Monday, October 21, 2013
10 pivotal World Series matchups
By Buster Olney
Here are 10 pivotal matchups to look out for when the World Series begins Wednesday night:
1. Red Sox hitters vs. the Cardinals bullpen
Let’s get right to it: Boston is in the World Series because of the damage done to Detroit's bullpen. Eleven of Boston’s 19 runs were plated with a reliever on the mound, including both the grand slams hit by David Ortiz and Shane Victorino.
But while bullpen depth was an Achilles’ heel for Detroit, the Cardinals are a completely different challenge, with a wave of relievers, each seemingly throwing harder than the last. The average fastball velocity for some of the St. Louis relievers (per FanGraphs):
Carlos Martinez 97.6 mph
John Axford 95.3 mph
Kevin Siegrist 95 mph
Seth Maness 90.4 mph
Trevor Rosenthal 96.4 mph
So far in the postseason, the Cardinals bullpen has allowed only six earned runs in 19 innings, with 23 strikeouts.
The St. Louis staff hasn’t dealt with a lineup quite like Boston’s, either, with almost all of the hitters running deep counts, and running up pitch counts. Michael Wacha is having unprecedented success, and he hasn’t really been pushed, requiring 96, 112 and 95 pitches in his first three postseason starts, respectively.
Adam Wainwright is a lot like Max Scherzer, in that he doesn’t often go beyond 115 pitches (just five times during the regular season). Joe Kelly didn’t throw more than 109 pitches in any of his regular-season starts, and in the postseason, he has thrown 85, 95 and 82 pitches, which is three to five innings in a typical Red Sox game. Lance Lynn threw 83 pitches in each of his first two postseason starts.
So there are probably going to be a lot of outs left on the table for the St. Louis bullpen, and what happens with those will determine the outcome of this series, as it did in the ALCS.
2. Yadier Molina vs. Red Sox baserunners
No team was more efficient than Boston in operating its running game in 2013, stealing bases at a staggering 87 percent clip, and stealing often, finishing fourth in the majors with 123 steals. Those trends have continued in the first rounds of the playoffs, with the Red Sox swiping 11 bases in 10 games. But thanks to Molina, no team shuts down baserunners quite like St. Louis.
During the entire season, opponents managed only 39 steals against the Cardinals, easily the fewest in the majors; other teams had only 65 stolen base attempts. Jacoby Ellsbury is an exceptional baserunner, but most of the rest of the Boston running game is based on opportunism, and it may well be in this series -- with every moment slowed down, with Molina and the staff in mental overdrive -- that the Red Sox won’t run much.
3. The Cardinals defense vs. space
There are so many things that St. Louis does well, but the Cardinals are not blessed with a lot of range. Left fielder Matt Holliday, center fielder Jon Jay and right fielder Carlos Beltran all rated among the worst in UZR/150 at their respective positions, with Beltran ranking next to last among all outfielders.
Now Beltran has to deal with Fenway Park’s right field, a vast expanse.
David Freese has the lowest UZR/150 among all third basemen, and second baseman Matt Carpenter -- converted to his position just this year -- is among the lowest at his position. Matt Adams ranked 16th among 32.
Yes, single-season defensive metrics are subject to small-sample-size vagaries, but the Cardinals finished 17th in the majors in defensive efficiency, which is the rate of converting batted balls into outs. Among playoff teams, only the Tigers and Indians were worse.
So you get the picture, which gives you some insight into why the Cardinals valued the defensive work of shortstop Pete Kozma, and why St. Louis must be efficient in making plays on the balls it does reach.
4. Carlos Beltran vs. Matt Holliday
They won’t be facing each other, of course. But with the switch-hitting Beltran batting second and the right-handed hitting Holliday batting third, Boston Manager John Farrell and his pitchers and catchers will often face the choice of easing their way around Beltran, who has a .921 OPS in this postseason and a long history of playoff success, and going after Holliday, who is well decorated but hit into an MLB-high 31 double plays during the regular season.
