Smoltz should have been accepted for what he was, a veteran pitcher with a reconstructed shoulder who could still go an inning or two to help float the bullpen and hold things together mentally for the younger guys in the stretch run. He should not have been called upon to start. Sorry Theo & Tito, but no. Spot start sure, on a day when you know the bullpen will be required, but not to stand in as a regular starter. Yes, with Wake going down and Dice-K going to Dunkin’ Donuts during the WBC we needed that stand in, but Masterson at the time and perhaps a Bowden/Tazawa experiment could have fared better. But Smoltz is apparently gone (unless he decides to tough out some more time in Pawtucket) and now we’ll never know what a Smoltz seventh, Saito eighth and Pap ninth will look like. Imagine that in the House that Ruth Financed in October..!
Time will tell. Tazawa is here, Dice-K shall return and Wake is expected next week. With a little luck and some timely hitting all will be the normal controlled late season chaos in The Nation.