World Series Game 5 preview: It’s Ace vs. Ace once again

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What: Game 5 of the World Series
Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
When: 8:07 EDT, Fox

What to expect? Your guess is as good as ours. But let’s try to pretend this game, which will decide who goes up 3-2 as the Series shifts back to Boston on Wedneday, is going to be conventional. Let’s talk about the matchups.

The 2013 postseason has been defined by aces. Clayton Kershaw. Zack Greinke. Max Scherzer. Justin Verlander. And now the two biggest aces left standing — Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester — meet once again.

Of course in Game 1 Wainwright looked like anything but an ace, giving up fice runs on six hits in five innings, putting his Cardinals in a hole out of which it was impossible to climb. He said during his pre-Game 4 press conference that that outing was a matter of poor mechanics, but one wonders if that’s the case. By now he’s been pitching for more than eight months straight and, between the regular season and the postseason, has 269.2 innings on his odometer, which is far more than he’s ever pitched. Will his work with film and practicing his pitching motion in a mirror these past four days cure whatever ailed him last Wednesday, or is Wainwright simply out of gas?  We should know in the early innings tonight.

Boston’s ace stands on far firmer footing. Lester looked dominant in Game 1, shutting out the Cardinals in seven and two-thirds innings. And maybe getting into their head a little bit courtesy of some mysterious goo that appeared on his glove. Or maybe that just got into the media’s heads with all of that, as the Cardinals didn’t complain. They did look lost against him, however. Possibly because they hadn’t seen him before. Perhaps their luck will change the second time around. Perhaps home cooking will help too. While it’s not easy to get to Lester anywhere, he is a bit more vulnerable on the road than he is at Fenway Park, where he sports a 3.09 ERA. In hostile stadiums he’s at 4.21.

Frankly, there is pressure on both offenses. Offenses which, in the regular season, were near the top of their respective leagues in most categories, but which have been mostly quiet during the World Series.

The Red Sox got power from an unexpected source in Jonny Gomes in Game 4 and David Ortiz has been an absolute beast thus far, going 8 for 11 with two homers, four walks and five RBI in the Fall Classic. But beyond that, it’s been an anemic offensive effort for Boston, with only Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Daniel Nava even cracking .200. For the Cardinals it’s been much the same: they sport a .235/.300/.309 line overall. Whoever can bust out will be the first team to truly do so and it could change the complexion of this Series.

But why are we even anticipating games decided on conventional grounds like hitting and pitching? With a Game 3 decided by one of the most unusual plays in World Series history and Game 4 ending in one of the more ignominious ways a World Series can end, perhaps we should expect the unexpected.

Zack Greinke understands that “the opener” isn’t just about in-game strategy

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Over the weekend, Craig was among those cited as having criticized the Rays by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Craig wrote about it in Sunday’s And That Happened. Many of the responses from Rays fans to him on Twitter, at least most of what I saw, conflated distaste for ownership’s penny-pinching for a belief that the team is bad. Indeed, the Rays enter Tuesday’s action 64-61 and their position above .500 has something to do with “the opener” strategy, which is when they have a reliever like Sergio Romo start the game before handing the ball off to an actual starter after an inning or two. Other teams, like the Twins, have taken notice of “the opener” and have begun experimenting with it.

On Monday, Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller published a lengthy column discussing how recent changes to the game of baseball have made it a worse product. He quotes a lot of old-timers, which I discussed yesterday. Miller also quoted Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke on the subject of “the opener.” While quotes from the likes of Goose Gossage and Pete Rose were a bit more eye-popping, Greinke’s thoughts shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Greinke said:

It’s really smart, but it’s also really bad for baseball. It’s just a sideshow. There’s always ways to get a little advantage, but the main problem I have with it is you do it that way, then you’ll end up never paying any player what he’s worth because you’re not going to have guys starting, you’re not going to have guys throwing innings.

You just keep shuffling guys in and out constantly so nobody will ever get paid. Someone’s going to make the money, either the owners or the players. You keep doing it that way, the players won’t make any money.

Back in May, I wrote about how the overarching concept of “bullpenning” creates a serious labor issue in baseball. Greinke touched on exactly those points. An elite starter makes significantly more money than an elite reliever. Compare contracts signed by David Price (seven years, $217 million) and Max Scherzer (seven years, $210 million) to the contract signed by Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), which is currently the most lucrative contract signed by a reliever. It wouldn’t crack the top-85 contracts in baseball.

A starter’s number of starts and his innings pitched total are both cited in arbitration filings and contract negotiations. A pitcher who made 33 starts in a season will have more leverage than a pitcher who made only 15 starts. Meanwhile, Romo and Ryne Stanek‘s innings totals aren’t much different than a normal year of relief. Thus, if you’re Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman and GM Erik Neander, spreading the number of starts (and innings) between the “rotation” and bullpen will reduce the cost of pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible starters. The owners save this money and pocket it instead of reinvesting it into the team. Then they’ll turn around, cry poor, and ask residents of Tampa to foot the billion-dollar bill for a new stadium in Ybor City, roughly 25 minutes from their current digs.

Greinke is right and we should pay attention to what he’s saying. While “the opener” has some strategic merit, particularly for teams with less-than-complete starting rotations, it also conveniently helps save money for stingy and exploitative front offices. We’ve already accepted that a third of the league gave up on the season before it began. Let’s not accept that teams can give up on their pitching staffs as well.