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.

Don’t let Rob Manfred pass the buck

Rob Manfred
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Yesterday morning, in Ken Rosenthal’s article, Rob Manfred made it pretty clear what his aim is at the moment: throw blame on the union for the sign stealing scandal getting to the place it is. It was clear in both his words and Rosenthal’s words, actually:

In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.

Then, in his press conference yesterday, he went farther, saying that the union refused to allow a situation in which punishment might happen, going so far as to claim that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity.

The union, both in its official statement last night and in Tony Clark’s words to Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser earlier this afternoon, is basically saying Manfred is full of it:

“We were approached with respect to their intentions to not discipline players. Our legal role and responsibility is inherent in accepting that consideration, which is what we did.”

Which is to say, it was Rob Manfred, and not the union, which started from the presumption that there was immunity for Astros players. Manfred is the one who settled on that at the outset, and he’s now trying to make it look like the union was the side that insisted on it so that people who are mad will get mad at Tony Clark for defending the indefensible as opposed to getting mad at him for creating a situation in which there was no legal way to punish Astros players.

And, as we have noted many times already, he did create that situation.

It’s undisputed that Manfred never attempted to make rules or set forth discipline for players stealing signs. Indeed, he did the opposite of that, saying over two years ago that GMs and managers, not players, would be held responsible. If he wanted to discipline players now, he’d have a big problem because he specifically excluded them from discipline then. I’d argue it was a mistake for him to do that — he should’ve said, three years ago, that everyone’s butt would be on the line if the cheating continued — but he didn’t.

Some people I’ve spoken to are taking the position that the union is still to blame here. I’m sort of at a loss as to how that could be.

It is the union’s job to protect its members from arbitrary punishment by management. It is not the union’s job to say “hey, I know our workers were off the hook here based on the specific thing you said, but maybe we should give them some retroactive punishment anyway?” If someone in charge of a union proposed that, they’d be in dereliction of their duties and could be fired and/or sued. Probably should be, actually. A lot of people might be mad about that, and I know fully well that unions aren’t popular. But then again, neither are criminal defense attorneys, and they don’t go up to prosecutors and say “well, there isn’t a law against what my client did — in fact, the governor issued an order a couple of years ago saying that what he did wasn’t prohibited — but we’re all kind of mad about it, so why don’t we work together to find a way to put him in jail, eh?” It’d be insane.

That doesn’t make anyone feel better now. The players are certainly mad, with new ones every day finding a camera to yell at over all of this. I get it. What has happened is upsetting. It’s a situation in which some members of the union are at odds with other members. It’s not an easy situation to navigate.

They should take that anger, however, and channel it into telling their leader, Tony Clark, that they don’t want this to happen again. That, to the extent Rob Manfred now, belatedly, proposes new rules and new punishments for sign-stealing or other things, he should get on board with that. They should also — after the yelling dies down — maybe think a little bit about how, if the facts were slightly different here, they would never argue that Rob Manfred should have the power to impose retroactive or other non-previously-negotiated punishment on players.

Either way, neither they nor any of the rest of us should take Manfred’s bait and try to claim that what’s happening now is the union’s fault. If, for no other reason, than because he doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to this whole scandal. Remember, he’s the guy who issued a report saying that, except for Alex Cora, it was only players involved despite knowing at the time he said it that the front office had hatched the scheme in the first place. Which, by the way, similarly sought to make the players out to be the only ones to blame while protecting people on management’s side. He’s not someone who can be trusted in any of this, frankly.

At the end of the day, this was a scheme perpetrated by both front office and uniformed personnel of the Houston Astros. To the extent nothing more can be done about that than already has been done, blame it on Rob Manfred’s failure of leadership. Not on the MLB Players Association.