WORLD SERIES: The “other half” nobody’s talking about

Tonight, the visiting Red Sox will be hosted by Cardinal Nation at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.  Both fan bases are among the top in all of baseball, perhaps making “home field advantage” more of a factor than it’s been in recent years.

With the next 3 games being played at Busch Stadium, the National League rules (also known as the actual rules of baseball) will apply in games 3, 4, and 5.  This has led to roughly 73,000,000 articles, radio shows, blog posts, national stories, and podcasts about David Ortiz and Mike Napoli.

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Usually, Mike Napoli plays first, and Ortiz plays DH.  Since there’s no DH in here in St. Louis (for now…thank God) John Farrell finds himself faced with a decision as to which of these players to start, and which to sit.  In a nutshell, there are a couple of views that are fairly predominant over some of the less popular ideas being tossed about.

  • “Start Napoli at first, and use Ortiz off the bench in a big situation late in the game” (Napoli’s bat over Ortiz’s)

Um, no.  All Ortiz does in October is come through big in the clutch.  Call me crazy, but if Farrell brought Ortiz in to pinch hit in the 7th inning of a game with the bases loaded, and the Cards had a one-run lead, I’d probably walk him.  I would, at the very least, consider walking in the tying run rather than pitching to Papi–he’s that dangerous at the plate.  On the bases, significantly less so, almost to the point of it being better for St. Louis for Ortiz to be on base than circling them while trotting.

  • “Just have Napoli catch instead of Saltamamanllanciccciia” (get both bats in the lineup)

Napoli used to catch, it’s true.  But he’s caught exactly zero games this year, and in my opinion, Peavy and Bucholz are going to need all the help they can get.  Having a guy who hasn’t handled a staff all year is an awful idea if your goal is to win baseball games.  Besides, he was originally going to get a long-term deal with the Sox, but since it took longer for him to pass the team’s physical than it takes for a Molina to go first-to-third due to hip issues, he didn’t get the longer deal.  Because of a bad hip.  You don’t want a guy catching who’s got a bum hip.

  • “Start Ortiz at first, and bring Napoli into the game later, if/when you need him” (Ortiz’s bat over Napoli’s)

This is the no-brainer.

 

But what nobody seems to be talking about is that instead of one or the other of these guys batting in these next three games, Red Sox pitchers will be batting.  To some, that might sound like the same thing, but I’d argue that the two situations are each half of the equation.  This is probably good for no fewer than 6 or 7 outs over the course of the next three days, and that’s a pretty conservative estimate.  Bunts, double-switches, sacrifices, and pinch-hits included, the Boston pitchers are likely to look pretty bad at the plate.  That’s not to say that Cardinals pitchers will hit .400 over the next three games, but any edge is a good edge to have…especially in the World Series.

Jake Peavy has had exactly three postseason plate appearances, all against the Cardinals, from his days in San Diego.  The last time Peavy took a postseason at bat was the NLDS in 2006.  He struck out.  He had two PAs against the Cards in the 2005 NLDS, and struck out both of those times as well.

Clay Buchholz has had four plate appearances EVER.  This seven-year veteran of major league baseball has spent every season of his big league career with the Red Sox, since coming up in 2007.  He had one plate appearance three years ago in 2010, and singled.  Last year he had 3 PAs with 0 hits and 1 strikeout, suggesting he may be able to at least get a sac bunt down if the situation calls for it.  Other than that, nothing.  No plate appearances in 2007, 2008, ’09, ’11, or this season…yet.

Jon Lester’s story is about the same–two career postseason plate appearances with a strikeout.  Both of those occurred in 2007 in the World Series against Matt Holliday at the Rockies.

So it’s been over half a decade since two of the three starters for the Red Sox over the next few days have stepped into a batter’s box.  Is that a huge advantage for the Cards?  Probably not.  How many postseason plate appearances have Joe Kelly or Michael Wacha had?  I know.

The difference is, “NL-style baseball” (excuse me while I puke) exposes pitchers to plate appearances and at-bats far more often.  Maybe it turns out that Farrell has to pull the trigger on a double-switch earlier than he’d like.  Maybe it turns out that he regrets not doing so.  In any event, he will probably have to at least think about it more than once during the course of these next three games.

THAT is what “we” traditionalists are really concerned with, media (and others).  “Who wants to see the pitcher bat?” is what you guys keep asking.  It’s not so much that we’re dying to see a pitcher bat, that it is we love the element of strategy that it adds to the game.  Now that IS a rant/blog post for another day!  But, back to the pitching thing in this series–it’s not a tremendous advantage, I’ll concede, but I’d submit to you that it certainly is one.

As long as you throw these guys fastballs.

I’ve always sort of thought that since pitchers aren’t usually very good hitters, and even good hitters usually need to be sitting on the heater to get around on it, you should give opposing pitchers a steady diet of gas.  When you slow it down, and pull the string or try to mix uncle Charlie into the sequence, I think it can lend itself to trouble.  That’s probably a post for another day, but the long & short my thinking is that, you’d rather put 92 or 93 mph (or in many St. Louis pitchers’ case 98, 99, or 100 mph) by a pitcher who hasn’t swung a bat in seven years than throw some cutesy 74 mph changeup in there.  He’s got a much better chance at hitting anything that’s 74 than anything that’s 92+.  Just sayin’.

As far as the outlook for these next games, as a Cardinals fan, I’m feeling pretty good.  In fact, I wouldn’t rule out the chances of the Cards stepping into the back of a pickup truck and heading down Market street before stepping on a plane again.  Hitting aside, I think the Cards have a clear pitching advantage from here on, making wrapping things up on Monday night a possibility.

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