I encourage my children to be happy in the success of their siblings but when you have two children who root for the Red Sox and two who root for the Cardinals, the principle breaks down when the teams meet in the World Series. So this is a tough week for the Roberts family. My joy (as a Red Sox fan) can only come at the expense of the happiness of two of my children. It also complicates watching the game. I thought we might end up employing the Laura Linney strategy from Love, Actually:
But that turned out to be unnecessary. The Red Sox fans were able to watch the game quietly without getting carried away and hurting the feelings of Cardinal fans.
Tom Verducci made an interesting observation before the Series started:
On a nine-inning average this postseason, Boston batters have forced 157.1 pitches and Cardinals pitchers have thrown only 130.6 pitches. For all the differences between the two clubs — and all the narratives, analytics and beard iconography — the World Series will be decided within that nearly 27-pitch gap. It will come down to whether the games are played closer to the Red Sox’ ethos or St. Louis’ ethos, whether Boston can grind down Cardinals pitchers, or whether St. Louis defuses the Red Sox’ tenacity by pounding the strike zone with premium stuff.
The Red Sox saw only 141 pitches last night. But they didn’t need the bottom of the ninth. On a nine-inning basis, that’s 159 pitches. So yes, game one played to the Red Sox strengths. They had Wainwright at 95 pitches through five innings, which is brutal. Of course the Cardinals errors (official and unofficial) helped make that happen.
But I think the big difference is that Wainwright was not as sharp as he usually is. The Red Sox were able to hold back on curves out of the strike zone. They had a terrible time with Detroit’s starters in the ALCS. Batter after batter swung (or had a check swing they couldn’t stop) at pitches out of the strike zone or took pitches that were strikes. That happened much less often last night. It will be interesting to see if Wacha has more success tonight–his change-up is very tough.
The Red Sox hit very well in Fenway Park against right-handed pitchers. They led the majors in OPS against righties, something like .852 if I remember correctly. But they may have a tough time against Wacha–everyone else has lately.
Coming into the Series I thought the key for the Red Sox was to win one of the first two. The Cardinals’ biggest edge is their top two starting pitchers who have the ability to dominate. The Red Sox have four good starters but none that seemed in advance of the post-season to shut down a good offense. In theory, the Cardinals could win with their dominant starters, Wainwright and Wacha each winning two. So the Red Sox had to beat one of them at least once. They’ve done that. In fact it was Lester who was dominant last night and Lackey was able to shut down the Tigers.
So tonight is obviously huge. If the Red Sox win, I think they will be hard to stop. Peavy and Buccholz seem to match up well against Kelly and Lynn. The Red Sox appear to have a significant disadvantage losing Napoli’s bat in the NL park. But I expect Farrell to respond if the Sox fall behind by going to his bullpen early. That will let him exploit his superior bench. He will have Napoli, Carp, Gomes/Nava and Middlebrooks to pinch-hit.
That puts a lot of pressure on a 22-year old, Wacha, pitching for the first time in Fenway Park. Sometimes young athletes do better than you’d expect because they don’t really appreciate how much is at stake relative to an older player who can’t but feel that this might be his last chance on such a stage. If Wacha can come up big under the circumstances, it will be a memorable landmark in what looks like a great career. If he doesn’t, he is indeed likely to have other chances.