Game 5 of the World Series on Monday night features a scrumptious starting pitching matchup of Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright, the aces of the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.
Both excelled during the early rounds of the postseason, but Wainwright wasn't sharp at all in the opener of this series. Lester capitalized on his shakiness and led the Red Sox to an 8-1 rout.
By dissecting the highlights and crunching some numbers, we'll get a better idea of what to expect from them in the rematch from Busch Stadium.
Regardless of how you evaluate it, Lester was terrific last week. The 29-year-old completed 7.2 scoreless innings, piling up eight strikeouts while only issuing one walk. It was among the most dominant World Series outings of the past several generations for the Red Sox:
|Starting Pitcher||Date||Opponent||Game Score|
|Jim Lonborg||Oct. 5, 1967||St. Louis Cardinals||88|
|Jim Lonborg||Oct. 9, 1967||St. Louis Cardinals||81|
|Joe Dobson||Oct. 11, 1946||St. Louis Cardinals||80|
|Bruce Hurst||Oct. 18, 1986||New York Mets||78|
|Luis Tiant||Oct. 11, 1975||Cincinnati Reds||78|
|Jon Lester||Oct. 23, 2013||St. Louis Cardinals||76|
|Dave Ferriss||Oct. 9, 1967||St. Louis Cardinals||76|
Lester's knack for elevating the quality of his pitching in October puts him in the company of a few all-time greats, tweets ESPN's John Buccigross:
Lowest Career Postseason ERA Last 100 Years Waite Hoyt 1.83 Jon Lester 2.22 Curt Schilling 2.23 >>Minimum 10 starts— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) October 24, 2013
To the dismay of the Cardinals and their fans, he has also been in an excellent groove since early August. The Game 1 masterpiece was his 12th quality start in the past 14 tries. During that stretch, the veteran lefty has consistently kept the basepaths clean:
|Aug. 8 - Oct. 23||97.0||81||22||28||74|
We're looking at two-and-a-half months of a 1.12 WHIP against mostly American League lineups.
In other words, putting on multiple baserunners against Lester in any inning is a rare luxury. Ending his evening early will require the Red Birds to rack up extra-base hits.
This is where National League rules come back to bite St. Louis. No designated hitter spot means no plate appearances from banged-up Allen Craig until the later innings. Besides him, this club doesn't flash much power against southpaws:
Manager Mike Matheny doesn't have any decent options at shortstop or center field. Likewise, Adams will be of little value at first base so long as Lester is on the mound.
No Cardinals regular has taken lefties deep at the same frequency Craig has in recent years. Beltran, the only one who comes close, was uncharacteristically ineffective in such situations throughout 2013.
All signs point to this being another smooth performance for Lester, with only Holliday and Molina posing legitimate threats.
Of course, Wainwright has proven all year that he can match zeroes with anybody for as many innings as the Cardinals need him to.
So what was this all about?
Waino finished with five runs allowed and four strikeouts, the least impressive totals he's had in those categories since a Sept. 2 outing. It took him 95 pitches to get through five innings.
Here's what the 32-year-old had to say afterward, according to Anthony Gulizia of The Boston Globe:
I felt very out of synch tonight, unfortunately...It's something usually I can make adjustments on the fly a lot quicker than I was able to tonight. It’s pretty disappointing to do that on this stage.
It was difficult from the first pitch on. I didn't make it real tough on them. I threw a lot of balls out of the zone, no contest pitches, and a lot pitches up for them to hit. Kind of a perfect storm of pitching.
From those comments, we can gather that there was an issue with Wainwright's delivery. That surely contributed to his diminished fastball velocity:
|Oct. 3||Pittsburgh Pirates||7.0||1||93.69 mph|
|Oct. 9||Pittsburgh Pirates||9.0||1||94.25 mph|
|Oct. 14||Los Angeles Dodgers||7.0||2||93.05 mph|
|Oct. 23||Boston Red Sox||5.0||3||91.91 mph|
With an extra one or two miles per hour, the reliable right-hander could've gotten away with more mistakes. It's easier to upset batters' timing at the plate when there's a substantial difference in speeds between fastballs and secondary stuff.
However, there's no guarantee Waino will return to form Monday night. His 2013 workload has been among the heaviest of the past decade:
|Pitcher||Year||Total Innings (Regular Season and Postseason)|
And notice how the others on that list generally limped to the finish:
|Pitcher||Year||Regular-Season ERA||ERA in Final Two Starts|
On the bright side, Wainwright historically excels against the players on Boston's roster. Even including the matchup earlier this series, he has limited them to a .189 batting average (17-for-90) and .582 OPS.
More stats from those who have faced Waino at least 10 times:
There's a strong possibility all four will start for the Red Sox in Game 5.
That scenario would give Wainwright tons of confidence, as Drew and Victorino—who is day to day with a nagging back injury, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com—have both slumped miserably during the past two series. Ross, the only one who owns decent numbers against the Cardinals rotation leader, hasn't played on consecutive nights since early September. Attempting to do so might be counterproductive for the 36-year-old.
In his previous start, Wainwright threw about as many first-pitch strikes and total strikes as he did throughout his extraordinary regular season and postseason. The issue was that he left a few offerings above the belt, where the opposition could make solid contact. Mike Napoli's bases-clearing double and David Ortiz's near-grand slam both resulted from such pitches.
Getting ahead in the count is crucial to Waino's success. Nearly one-third of all regular-season plate appearances he began 0-1 culminated in a strikeout. The helpless batters who found themselves in that predicament combined for a lousy .528 OPS (.799 OPS when count begins 1-0).
He should fearlessly aim over the plate when initiating new battles. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Red Sox swing at the fewest first pitches in baseball.
Lester will almost certainly turn in an effective and lengthy effort. Meanwhile, Wainwright's performance hinges on whether Game 1 was an anomaly or the manifestation of fatigue.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.