While it may seem foolish to call Game 2 of the 2013 World Series a "must-win" game for the St. Louis Cardinals, dropping the first two games of the series to the Boston Red Sox would put the National League champions in a deep hole that they may not be able to climb out of.
Here's the ugly truth:
- The team that has emerged victorious in Game 1 has won 21 of the past 25 World Series.
- In World Series history, 53 teams have jumped out to a 2-0 series lead—and 42 of those teams have gone on to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy.
- The last time Boston and St. Louis met in the Fall Classic, back in 2004, Boston jumped out to a 2-0 lead—and swept the Cardinals in four games.
Game 2 is close to a "must-win" for the Cardinals, and the Red Sox would love nothing more than to head to St. Louis knowing that, in a worst-case scenario where the Cardinals won all three games at Busch Stadium, the series would still return to Fenway Park.
While history may not be on St. Louis' side, Michael Wacha, the best pitcher in the postseason thus far, is—and that's reason enough for the Cardinals and their fans to remain optimistic.
Let's take a look at the keys for each team heading into an incredibly important Game 2 when Wacha will face off against veteran John Lackey on Thursday night.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
With the way that things went for the Red Sox in Game 1, where everything seemed to come up Milhouse, it'd be easy for the American League champions to get cocky and overconfident heading into Game 2.
But as MLB.com's Andrew Simon points out, of the 15 teams who cruised to a Game 1 victory in the Fall Classic by at least six runs, only eight went on to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy—and only four of those teams did so after four games.
I'm not saying that Boston shouldn't be confident heading into Game 2, but that confidence needs to be tempered with a dose of reality that the team on the other side of the field is a damn good one—one that is capable of tying the series up before it heads back to St. Louis.
Taking the opposition lightly would be an egregious mistake, one that could prove to be incredibly costly down the line as the series continues to unfold.
If you're looking for damning stats from Game 1, this gem that the folks over at ESPN Stats and Info tweeted fits the bill:
"The Cardinals spent 8 minutes, 41 seconds at bat in the 1st 2 innings. The Red Sox batted for 38:13."
While it's unclear whether that includes the time that it took the umpires to conference and reverse Dana DeMuth's terrible call at second base in the first inning (and the Cardinals other defensive miscues contributed to the absurd disparity), St. Louis simply cannot be dispatched of at the plate as quickly as it was.
Sure, there's something to be said for being aggressive at the plate, but to make your first six outs of the game in fewer than 10 minutes is unacceptable, especially for a team that has seen more pitches during the postseason than any other squad, per MLB.com.
Whether it's not swinging at the first pitch they see or asking for time from the home plate umpire and stepping out of the batter's box to re-adjust their batting gloves, the Cardinals need to slow things down—and make John Lackey, Boston's Game 2 starter, work far harder early in the game than Jon Lester did.
Michael Wacha has been the story of the postseason so far, with the 22-year-old right-hander allowing only one earned run and eight hits in 21 innings of work, walking four and striking out 22.
Boston has never faced him before—and, as CBS Sports' Matt Snyder reports, the Red Sox don't know much about him:
"I know he throws hard," said Shane Victorino. "I haven't seen or studied much of him."
"Here and there you get to see him on TV," Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew said when asked if he knew anything about Wacha. "But it's not like being in the box. When you step in the box for the first time against a guy, it's totally new."
"We'll watch video," first baseman Mike Napoli said. "Maybe talk to a couple guys that I know who played in the National League. Basically you're gonna get a scouting report, watch video and try to get an idea of what he's gonna try to do."
Watching video and talking to players on the Senior Circuit who have faced him before is terrific, but Drew is right—nothing can replicate standing in the batter's box and facing a pitcher live, when a batter can truly get a feel for what he throws, how his pitches move and how best to attack him.
During the regular season, back when Wacha looked like a mere mortal and not a superhero, it didn't seem to matter how many times he faced batters in a given game—they still struggled to produce against him:
While batters seem to have their best chances of producing against him the second time that they step to the plate, a .652 OPS is nothing to pound your chest about. Pay little attention to the fourth plate appearance numbers, as Wacha has only faced batters four times in a game twice.
If there's one thing that the Red Sox can do to increase their chances of success against Wacha, it's making him throw a lot of pitches early:
Getting Wacha's pitch count up quickly accomplishes two things.
Not only does he become more hittable as his pitch count rises, but Mike Matheny isn't likely to keep him in the game much past 100 pitches, something that he's done only three times in his career and once in the playoffs (Wacha had 112 against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS).
Per MLB.com, the Red Sox saw more pitches during the regular season than any other team—and they trail only St. Louis in that category during the playoffs.
Getting Wacha's pitch count up early—and more looks at him on the mound—is crucial to Boston's chances of taking a 2-0 series lead.
Anything that could have gone wrong for the Cardinals in Game 1 did.
The team's defensive shortcomings reared their ugly head multiple times, especially in the first two innings when Boston jumped out to a 5-0 lead. While the box score shows that St. Louis picked up seven hits on the night, the Cardinals struggled to generate any real offense.
Consider this: St. Louis loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning and had runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth—and the team that led all of baseball in hitting with runners in scoring position during the regular season failed to score a run.
Most damning, of course, is the rib injury suffered by postseason stud Carlos Beltran. The right fielder is listed as day-to-day, but the injury is incredibly painful and could limit him severely at the plate.
Just ask the Dodgers' Hanley Ramirez how it feels to try and swing a bat with a rib injury, something he struggled to do with any consistent success in the NLCS against St. Louis.
The Cardinals cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves, to dwell on what went wrong in Game 1, if they are going to even things up with a Game 2 victory. Mike Matheny knows this as well, as he explained as much to USA Today's Paul White after the game:
They know the caliber of players they are and the way they played all season. There's no reason to accept anything less or to expect anything less. It's just a matter of having a short memory. I'm not going to let our guys forget we're a good club too.
For the Cardinals, they need to enter Game 2 as if it's the first game of the series—and look at the series as if it's a best-of-six instead of a best-of-seven.
Boston has now won nine consecutive World Series games, dating back to 2004, and four of the six games that have been played at Fenway Park in this postseason.
It's no surprise that the Red Sox have been successful when it comes to defending their turf; After all, this was the team that posted the American League's best home record during the regular season (53-28), the second-best mark in baseball behind only the Atlanta Braves (56-25).
While Michael Wacha has shown the poise on the mound of a seasoned veteran, he's a 22-year-old kid making his first World Series start in one of the most hallowed ballparks in the game—and the Cardinals have lost four of the six road games that they've played in the playoffs.
As we saw in Game 1, Boston fans can get loud—quickly—and even the most steeled veteran can get unnerved on the mound.
The crowd will be fired up once again in Game 2, and the Red Sox need to continue to feed off of that energy—and head to St. Louis with a 2-0 series lead, putting them firmly in the driver's seat the rest of the way.