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The Strike Zone

World Series Game 2 preview: Cardinals at Red Sox

Michael Wacha, Cardinals St. Louis needs another postseason gem from rookie star Michael Wacha. (David E. Klutho/SI)

Cardinals at Red Sox

Start time: 8:07 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Series: Red Sox lead 1-0

Starting pitchers: Michael Wacha (3-0, 0.43 ERA) vs. John Lackey (2-0, 3.00)

Despite all that went wrong for the Cardinals in Game 1 -- and boy howdy did things go wrong -- it was just one loss. They even got some good news when the X-rays and CT scan for Carlos Beltran, who hurt his ribs crashing into the rightfield wall catching what would have been a grand slam and later had to leave the game, came back negative. Now, if St. Louis can win Game 2, it will head home with a split and have a day off for Beltran's bruises to further recover before Game 3.

That's a big if, of course, and, given how poorly the Cards played in Game 1, one gets the sense that a loss in Game 2 could signal that they are just not going to give the Red Sox a fight in this series. That's what happened the last time these two teams met in the World Series, back in 2004. Boston pushed across 11 runs in a Game 1 win at Fenway, came back and won again in Game 2, and the Redbirds never got off the mat as the Sox completed the sweep in St. Louis. Given that history and their poor play in Game 1, Game 2 already feels like a must-win for the Cardinals.

Fortunately for them, they have NLCS MVP Michael Wacha on the mound Thursday night. In three starts this postseason, he is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA (only one run allowed), 0.57 WHIP, 5.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio and more than a strikeout per inning. Add in his final regular season start against the Nationals and Wacha is 4-0 with a 0.30 ERA and 0.51 WHIP over his last four turns. In seven starts against teams that finished the season with winning records, he is 5-0 with a 0.36 ERA and 0.52 WHIP while averaging more than seven innings per start. Did I mention he's a 22-year-old rookie with just 12 major league starts to his name?

So, they got that going for them, which is nice.

The Red Sox will counter with John Lackey, who in his last start negated a dominant Justin Verlander by throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings to help Boston to a 1-0 win over the Tigers in ALCS Game 3. Lackey, like Game 1's dominant Red Sox starter Jon Lester, cut his World Series teeth by starting a championship clincher before he had a full season in the majors under his belt (Lackey in 2002 for the Angels, Lester in 2007 for the Sox) and is making his first World Series start since. Also like Lester, Lackey has been far better at home than on the road this season, going 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 13 starts at Fenway Park. In his last start in Boston, back on Sept. 19, he pitched a complete game against the Orioles, yielding only one run and two hits. What's more, just two Cardinals have faced Lackey before and those two, Holliday and the now-banged-up Beltran, are a combined 0-for-16 against him.

A win behind Lackey, thus negating both of St. Louis' postseason pitching stars in Adam Wainwright and Wacha, would be close to a knockout blow by the Red Sox. However, if the Cardinals can even the Series Thursday night, the momentum would be on their side. With the Series moving to St. Louis for Saturday's Game 3, the Red Sox will lose the designated hitter and thus have to bench either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli, both of whom had extra-base hits and drove in three runs in Game 1. Boston will also be starting an ailing Clay Buchholz in Game 4. The Cardinals will then follow with Wainwright starting Game 5 at home, where he has been his most dominant this season, and on regular rest rather than the eight days off he had going into his dreadful Game 1.

Of course, for the Cardinals to salvage a split in Game 2, they'll have to be comfortable on the field. They were clearly tight in Game 1, but hidden behind the 8-1 final score was the fact that seven of the nine men in their lineup reached base (Matt Adams and Pete Kozma being the exceptions) and that manager Mike Matheny got his top five set-up men (three of whom are rookies) into the game to shake off any World Series jitters. Add in Matt Holliday's ninth-inning home run, which averted the shutout, and perhaps St. Louis can chalk up Game 1 as a fluke. If not, this could be an unexpectedly short series.

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