St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) throws against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of game two of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. Photo: Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
BOSTON -- Wacha-Wac ... well, you know the rest.
Michael Wacha gets his second look at the Boston Red Sox and, in a reversal of his recent work, that's more important than opponents getting a second look at him.
Wacha has two starts against only two teams since coming to the major leagues and the results have been so dominant that it's clear those teams -- the Pirates and Dodgers -- haven't found an answer.
He shut out Pittsburgh on two hits over seven innings in September, then allowed one hit to the Pirates a month later in the Division Series.
He didn't allow a run in either of his two NLCS starts against the Dodgers, but was more efficient in the second, allowing just three baserunners in seven innings. He also was more pitch-efficient, 4.13 pitches per batter in the second start after 4.31 in the first, though going from a 1-0 game to a 9-0 rout could be a factor in willingness to not be as exacting.
But efficiency is a key component of how Wacha handles the Red Sox in Game 6. His four walks in Game 2 matched a season high, his 114 pitches topped his previous high â€" and he only pitched six innings.
The Red Sox got him to throw 4.75 pitches per batter, a high number even by their unmatched standards. Boston first baseman Mike Napoli led the majors this season with 4.59 pitches per plate appearance.
So, how does Wacha react? Adam Wainwright's attack-first bravado cost him in Game 5, especially against David Ortiz.
Wacha's 57% strikes in Game 2 is his lowest percentage in 13 major league starts. During the regular season, his stuff was good enough to get batters to swing at more than 30% of his pitches outside the strike zone. The Red Sox chased barely half that.
His plan of attack will be crucial.
Finding more offense
Neither team's been pleased with its offensive output. Both managers shuffled batting orders in Game 5.
Only once has a team scored three runs in an inning without an error -- Jonny Gomes' decisive three-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 4.
The Red Sox got an unexpected boost when the bottom of their order produced the game-winning rally in Game 5, especially remarkable considering how paltry the production has been down there. The bottom two non-pitcher spots in the batting orders (7-8 in non-DH games, 8-9 with the DH) have gone 5-for-33 for the Cardinals, 4-for-36 for Boston.
It's no better at the top of the order, where Cardinals 1-2 batters are 8-for-38 and the Red Sox 5-for-38.
Getting the DH back for the rest of the series could help. As for hope for better things, the Cardinals have a bit more to grasp. St. Louis leadoff man Matt Carpenter had multiple hits in two of the past three games and third baseman David Freese had two hits from the No. 7 slot in Game 5, his first hits since a Game 1 single.
Can Koji keep it up?
With the games as close as they've been, the bullpens have become crucial. Nearly half the runs in the series have been scored in the seventh inning or later, yet Boston closer Koji Uehara doesn't waver. He has 10 consecutive scoreless appearances and 11 of 12 overall this postseason. Of the 156 pitches he's thrown in October, 130 (83.3%) have been strikes.
Uehara pitched in all three games in St. Louis, the first time in more than a year the 38-year-old has pitched three consecutive days.
Boston manager John Farrell has been depending on the combination of Uehara and set-up men Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa. But Breslow hasn't been effective in three consecutive outings against the Cardinals and Farrell has reduced his use of Tazawa, who pitched in the first four games of the series, but to only one batter in three of them.
Clearly, Farrell was looking for starter Jon Lester to take Game 5 all the way to Uehara.
Tuesday's off-day could help, especially Uehara, who's at a career high for appearances. He's saved seven of Boston's 10 postseason victories and if he's needed in Game 6, it would be the first time he's pitched four times in five days since he did it as a set-up man for Texas in September. In 2012.
Feeling the pressure
Both teams have fallen behind in the series and come back with consecutive wins, more notably Boston after Game 3's obstruction stunner.
The Cardinals could show up Wednesday at a crazed Fenway Park and just succumb to the situation. But that hasn't been the standard operation procedure for this group, going 8-1 when facing elimination over the last three postseasons.
And if they win Game 6, the expectations only increase on the Red Sox. Maybe New England is getting used to winning now that curses and other misfortune are behind them, but this is still a franchise that hasn't won a World Series at home since 1918.
If the series goes to Game 7, it could be a Halloween like none Boston has experienced -- win or lose.