Cardinals' best hope in World Series: Success against RHPs
The odds are squarely against the Cardinals, but if they can succeed against a right-handed starter in Game 6 and possibly Game 7, then things change.
The Cardinals are probably going to lose the 2013 World Series. They're down 3-2 to the Red Sox and will play the remainder of the series in Boston's Fenway Park. Crude mathematics alone say that the Cardinals have roughly a 21-percent chance of winning back-to-back games against an opponent of equal quality on the road.
However, realities unique to the Fall Classic suggest it may be even tougher than that. For instance, no World Series team has won Game 6 and 7 on the road since the 1979 Pirates. As well, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post points out that in the World Series the home team in Games 6 and 7 boasts a prosperous winning percentage of .846. Those, then, are the long odds facing the Cardinals starting Wednesday night in Boston.
Yet there is, of course, hope. And for the Cardinals, most of the hope lies in the possibility of facing back-to-back right-handed starters in Games 6 and 7. John Lackey will start Game 6, and Sox manager John Farrell has indicated he's leaning toward Jake Peavy for a potential Game 7. The Cardinals had better hope Farrell adheres to that plan. That's because throughout 2013, the St. Louis offense has been significantly more effective against right-handed pitching than against lefties. To put a finer point on it, let's have a look at some numbers.
In the table below, you'll find the Cardinals' offensive production during the 2013 regular season broken down by splits versus right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching. You'll see the usual AVG, OBP and SLG categories and also the team's record against lefty starters and righty starters. As well, you'll also find an advanced FanGraphs metric called weighted runs created+ (wRC+), which measures overall offensive production, corrects for ballpark effects and scales the final figure a league-average of "100" (i.e., anything more than 100 is better than the NL mean, while anything fewer than 100 is worse). In parentheses, you'll find the Cardinals' 2013 rank among the 15 NL clubs ...
|2013 Cardinals vs. RHPs and LHPs|
|Split type/Stats||AVG||OBP||SLG||wRC+||W-L vs. starters|
|vs. LHPs||.238 (13th)||.301 (14th)||.371 (12th)||88 (13th)||19-23 (11th)|
|vs. RHPs||.280 (1st)||.343 (1st)||.412 (2nd)||112 (1st)||78-42 (1st)|
As you can see, this is an altogether different offense depending on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. They're near the bottom of the senior circuit in every offensive measure against left-handed pitchers, but they top the loop in every category versus RHPs except for one (in SLG, they trail only the Rockies, who play their home games at a mile above sea level). Summing it up quite nicely is the fact that the Cardinals in 2013 played .650 ball against right-handed starters but were below .500 versus port-siders. For what it's worth, these trends have held up in the postseason and the World Series in particular, albeit not as starkly.
And therein lies the hope for the Cardinals. The Cardinals do have one of the NL's highest groundball percentages against right-handers, and that would generally play right into the teeth of the strong Boston infield defense (even stronger with Mike Napoli at first base back in Fenway). Offsetting that concern, however, is that Lackey and Peavy aren't groundball-inclined. The larger reality, though, is that the Cardinals -- barring changes prior to a potential Game 7 -- won't be facing a lefty starter. After being suffocated by Jon Lester in Games 1 and 5 (and Felix Doubront across 4 2/3 innings of high-leverage relief), that's the port in this storm for St. Louis.
If you're Farrell, then you should probably consider changing tack and giving the ball to Doubront if there's a seventh game of the 2013 World Series. If you're the Cardinals, then you'd better hope Farrell proceeds as planned and goes with Peavy. Granted, the Cardinals haven't been hitting much against anyone in this World Series, but the strong trends of the season behind us present their best chance for a comeback.