Adam Wainwright

Do the Red Sox or the Cardinals have the World Series pitching edge?

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This postseason has been dominated by pitching, so who has the arms advantage in the World Series?

During the regular season the Red Sox ranked sixth among AL teams in runs allowed and the Cardinals ranked fifth among NL teams in runs allowed, but overall totals can be misleading when it comes to evaluating the quality of a playoff pitching staff because lesser pitchers rarely make an appearance.

For instance, through 11 playoff games for the Cardinals and 10 playoff games for the Red Sox both teams have used four starting pitchers. That in itself is obviously a big change from the regular season and in the Red Sox’s case they’ve significantly shortened the bullpen pecking order too, essentially going with a four-man relief corps in anything resembling a high-leverage situation.

And that’s where the strength of these two teams really shines through: They don’t have any real, “oh no, this guy is coming into the game?!” weak links once the pitching staff is shortened. Rotation orders haven’t been announced yet, but here’s how the starters compare:

Cardinals:
Adam Wainwright: 242 IP, 2.94 ERA, 2.80 xFIP
Michael Wacha: 65 IP, 2.78 ERA, 3.36 xFIP
Joe Kelly: 124 IP, 2.69 ERA, 4.19 xFIP
Lance Lynn: 202 IP, 3.97 ERA, 3.66 xFIP

Red Sox:
Jon Lester: 213 IP, 3.75 ERA, 3.90 xFIP
Clay Buchholz: 108 IP, 1.74 ERA, 3.41 xFIP
John Lackey: 189 IP, 3.52 ERA, 3.49 xFIP
Jake Peavy: 145 IP, 4.17 ERA, 4.03 xFIP

(xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, about which you can learn more by clicking here.)

Adam Wainwright is the best starting pitcher in this series and based on how he’s pitched so far in his brief MLB career Michael Wacha has made a strong case for second-best, but Jon Lester also has a lengthy track record of very good work and Clay Buchholz had a 1.74 ERA in the regular season.

Every starter who’ll take the mound in this series is at worst a solid mid-rotation guy and the Cardinals have so much starter depth that they aren’t even going to use stud rookie Shelby Miller. I’d give St. Louis a slight rotation edge based on the Wainwright-Wacha one-two punch, but in the (likely) three-four spots I actually trust Boston’s Lackey-Peavy duo a bit more than Kelly-Lynn.

Which brings us to the bullpens …

Cardinals:
Trevor Rosenthal: 75 IP, 2.63 ERA, 2.34 xFIP
Carlos Martinez: 28 IP, 5.08 ERA, 3.83 xFIP
John Axford: 65 IP, 4.02 ERA, 3.56 xFIP
Seth Maness: 62 IP, 2.32 ERA, 3.13 xFIP
Kevin Siegrist: 40 IP, 0.45 ERA, 3.00 xFIP
Randy Choate: 35 IP, 2.29 ERA, 3.30 xFIP

Red Sox:
Koji Uehara: 74 IP, 1.09 ERA, 2.08 xFIP
Junichi Tazawa: 68 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.03 xFIP
Brandon Workman: 42 IP, 4.97 ERA, 3.18 xFIP
Craig Breslow: 60 IP, 1.81 ERA, 4.37 xFIP

Koji Uehara has basically been as dominant as a pitcher can possibly be, in the regular season and the postseason, but the Cardinals also have a stud closer in Trevor Rosenthal. And while the Red Sox may struggle to get consistently strong work bridging the gap to Uehara the Cardinals have no shortage of quality setup options from the right side and left side. I’d trust Uehara over anyone right now, but I’d trust Rosenthal and his assortment of setup men over Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and whatever Red Sox manager John Farrell can piece together in the middle innings.

None of which is to say the Red Sox’s bullpen is a huge weakness or anything. It’s not, but if we’re splitting hairs here trying to find potential advantages in this series I think the Cardinals’ bullpen depth could play a big role. They have 5-6 good options, including a lefty specialist in Randy Choate who’ll no doubt be matched up against David Ortiz in some big-time situations.

So which team has the World Series pitching edge? I’d go with the Cardinals, however slightly, based on the strength of Wainwright-Wacha and bullpen depth. And of course me writing this post about all the good pitching in this series means we’re probably looking at a bunch of 9-7 and 10-8 slugfests.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.