For the first time in 95 years, the Boston Red Sox can clinch a World Series title at home in Fenway Park, needing only a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 on Wednesday.
Behind the stellar pitching of Jon Lester, dazzling hitting of David Ortiz and dominance of closer Koji Uehara, the Red Sox are bringing a 3-2 series lead back home after defeating Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in Game 5.
The Cardinals are at a disadvantage being down in the series and heading into enemy territory for the final games of the season.
Carlos Beltran certainly exudes confidence, though, as he told Paul Hagen of MLB.com,
Being able to win the second game shows us we can win over there. We just have to find a way to win and push it to a seventh game. We have the same confidence in [Wacha] as we have in Wainwright, so it's a good feeling.
Now with a chance to end the baseball season on Wednesday night, Boston will send John Lackey to the mound against Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha.
Here is how the two pitchers have fared in the postseason thus far.
There hasn't been a bigger story this postseason than the emergence of Wacha.
The 22-year-old rookie with just nine regular season starts under his belt has arguably been the best starting pitcher in October.
Numbers like that are what we expect to see from Adam Wainwright among Cardinals pitchers, but Wacha has given the Cardinals a two-headed monster at the top of their rotation. It's a good thing, too, because offense has been at a premium in this World Series.
Wacha's most dangerous weapon is a changeup that he will throw to anyone in any count.
That confidence is what makes the pitch so hard to handle. Typically a right-handed pitcher will only use the changeup to neutralize left-handed hitters, but as you can see from the data, the 2012 first-round draft pick doesn't care who is hitting.
|Split||Pct. Used||Swing Pct||Miss Pct.||LD/BIP||GB/BIP|
The Red Sox couldn't get anything going against Wacha in Game 2, save for David Ortiz's two-run home run on a high changeup in the sixth inning to give Boston a temporary lead.
Ortiz's performance in the World Series has been unreal. He has gotten on base 15 times in the first five games (11 hits, four walks), tying a record set by Barry Bonds in 2002.
Bonds also holds the all-time record for reaching base in a World Series with 21. He had seven games to do so.
It's possible Ortiz could tie or break the record, though the series would likely have to go the distance (or St. Louis' pitching would have to fall apart in Game 6 for him to get six or seven more plate appearances).
No one else in the Red Sox lineup has come close to matching what Ortiz has done, which makes you wonder how aggressive St. Louis manager Mike Matheny will be against him if runners are on base when Boston's designated hitter steps up to the plate.
One final stat for Wacha—take a look at the pitchers he's gone up against in the postseason and how the numbers compare.
|NLDS G4 StL vs. Pit: Wacha Stats||7.1||1||1||9-2|
|NLDS G4 StL vs. Pit: Morton Stats||5.2||3||2||4-4|
|NLCS G2 Stl vs. LAD: Wacha Stats||6.2||5||0||8-1|
|NLCS G2 StL vs. LAD: Kershaw Stats||6.0||2||1 (unearned)||5-1|
|NLCS G6 StL vs. LAD: Wacha Stats||7.0||2||0||5-1|
|NLCS G6 StL vs. LAD: Kershaw Stats||4.0||10||7||5-2|
|WS G2 StL vs. Bos: Wacha Stats||6.0||3||2||6-4|
|WS G2: StL vs. Bos: Lackey Stats||6.1||5||3||6-2|
It's a slaughter for Wacha, which is no easy feat considering he went up against Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, twice. This postseason resume is one nobody else in the World Series can touch.
The Cardinals need Wacha to keep doing what he's done all month if they want to keep their season alive.
On the flip side, what a great story this could be for John Lackey.
He was a pariah among Red Sox fans during his first two years with the team in 2010-11, posting the worst ERA (5.26) of any starting pitcher with at least 300 innings in MLB. He missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which undoubtedly played a role in his poor performance in 2011.
It also didn't help Lackey that he was a central figure in the "chicken and beer scandal" that became the narrative for why the 2011 Red Sox collapsed in September.
This season saw the rebirth of Lackey, who had his best season, at least by ERA, since 2007 with the Los Angeles Angels.
|Best/Lowest Total Since: 2010||2010||Ever||2006||Ever||2007||2007|
Lackey's strong showing this season wasn't just an added or welcome bonus for a good Red Sox team; it was a necessary component for the club to win a crowded American League East and make a deep playoff run.
One area that does favor the Cardinals against Lackey is their right-handed hitting. The season splits versus right-handed pitching for St. Louis are incredible, made even stronger by Lackey's weaker performance against right-handed hitting.
|StL vs. RHP||4,105||.280||.343||.412|
|StL vs. LHP||1,452||.238||.301||.371|
|Lackey vs. RHH||322||.258||.297||.463|
|Lackey vs. LHH||404||.238||.285||.374|
The Cardinals did have some success against Lackey in Game 2, though not enough to say they completely figured him out. Two big hitters in the St. Louis lineup, Carlos Beltran and Matt Adams, will be batting from the left side, so Lackey figures to have an advantage over them.
A big reason Boston manager John Farrell likely wanted to line up Lackey for two starts at Fenway in the World Series is the stark contrast in performance for the right-hander at home in 2013.
Of course, the success in Boston isn't limited to just Lackey. The Red Sox have the best home record in the American League during the regular season (53-28) and are 5-2 in the postseason.
Which pitcher has the advantage in Game 6?
If the Cardinals get to Lackey, the numbers suggest it will happen right out of the gate or during the second time through the lineup. He had an ERA of 4.34 in the first inning and 5.59 in the fourth inning.
Lackey did give up a run in the fourth inning of Game 2, the only one he would allow until that sloppy seventh inning that involved the Pete Kozma-Jon Jay double steal and Craig Breslow's throwing error.
Since I don't think we will see any Red Sox players attempting throws down to third base on a bang-bang play again, the focus can be on the two best teams in baseball—one of them fighting to keep the season alive another day, while the other looks to end a great season in spectacular fashion.
Do you really need any more hype than that?
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