Michael Wacha Primed for World Series Game 2 Start

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals got blown out by the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series–losing 8-1 despite having their ace, Adam Wainwright, on the mound.

A costly miscue by Pete Kozma in the first inning when trying to turn a double play ball set the tone for the Cardinals, and the Red Sox took full advantage. The Cardinal defense, though it is known for its poor range, is usually sure-handed on balls hit right at the fielders. Last night, this was definitely not the case, but that is as far as I want to get into that discussion.

Moving on…

Arguably the best starting pitcher in the playoffs, 22-year-old rookie right-hander, Michael Wacha, takes the hill for the Cardinals in Game 2. His playoff statistics are nearly flawless thus far. In three starts, he has 21.0 innings pitched and has allowed only one earned run (0.43 ERA)–a solo home run that broke up his no-hitter against the Pirates in the NLDS. He has a perfect 3-0 record with 22 strikeouts and just 4 walks. Oh, and he out-dueled Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS–not a big deal, though, right?

Needless to say, Wacha has been on fire in the playoffs. He edged out Carlos Beltran for the NLCS MVP, even though both would have been quite deserving of it. Well, as I explained in the following post, one of Wacha’s best pitches is his changeup. And again in this post, I said that the Cardinals would “ride Wacha’s changeup” back to St. Louis before his start in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Good thing for Wacha and the Cardinals, the majority of Red Sox hitters, with the predictable exceptions of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, have struggled against the changeup in 2013. Here is a complete breakdown:

Data: BrooksBaseball.net

Data: BrooksBaseball.net

Thus, once again, the matchup is favorable for the young rookie right-hander. He does not really have to change his approach in order to have success against the Red Sox, which can be huge for a pitcher that is in such a groove. Obviously, they will have watched game film of him, so slight adjustments must be made, but nothing too drastic considering the majority of them have struggled against arguably his best pitch over the course of an entire season.

This best pitch, like his overall performance, is on fire as well. According to ESPNBoston, hitters have a .093 batting average against his changeup since September 19th. Wow! Wacha knows this, and he has been throwing it much more–almost 24% of the time in his three playoff starts.

When facing Pedroia, who hits the changeup relatively well, I would like to see Wacha give him a heavy dose of fastballs. Pedroia is a really good hitter, but hitting fastballs, according to the numbers, is not one of the best pitches he hits against. Regarding Ortiz, he seems to hit every single pitch well, so Wacha will just have to be extremely careful and pick his spots with him. An advantage for Wacha is that this will be the first time Ortiz has faced him, so it may take a few at-bats before he can adjust to the plane of his pitches.

We all know how good his fastball is, how good his changeup is, and how difficult it is to distinguish between the two at the plate (something I have harped on numerous times in the past), but I honestly believe the wild card in Game 2 will be his curveball. He has proven in the past, like in his near no-hitter against the Washington Nationals, that he does not necessarily need it all that much. With more and more game film, hitters, especially good hitters like the ones in Boston, will start making adjustments to his fastball-changeup combination.

Wacha knows this as well and has actually had a pretty good curveball throughout the playoffs. I wrote in my very first post on Wacha that a scout said his curveball had a chance to resemble Wainwright’s some day, and we have seen glimpses of this lately. He has been throwing it more often as well–almost 13% of the time in the playoffs.

Well, the stage is set. The rookie right-hander is on the mound for the Cardinals in a pivotal Game 2 of the World Series. It is essentially a must-win for the Cardinals–not only because they do not want to be down two games to zero, but because going down two games to zero with your best pitchers on the mound can be extremely disheartening.

In a pre-World Series interview found on ESPNBoston.com, Wacha said, “I’ll try to approach it just like any other start, but [I’m] just real excited about it.” 

Well, Mr. Michael Wacha, Cardinal Nation is really excited about it, too. Go out there and do your thing!

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

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