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World Series Game 6 Preview: John Lackey gets the biggest start of his life

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BOSTON — It’s certainly the biggest start of Michael Wacha’s life too, but Wacha is 22 years-old and kids, God love ’em, tend to think that they’re going to have the sun shining on them forever.

John Lackey is 35 and has pretty much seen it and done it all. He’s been that kid winning a World Series game, back in 2002 with the Angels.  He’s also been, far more recently, a whipping boy for Boston Red Sox fans. The recipient of a big contract many thought was too big. One of the public faces of the “chicken and beer” collapse of 2011. A Tommy John surgery casualty who missed the entire 2012 season.  Yet here he is starting what could be a World Series clincher. If he wins it, it will be the first time the Red Sox and their fans will get to celebrate a World Series win at home since 1918. One gets the sense that an older and wiser John Lackey is much more aware of his surroundings and the gravity of the moment than the young John Lackey was in 2002.

And it won’t be an easy task for Lackey. Yes, the Cardinals have looked anemic on offense of late, but their anemia is a bit more pronounced against lefties than righties, and Lackey throws with his right hand. The Cardinals line against lefties is .211/.268/.295 and against righties it’s a not-too-much-better .214/.289/.331, but St. Louis is 2-4 in the postseason when facing a left-handed starter, 7-3 otherwise.

If Lackey gets in trouble early it could make for a tough choice for manager John Farrell. He has lefty Felix Doubront at his disposal. Doubront can go multiple innings and has been fantastic this postseason, but he may be more essential to the Red Sox in a possible Game 7 given that Jake Peavy is slated to start that game and given that Peavy has been shaky at best. But as the old saying goes, you don’t save a guy for tomorrow because tomorrow it may rain, so expect Doubront to come in if Lackey isn’t up to the task.

As for St. Louis, Wacha is the best guy they could hope to have going. He was the NLCS MVP and is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA and a .122 opponents batting average in the postseason. He out-pitched Clayton Kershaw twice and saved the Cardinals bacon when they trailed the Pirates in the Division Series. You never want to be down 3-2 in a World Series and playing on the road, but if you have to be, Wacha is who you want taking the start.

I would expect form to hold and the pitching, generally speaking, to be strong in Game 6. Offense has been hard to come by for everyone, and as such, whoever wins Game 6 is going to probably do so because of a hitter rising to the occasion.

To that end, John Farrell indicated yesterday that he is going with his hero-centric lineup, starting David Ross, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino. Ross is the backup catcher, but he had a big RBI in Game 5 and, more importantly, is unlikely to commit the sort of mental error starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia had in throwing a ball away to third base in Game 3. Gomes is not normally the threat that Daniel Nava is, but he hit that big home run in Game 4. Victorino has been hurt, but it’s hard to forget that he hit the grand slam that put Boston in the World Series in the first place.

For the Cardinals, there are not so many options. Mike Matheny’s biggest threats — Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran — are hurt, but they’d play Game 6 even if they needed Rascal scooters to take them up to the plate. What they really need, however, is for Matt Carpenter to remember how to hit and to show that they can score runs on plays that don’t involve a silly Red Sox error or obstruction call. Indeed, given their lack of offense this series it’s a wonder that the thing is still going on.

But on it goes. Into a Game 6 which is the hottest ticket in baseball history and, in all likelihood, the rowdiest and loudest crowd we’ve seen in ages.

Play ball.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.