Posted October 28, 2013

World Series Game 5 preview: Red Sox at Cardinals

Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, World Series

Red Sox at Cardinals
Start time: 8:07 p.m. ET
TV: FOX
Series: tied 2-2
Starting pitchers: Jon Lester (3-1, 1.67 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (2-2, 2.25 ERA)

A tiebreaking Game 5 in a best-of-seven series is certainly crucial for either team because it puts the winner just one victory away from a series triumph. That said, Monday night’s World Series Game 5 is actually more important for the Cardinals, both because of who they have on the mound and where this game will be played.

The history of best-of-seven matchups in the League Championship Series and World Series makes Game 5 even more vital for St. Louis. In best-of-seven series with the conventional 2/3/2 home/road pattern, 19 teams have lost a tiebreaking Game 5 at home, and just one of them, the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 National League Championship Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, rallied to win the final two games on the road to take the series. By comparison, of the 33 teams that lost a tiebreaking Game 5 on the road, 13 rallied to win the series at home.

That’s not to say that the World Series won’t tilt in the Cardinals’ favor if they win this game, but it won’t do so quite as dramatically as one might think. On the other hand, a loss in Game 5, at least according to that history above, will all but seal St. Louis’ fate.

It’s fortuitous then, that the Cardinals have Adam Wainwright starting at Busch Stadium in this game. As I have detailed several times this month, Wainwright, with one dramatic exception, has been dominant when pitching at home this season, both in the regular and postseasons. The one exception was his Aug. 28 start against the Reds, in which het gave up nine runs in two innings, a performance that remains the worst of his eight-year career. Remove that fluke outing, however, and Wainwright, in 18 other home starts between the regular and postseasons, has posted a 1.13 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 6.68 strikeout to walk ratio while completing five of those 18 games, two of them shutouts. Even when including that disaster against Cincinnati, he has had a 1.71 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 6.14 K/BB at home this season. His last start at Busch came against the Pirates in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Division Series. He allowed just one run in that game, going the distance to deliver the series to the Redbirds.

Wainwright wasn’t sharp in his Game 1 start in the World Series, but that came on the road following eight days of rest, his longest layoff this season. Assessing his own performance in that game, Wainwright said, “The good news is, I didn’t show [the Red Sox] anything I had. Everything I threw . . . was pretty much garbage.” Theoretically, pitching at home on regular rest, he will be sharper Monday night.

It’s important to note that Wainwright has now thrown 269 1/3 innings this season between the regular and postseasons. That’s 28 1/3 more innings than he has ever thrown before in a single season. Whatever happens, this game will be Wainwright’s last start this season, so he can all but empty the tank knowing he’ll have the offseason to recover, but one does have to wonder just how much is left in that tank.

Opposing Wainwright will be Game 1 winner Jon Lester. He has been outstanding this postseason, but has also been far better at home than on the road all year. In the regular and postseasons combined, he has posted a 4.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and measly 2.15 K/BB ratio on the road. His one road start this postseason, in Game 5 against the Tigers in the ALCS, was the only one of his four postseason starts that wasn’t quality.

Despite their heavy use the last two days, both bullpens should be ready to go with just one exception each. Game 4 winner Felix Doubront, having thrown 55 pitches the last two days, is surely unavailable for Boston, while John Axford, who threw 30 pitches for St. Louis in Game 4, will likely be avoided as well.

Meanwhile, David Ortiz, who was 3-for-3 with a walk in Game 4, will be back at first base and will likely continue to be pitched around in big spots. In each of the last two games, the Cardinals refused to give Ortiz anything to hit with a man on first base and two outs, walking him on four pitches, though not intentionally. Ortiz is an unreal 8-for-11 (.727) on the series with four walks and no strikeouts. Of the three outs he has made in four games, one came on a would-be grand slam in Game 1 that Carlos Beltran brought back into the ballpark.

As for the Cardinals, their most dangerous hitter right now is Allen Craig, but he is still not ready to play the field because of his foot injury. That means that one of manager Mike Matheny’s top jobs in this game, once again, will be to find the highest-leverage spot in which to deploy Craig, who doubled as a pinch-hitter in Game 3 and singled in Game 4. He is now 6-for-8 in that role in his postseason career, including 4-for-4 in the World Series.

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