MLB: World Series-St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox

Almost all of our conventional baseball thought is based on the idea of the long con. The baseball season is long so, over the six month and 162 game season, things have a way of working themselves out. Managers must always be wary of the long game, finding rest opportunities for their players and, in their own way, abiding by their own interpretation of the “lose one today to win two down the road” philosophy.

A short series is completely different. Strategy changes, the long game is no longer a concern. There is no tomorrow, as it were. Managers must play to win every night, as they can’t afford to lose four games out of seven.

When the Cardinals fell behind 3-0 after five batters, many fans and observers wondered aloud about the Cardinals packing it for the night. Adam Wainwright “didn’t have it” on Wednesday night so why not get him out early with an eye to using him again in the series?

It isn’t the worst idea but it hardly seems realistic. Luckily, Twitter’s finest professional baseball playing analyst saw an opportunity to set the record straight.

Call me crazy but I’m going to agree with the professional baseball throwing guy on this one. I don’t believe Adam Wainwright has a finite amount of pitches to throw in the World Series and all the Cardinals need to do is divide them up in a more optimal fashion. It is not a sixth grade geometry problem wherein a few deft slices creates more pieces of pie for all to enjoy.

Which doesn’t even address the final point, perhaps the most important of the lot. Did people really expect Mike Matheny to seriously wave the white flag after the fourth inning rally fizzled? That really, really isn’t how this whole thing works.

Jon Lester cuts them down to size

How good is Jon Lester? I honestly can’t tell anymore. Is he an ace? Is he a very good number two starter? It almost depends on the day you watch him. Anybody that watched Jon Lester dominate the Cardinals hitters last night would slap the “ace” label on his with little hesitation. As much as the Cardinals gave this game away and put it out of reach early, it was Lester’s dominance that kept it that way.

Lester used his cutter to masterful effect, as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal outlines in this piece. His command was on point and the Cards appeared completely baffled by the lefties’ tough fastball so catcher David Ross altered the game plan, making the most out of the pitch’s great results on the night. Lester told the MacPherson about their evolving game plan.

“We went right after them and pounded them in and made them try to turn on some balls in,” he said. “That opens up the outer half of the plate. We tried some four-seamers out there, and they fouled them off. When you start the cutter just off the plate off that and have it come back, most of the time they give up on it.”
“We hadn’t gone to the back-door cutter lately, and he saw it was working,” Lester said. “They were giving up on it. We kept on going after them.”

A nice luxury for a battery to have. The Cardinals struggled badly against left-handed pitchers this season, an odd phenomenon considering how some of their best hitters — Matt Holliday, Yadi Molina, and Allen Craig to name a few — bat right-handed. When a pitcher like Lester is boring that diamond-tipped cutter in on the hands of righties, he can be extremely tough indeed. Let’s assume the Cardinals are believers, in the interim at least.

Ortiz guesses right against Siegrist, who gets it all wrong

After Adam Wainwright came out of the game, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sort of went off the rails in terms of his bullpen usage. Down five runs when his starter exited, Matheny “managed” to use five pitchers to throw three innings. After John Axford was lights out in the sixth inning, three relievers were called upon to get three outs in the seventh.

When Matheny called upon lefty Kevin Siegrist to, a favorite around here, to face David Ortiz; it prompted this tweet of hope from one sadly misinformed soul.

Ortiz was sure in for a treat alright.

Siegrist isn’t exactly subtle in his pitch usage, throwing more than 80% fastballs on the first pitch when facing left-handed batters like Ortiz. So did Ortiz make the informed decision to jump a fastball? Yes and no.

Ortiz went up to the plate with a good idea of what Siegrist would try, just as he made an informed guess against Joaqui Benoit in the ALCS. But Kevin Siegrist made things much, much easier for Ortiz by laying a cookie right on the inimitable slugger’s plate.

Here is a screen grab of Yadi Molina’s setup before Kevin Siegrist delivered his offering to David Ortiz. He’s set up low and away though up in the zone might be the call also.

ortiz siegrist setup

And here, mere moments before liftoff, the actual location of the rookie fireballer’s offering.

ortiz siegrist hanger

The offset camera doesn’t do this pitch justice. It looks almost on the inside part of the plate. At 96 mph, that isn’t the worst spot to miss. Maybe David Ortiz can spin on it but not too many other lefties can. According to pitch fx, below is the actual location of the fateful fastball.

ortiz siegrist zone

Yeah, that’s not going to do. Not against David Ortiz and not against anybody, really.

Fastballs down the middle, lefty on lefty, the league’s batters slug .458. On fastballs on the outside thrid of the plate? .321 slugging. Even if we limit the scope to fastballs thrown 95 mph and above, the same relationship is clear. It is simply a much easier pitch to hit hard. It’s hardly a secret – don’t throw pitches right down the middle. Well, that is exactly what Kevin Siegrist did, and Ortiz surely did not miss it.

Take a look

Another main point of critcism for Mike Matheny’s performance in Game One centered around the aforementioned bullpen management. With the outcome seemingly no longer in doubt, why get these American League hitters an up close and personal look at your best bullpen weapons?

To be fair, Kevin Siegrist did only throw one pitch to David Ortiz, a hitter he’ll likely see again this series. So Matheny has that going for him. As for using Carlos Martinez in a blow out? Has anyone actually watched Carlos Martinez pitch? It isn’t subtle and, in an one-inning outing, I think the Cardinals will take their chances with his stuff versus a mop up appearance against the bottom of the order. He remains an unknown commodity to Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli – the most important bats he’ll face in high leverage situations.

Any pitcher with the stuff of Martinez, Siegrist and even Trevor Rosenthal isn’t too worried about batters getting a second look at them. If they make their pitches in the right location, they’ll be fine.