The St. Louis Cardinals downed the Boston Red Sox 4-2 on Thursday night to even the World Series at one game each. Once again, shoddy fielding played a major role in the outcome. The Cardinals took the lead in the seventh inning when Matt Carpenter launched a sacrifice fly to left. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia couldn’t handle Jonny Gomes’ throw to the plate, and pitcher Craig Breslow, behind home backing up on the play, airmailed a throw to third in an ill-advised attempt to catch Jon Jay, who was advancing from to third. Jay scored the deciding run when the ball went into the stands. St. Louis relievers Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal combined for three shutout innings, with just one hit and six strikeouts, to nail down the victory.
Breslow’s throwing error, however, was not the biggest play of the game, at least not in terms of win probability added. That distinction goes to David Ortiz‘s two-run blast off Michael Wacha, which gave the Red Sox a short-lived 2-1 lead, and at the time boosted their chances of winning from 38 percent to 73 percent.
Why was Wacha allowed to face Ortiz? Sure, Wacha has been nearly unhittable this postseason. Before that inning, he had surrendered just one run in 26 postseason innings. Still, he was clearly not as sharp as in previous outings. The walk issued to Dustin Pedroia was his fourth of the night, and he had thrown just 57 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Furthermore, he was facing Ortiz for the third time. Pitchers get worse as they work deeper into games. Here are the numbers:
Wacha’s rate of depreciation is slower, but he’s still mortal. This is how Wacha fared each time through the order Thursday night.
1st time: 0-8, 4 K, 1 BB
2nd time: 2-7, 1 K, 2 BB
3rd time: 1-5, 1 K, 1 BB, 1 HR
As you might expect, his fastball was down from 94-96 to 91-93, and the whiffs were steadily dropping. Four of his six strikeouts came in his first time through the order.
The Cardinals have two left-handed relief pitchers who excel at getting out left-handed hitters. Kevin Siegrist, a rookie flamethrower, held lefties to a .388 OPS. Maybe manager Mike Matheny was reluctant to bring in Siegrist after Ortiz took him deep the night before. That’s probably foolish, but you also have slowballer Randy Choate. For his career, Choate has limited lefties to a .555 OPS, and he was even better in 2013.
Ortiz has significant platoon splits. He possesses a career .980 OPS against righties, and a .816 OPS against lefties. These distinctions were even more pronounced in 2013, with a 1.092/.733 split. Like most Sox hitters, Ortiz doesn’t handle heat so well, making Siegrist a good choice. Going back to 2008, Ortiz has fanned 13 percent of the time when facing fastballs of at least 94 mph from left-handers, well above his average rate.
In the end, Wacha was left in the game, and on his 103rd pitch, Ortiz smacked a full count change-up into the seats in left-center. That’s the first home run Wacha had surrendered on a change-up, and only the second extra-base hit.
It was a terrible decision by Matheny, and one that nearly cost the Cardinals the game. Given the bevy of hard-throwing bullpen arms the Cardinals possess, there is no need to hang a struggling Wacha out to dry. Eventually, managers will wise up and stop asking their pitchers to go through lineups a third time in close postseason games.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was not without strange decisions, either. The inexplicable tactic of starting Gomes against right-handers continues, and Gomes now possesses a .147/.194/.206 line this postseason. Daniel Nava and his .385 on-base percentage finally entered the game in the ninth, but as a pinch-hitter for Stephen Drew. At that point, the game was all but over, nobody was catching up to the fastballs Rosenthal was throwing.
Gomes has done a good job of hitting left-handed pitching in his career, carrying a .879 OPS against lefties compared to .733 against righties. He may be a great competitor and a spark plug, but he’s not any better at base running and defense than Nava, and there is a big drop-off at the plate with a right-hander on the mound.
Lackey pitched well, better than Wacha. His FIP for the game was 2.10, compared to 5.10 for Wacha. However, like Wacha, Lackey stayed in the game too long. Here are his numbers each time around the order.
1st time: 2-9, 3 K
2nd time: 1-8, 1 K, 1 BB
3rd time: 2-7, 2 K, 1 BB
Less significant, but regardless, the swing and miss stuff was dropping off along with the fastball velocity. Three of his six whiffs came in the first time around, and the velocity was down from 93-95 to 90-92. A fresh inning for Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow would have been advisable. The effects of leaving him in for the seventh brought the Sox’s chances of winning down by 8 percent.
These are factors to follow for the remainder of the series. The Cardinals have a strong bullpen, and Matheny should not be afraid to dip into the pen early in the game. Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly should be on short leashes. Lynn allowed a .682 OPS his first time through the order, and a .751 his second time around.
Similarly, if Clay Buchholz experiences a significant velocity drop in the fourth or fifth inning, as he did in his previous start against Detroit, Farrell should not hesitate to go to the pen. With Brandon Workman available for multiple innings, depth should not be a concern.