NLCS Dodgers-Cardinals Game 6 preview: Kershaw vs. Wacha

Clayton Kershaw versus Michael Wacha? Yes, please. (USATSI)
Clayton Kershaw versus Michael Wacha? Yes, please. (USATSI)

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ST. LOUIS -- Friday’s Game 6 of the NLCS between the Dodgers and Cardinals is around the bend, and it’ll be a pitching rematch of Game 2. If you’re partial to connoisseur’s baseball, then you’ll want to take time to watch Clayton Kershaw (236 IP, 1.83 ERA, 194 ERA+, 0.92 WHIP, 4.46 K/BB) square off against Michael Wacha (64 2/3 IP, 2.78 ERA, 131 ERA+, 1.10 WHIP, 3.42 K/BB).

In Game 2, these two combined to allow one run -- unearned -- on seven hits and strike out 13 in 12 2/3 innings. So runs figure to be scarce again. Now let’s have a closer look …

Kershaw vs. Cardinals

The second game of this series, as implied above, saw Kershaw thrive. The good thing about being the best pitcher on the planet is that when one of your pitches isn't as sharp as it usually is, you can turn to one of your other three plus offerings. In Kershaw's case, the four-seamer was on point in Game 2, and he threw it 55.6 percent of the time against the Cardinals.

What about in his two regular season starts against St. Louis, which did not go particularly well (six runs and five walks in 13 combined innings) by Kershaw's high standards? In his May 26 start, the worse of the two, Kershaw went to his fastball almost 70 percent of the time, and the Cardinals hung four runs on him in seven innings. In his Aug. 6 start (two runs in six innings -- a quality start), he showed a much more Game 2-like pitch mix -- i.e., he went to his fastball just more than half the time. As such, don't be surprised if he mixes in quite a few sliders with those fastballs in Game 6. That's what's worked for him against the Cardinals in 2013. 

Elsewhere ... Cardinals presently on the roster have combined to hit a solid .274/.371/.378 against Kershaw across 161 plate appearances. Also, as pointed out prior to Game 2, Kershaw's 2013 road ERA is more than a half run higher than his mark at home and almost a full run higher for his career. On the other hand, the St. Louis offense this season ranked a meager 10th in the NL this season in in weight runs created+ (wRC+) against left-handers. 

Wacha vs. Dodgers

As you can see above, Wacha's overall numbers are quite impressive, but they actually undersell the excellence of Wacha in the here and now. After being returned to the Cardinal rotation in early September, he pitched to a 1.72 ERA over the final month of the regular season. Throw in his two postseason gems, and that ERA falls to 1.39. Remove his only bad start from that stretch -- a Sept. 19 outing in outlying Coors Field -- and that figure drops to 0.62. So, yeah, the 22-year-old right-hander is in top form lately. 

In Game 2 against L.A., Wacha departed a bit from what worked so well against the Pirates in Game 4 of the NLDS. That is, he leaned a bit more on his changeup while continuing to increase use of his curve over regular season levels and still throwing his fastball a majority of the time. Whereas he consistently pitched away and away to Pittsburgh hitters, Wacha against the Dodgers showed more of a willingness to come down and in, particularly against right-handed hitters. 

Also of note is that the Dodger offense ranked second in the NL this season in wRC+ against right-handers and first in the NL in wRC+ on the road. In a vacuum, these are good conditions for them, but the phrase "in a vacuum" doesn't take into account Michael Wacha. 

First pitch of Game 6 is slated for 8:37 pm EST, 7:37 pm local time. 

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