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.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.