Following their victory in Game 5 of the World Series, the Boston Red Sox are now just one win away from clinching their third World Series title in the past 10 years.
The remainder of the series will be played at Fenway Park, and the Red Sox would ideally like to close things out during Game 6. However, the St. Louis Cardinals are a strong opponent, and they are more than capable of winning two straight road games.
There are a number of keys to World Series Game 6. Here are a few.
Playing at home was a big advantage for the Red Sox this season. While they were good on the road during the regular season, posting a .543 win percentage, it does not compare to their dominance at home.
Boston led the American League with 53 home wins and an impressive .654 winning percentage. The Red Sox's dominance at home has continued in the postseason, as they have won five out of the seven playoff games that have been at Fenway this year.
Add in the fact that the Red Sox have a chance to clinch their first World Series title at home since 1918, and the crowd is guaranteed to be rocking. This could throw the Cardinals off their game.
Cardinals starter Michael Wacha has acknowledged that the crowd will be crazy during the game, but he mentioned that he is "not going to pay any attention to it," per Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. That will be much easier said than done by Wacha.
Another benefit for the Red Sox with the series moving back to Boston is the fact that they can make David Ortiz their DH and put Mike Napoli back in the lineup at first base. Having Napoli back in the lineup adds another impact player.
If fans did not know any better, they may have thought Michael Wacha was a seasoned veteran and not a rookie based on his performance this postseason. Wacha has been the Cardinals' best pitcher since the playoffs began, and he has shown no signs of slowing down.
During his first start of the postseason, in Game 4 of the NLCS, Wacha picked up the win and allowed only one hit over 7.1 innings while striking out nine. He also picked up wins in his following three postseason starts.
Wacha had a run of 19 scoreless innings this postseason, tying the franchise's postseason record set by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. MLB.com's Adam McCalvy also points out that Wacha's batting average against (.127) is the fourth-lowest in playoff history for a pitcher with at least 20 innings pitched.
One of the big reasons for Wacha's success this postseason is his changeup. According to Brooks Baseball, hitters have swung and missed at the pitch 21.1 percent of the time and have hit a line drive only 0.92 percent of the time.
Another strong outing from Wacha should be enough to keep the Cardinals alive this postseason.
David Ortiz has been virtually unstoppable during the first five games of the World Series. He has put the Boston offense on his back during the Fall Classic.
No stat tells this better than the fact that Ortiz is batting .733 during the World Series while his teammates have only managed to hit .144, per Tim McGarry of USA Today. In addition to his eye-popping batting average, Ortiz has also slugged two home runs and driven in six runs. As a result, his OPS stands at 2.017 for the past five games.
Ortiz has had only three plate appearances against Wacha thus far, but he has been successful against him. While one should be weary of the small sample size, it should be noted that Ortiz did homer and draw a walk against Wacha in Game 2.
Cardinals pitchers may choose to pitch around Ortiz with runners on base for the remainder of the series, and with his performance thus far, that is certainly merited.
Should the Red Sox go on to win the World Series, Ortiz will almost undoubtedly be named the World Series MVP.
While the Cardinals have gotten some good production out of Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday at the top of their order during the World Series, the back of the team's lineup has struggled.
Batters in the sixth through ninth slots in the Cardinals' order have gone a combined 11-for-67 during the five games in the World Series, good for a .164 batting average. Additionally, they have driven in zero runs and have scored five times.
Clearly, those numbers are not going to cut it if St. Louis is going to win the World Series.
The good news for the Cardinals is that they are going to be able to take advantage of the DH in Game 6, which should improve the production from the back end of their lineup slightly.
The Cardinals have also already seen Game 6 starter John Lackey twice this World Series, which should give them some familiarity with him. They tagged him for three runs in their Game 2 victory, and out of the four total runs the team scored that game, three came from the final four slots in the lineup.
If St. Louis is able to get production from the end of its lineup off Lackey in Game 6, it should walk away with a win.