LCS Preview : Dodgers at Cardinals, Game 2; Tigers at Red Sox, Game 1
Dodgers at Cardinals
Start time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Series: Cardinals lead 1-0
Starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw (1-0, 0.69 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (1-0, 1.23 ERA)
It took them 13 innings, but the Cardinals broke serve against the Dodgers right away in Game 1, winning a game in which L.A. got an outstanding start from Zack Greinke. At worst, now, St. Louis will send Adam Wainwright to the mound in Game 3 with the series even at 1-1. In Game 2, they will get greedy and try to steal another win via the much-anticipated Clayton Kershaw vs. Michael Wacha matchup.
Kershaw is the given here. He will start this game coming off his first career start on three-day's rest, which came in the decisive fourth game of the Division Series, but he threw just 91 pitches in that game while allowing no earned runs over six innings and will be on full rest on Saturday. In his two Division Series starts, Kershaw allowed just three runs (one earned) in 13 innings while striking out 18. That, of course, came after a regular season in which he was clearly the major leagues' best pitcher, leading the majors in ERA with the lowest mark (1.83) since a peak Pedro Martinez put up a 1.74 in 2000.
Wacha is the X-factor. He took no-hitters into the eighth inning in his last two starts, the most recent of those coming with the Cardinals facing elimination in Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the Division Series. As I noted in my NLCS preview, in his last four starts against winning teams (the Pirates twice, Reds, and Nationals) Wacha has allowed just one run and seven hits in 29 innings, which works out to a 0.31 ERA and 0.52 WHIP. The Dodgers have never faced Wacha before, a situation which tends to favor the pitcher, particularly when that pitcher is as good as Wacha has shown himself to be over the last six weeks. Even with all of that, it's difficult to imagine Wacha out-pitching Kershaw, largely because it's difficult to imagine anyone out-pitching Kershaw, but Wacha could pitch as well as Kershaw, giving us another game to be decided by the now-winded bullpens.
Regarding the relief corps, Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal led the 11 relievers to pitch in Game 1 by throwing 33 pitches, tying his third-highest total this season. He hasn't pitched on no rest after an outing of 25 or more pitches all year, so his availability and likely effectiveness are in doubt for Game 2. Intended Game 4 starter Lance Lynn threw 29 pitches in Game 1 and, as a starting pitcher, hasn't pitched on no rest since last year's Division Series. Expect him to be unavailable until that Game 4 start, with Shelby Miller, who gave up a solo home run to Starling Marte in his only inning of work this postseason back in Game 2 of the Division Series, to serve as the Cardinals' long-man if needed.
For the Dodgers, Brian Wilson threw a season-high 28 pitches. Given that he just returned from Tommy John surgery on August 22, that might be enough to make him an emergency-only option for Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly. Chris Withrow, who threw 25 pitches in Game 1, has only pitched on consecutive days four times this season in the majors and minors combined, and the only time he did so after an outing of more than 13 pitches came back in Triple-A in early May and saw him face just one batter on the second day. No other reliever threw more than 21 pitches for either team, but the questionable status or effectiveness of Rosenthal and Wilson could have a major impact in Game 2.
Another important factor if this game does resemble Game 1 is the fact that St. Louis will have last licks. In addition to the obvious advantage of winning instantly with any lead taken after the eighth inning, that gives Cardinals manager Mike Matheny the freedom to use his best relievers before his team takes a lead. Of course, a manager in a tie game should do that anyway, regardless of whether or not he's at home or on the road, because there's less margin for error in a tie game than one you are leading. But Mattingly, abiding by the established pattern of saving his closer for a save on the road, did not do that in Game 1. Instead, he waited until the Cardinals had the walkoff run in scoring position and "Sr. Octubre" Carlos Beltran at the plate before deploying closer Kenley Jansen. We'll see if Mattingly has learned from that experience in Game 2.
Start time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Starting pitchers: Anibal Sanchez (0-1, 10.38 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (1-0, 2.35 ERA)
Anibal Sanchez was signed by the Red Sox as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 2001, but was traded to the Marlins with Hanley Ramirez in the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston for the 2006 season. Sanchez made his major league debut in 2006 and was lit up by the Red Sox in his second major league appearance, which remains his only major league relief outing. However, he has not faced his original organization since, and outside of long-time National Leaguers Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew, neither of whom has had much success against Sanchez, the only other member of the Red Sox anticipated starting lineup to have faced Sanchez before is David Ortiz.
So what you have here, then, is the American League ERA champion making a playoff start against a team that has effectively never faced him before. That's a big advantage for Sanchez, who went 8-3 with a 2.42 ERA over his final 16 regular season starts after returning from a mid-season disabled list stay. Yes, Sanchez did get lit up by the A's in the Division Series, but that was likely a fluke. He posted a 1.77 ERA in three postseason starts for the Tigers last year, all of them quality.
By way of comparison, the Tigers have had plenty of looks at Jon Lester, and though Lester's last start against Detroit at Fenway on September 3 was a good one, the Tigers' top right-handed hitters have some very impressive career numbers against the Boston lefty. Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Division Series heroes Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez have hit a combined .411/.490/.678 in 104 career plate appearances against Lester, and even Omar Infante, Jose Iglesias, and lefty Alex Avila have gone a combined 6-for-15 (.400) with a pair of doubles against him. The only anticipated Tigers starter Lester has effectively neutralized in his career is big lefty Prince Fielder (.267 with no extra-base hits).
Lester pitched well down the stretch, going 6-2 with a 2.20 ERA over his last 11 starts, including that September 3 outing against the Tigers (7 IP, 1 R) and a strong 7 2/3 innings against the Rays in Game 1 of the Division Series. Lester now has a 2.35 ERA in seven postseason starts dating back to the final game of the 2007 World Series. However, given their past success against Lester and heavily right-handed lineup (Fielder and Avila are the only lefties), the Tigers should have comfortable at-bats Saturday night.
It will be interesting to see where Jim Leyland starts Peralta in this game. Fenway Park's left field is small, and the high wall allows fielders to make it even smaller by playing shallow, but playing the caroms off the wall can be tricky, particularly for a player like Peralta who has no experience doing so. Those caroms ate up repurposed Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez in Game 1 of the Division Series, and Rodriguez had played leftfield at Fenway prior to that game. Starting Peralta at shortstop would mean starting a lefty (be it Andy Dirks or Don Kelly) in leftfield against the lefty Lester and in place of righty-hitting shortstop Iglesias, but if Leyland sends Peralta out to left, it could lead to extra runs for Boston and will put extra pressure on Sanchez, who has never pitched in Fenway before, to keep the ball away from the Green Monster.
It's also worth noting that the Tigers have taken six flights in the last three weeks, changing time zones with every one of them, traveling from Detroit to Minneapolis to Miami to Oakland, back to Detroit, back to Oakland, and then, in the wee hours on Friday, across the entire country to Boston. "We're zombies today, I'm not going to lie," Max Scherzer told the Chicago Tribune on Friday. "We took a red-eye flight and only got a couple of hours' sleep on the plane and a couple at the hotel. We're anxious to get to sleep tonight." Of the four teams still playing, the Red Sox, who wrapped up their Division Series in Florida on Tuesday and haven't been out of the Eastern time zone in more than two weeks, may be the only one that isn't sleep-deprived heading into Saturday's games.