5. David Ortiz vs. first base
Big Papi will say, with a big smile, that he hasn’t made an error in four years -- and the humor is constructed within the fact that he has played just 19 games in the field in that time. Given that the Cardinals have only right-handed starting pitchers, Ortiz would be a strong candidate to start at first base in Games 3, 4 and 5, and Farrell and the other Red Sox staffers will testify to the fact that Ortiz has soft hands.
And it’s no secret that Ortiz is a hugely important part of the Boston lineup, with the most power and the most postseason success. Without his grand slam in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series, they probably wouldn’t have beaten Detroit.
If Farrell is concerned about Ortiz’s defense being an issue, or if he decides to change midstream, he does have other options, from leaving Mike Napoli in the lineup to Daniel Nava to Mike Carp. But keep in mind that if Farrell uses Ortiz as a late-inning pinch hitter, Mike Matheny has lefty bullpen weapons he can employ in response.
6. Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist vs. Ortiz
Ortiz actually has a small sample of success against the side-armer Choate, with three hits in nine at-bats. But he hasn’t seen Siegrist, who has pitched just five times this month. During the regular season, lefties were 8-for-68 against Siegrist, with just one extra-base hit and 27 strikeouts. Right-handers weren’t much better, with a .479 OPS.
Siegrist drew a lot of attention from advance scouts over the course of the long summer because of his 95 mph fastball. It remains to be seen whether Matheny prefers to use the right-handers in his bullpen, rather than Siegrist, but if he’s going to use him, Ortiz would be the natural target.
7. Allen Craig vs. The Big Moment
He has been baseball’s best hitter with runners in scoring position the past two years. But Craig will go into the World Series as something of a wild card because when he steps into the box Wednesday, he’ll be batting in a game for the first time in 49 days, for the first time since spraining his foot.
At this stage, the designated hitter role is perfect for him, as he tries to regain his timing while limiting the risk of any kind of setback. We don’t yet know whether Matheny might decide to play him at first base in Games 3, 4 and 5, but, as Joe Strauss writes, Craig hasn’t done any defensive drills to this point.
If Craig is limited to a pinch-hitting role, he’ll become an extremely dangerous bench weapon for Matheny to employ in as many as four different spots in his lineup.
8. Lance Lynn vs. Jake Peavy
Assuming that these two will work against each other, this is a game of almost complete mystery. Peavy could not command his two-seam fastball against the Tigers in Game 4, walking three in an inning before departing after just three-plus innings. By the time Game 4 of the World Series rolls around, Peavy will have made just two starts in 32 days, a significant departure from his routine; there’s really no telling how he can command the ball.
Lynn has lasted just 9 2/3 innings, in total, in his two postseason starts. An effective outing for either of these starters has a chance to be difference-making.
By the way: Carlos Beltran is 8-for-20 against Peavy, with four walks; Yadier Molina is 3-for-17.
By the way, Part II: GM John Mozeliak said he doesn’t expect Shelby Miller’s role to change in the World Series.
9. Shane Victorino vs. Adam Wainwright’s curveball
Going into Saturday’s Game 6, Victorino had been 0-for-7 with six strikeouts against curveballs in the postseason -- and then he clubbed his grand slam off Jose Veras on a hanger.
In spite of that, the Cardinals will presumably take the same approach against Victorino, spinning breaking balls, and Wainwright’s got one of the very best. In his career, Victorino is 5-for-22 with a home run against Wainwright, but remember, those were numbers accumulated as a left-handed hitter; Victorino has been hitting right-handed exclusively of late.
10. Junichi Tazawa vs. Matt Holliday and Allen Craig
Tazawa’s work against the injured Miguel Cabrera was pivotal in the AL Championship Series, and as Farrell attacks the St. Louis lineup, you figure that he’ll look for a spot to line up Tazawa against the right-handed hitting Holliday and Craig.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. If Bryan Price is named the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he’ll become part of a rare breed, writes C. Trent Rosecrans.
2. Dave Martinez told the Cubs he’d be a fit. Wrote here a couple of weeks ago that Rick Renteria is the front-runner to be the Cubs’ next manager.
• For Yasiel Puig apologists, now is not the time, writes Steve Dilbeck.
• On today's podcast, Jayson Stark and I talked World Series prediction, and Clayton Kershaw's $300 million offer.
And today will be better than yesterday.