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.

Report: Braves extend Kurt Suzuki

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Kurt Suzuki will wear a Braves’ uniform through the 2018 season after signing a one-year, $3.5 million extension with the club on Saturday, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal adds that the two had been in talks for weeks and Suzuki made it clear that he wanted to remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. The team has yet to announce the extension.

Suzuki, 33, initially signed a one-year contract with the Braves back in January. The veteran backstop stepped into a backup role behind starting catcher Tyler Flowers, but still found a way to impress at the plate with a .271/.343/.525 batting line, career-best 18 home runs and an .868 OPS through 287 PA. According to FanGraphs, Suzuki’s 2.2 fWAR makes 2017 his most valuable season since his run with the 2009 Athletics.

It’s a prudent move for the Braves, who would have lost one of their most dynamic second-half hitters to the free agent market this offseason. Entering Saturday, Suzuki is second only to Freddie Freeman with 11 homers and 1.4 fWAR since the All-Star break. His stunning comeback also confirmed the team’s decision to look outside the organization for a backup catcher, rather than turning to fellow veteran Anthony Recker behind the plate.

“On a personal level, this season exceeded my expectations,” Suzuki told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things I can’t explain. I put a lot of work in and really didn’t have a job until late January. I got an opportunity here and took advantage of it. It was definitely a good fit.”

Mikie Mahtook is likely done for the season

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Tigers’ outfielder Mikie Mahtook is unlikely to play again this season, club manager Brad Ausmus announced Saturday. Mahtook was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left groin strain following Friday’s series opener against the Twins, when he appeared to injure himself after chasing down Byron Buxton‘s two-RBI double in the fourth.

This is the second time Mahtook has sustained a groin injury over the past month. The 27-year-old exited Friday’s game with a .276/.330/.457 batting line, 12 home runs and a .787 OPS through 379 plate appearances with the team.

With the Tigers out of contention, there’s no reason to trot out Mahtook for the remaining eight games of the regular season. The club has yet to specify a timetable for his return, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in fine shape to compete for a starting role next spring.