If you want a marquee pitching matchup to kick off the 2013 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, you got it, as Adam Wainwright will square off against Jon Lester at Fenway Park. 

The fact that Wainwright and Lester are getting the ball for their respective teams in the first game of the Fall Classic is no surprise. They were on the hill for the first game of the season, started the first playoff games for their teams and are regarded as two of the best arms in the game. 

Wainwright is a strong Cy Young contender in the National League, though he has no chance of winning because Clayton Kershaw was pretty good. Lester had a great bounce-back season after a forgettable 2012, which is something we could say about a lot of the Red Sox roster. 

But which pitcher has the edge in Game 1? It’s time to take a deep dive into how Wainwright and Lester go about their business and what to expect on Wednesday night. 

Just going off those numbers, Wainwright would appear to have a decided advantage in this game. It is important to note that Lester got much better in the second half, with a 2.57 ERA in 87.2 innings, and Wainwright had the advantage of pitching in a division with lower-tier offenses like Milwaukee (19th in runs scored), Pittsburgh (20th) and the Chicago Cubs (28th). 

Wainwright is also lauded for his ability to throw strikes and avoid walking hitters, which is going to serve him well against Boston’s patient lineup. However, when you are always around the zone, you are going to give up a lot of hits.

His 223 hits allowed were the most among NL starting pitchers in 2013 and tied Mark Buehrle for fifth-most in all of baseball. 

Both pitchers have taken their game to another level in the postseason and promise to make Game 1 a low-scoring affair. 

Wainwright and Lester are also coming off their worst playoff starts this year. Wainwright allowed six hits (two doubles and two triples) and two runs in seven innings in Game 3 of the NLCS. Lester lasted just 5.1 innings in Game 5 against Detroit, giving up seven hits, three walks, two runs and three strikeouts. 

Red Sox manager John Farrell doesn’t seem very concerned about Lester’s ability to step up in a big game, however, as he told Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe:

He knows himself better. He knows what his checkpoints are, he knows where his strengths lie. More importantly I think he can trust himself.

Neither pitcher has much of a history against the opposing team. Wainwright has never pitched against the Red Sox. Lester made one start against St. Louis back in 2008, giving up nine hits and two runs in 7.1 innings. 

With no sample to judge how the hitters will perform directly against each pitcher, we can look at how they have fared against similar-types of pitchers in 2013. 

Wainwright and Lester fall into the power pitcher category, those who rank in the top third of the league in strikeouts plus walks. Our breakdown of each lineup will then dive into their numbers against those types of pitchers. 

The one change in the lineup that could happen is Mike Matheny inserting Jon Jay back into center field in place of Shane Robinson, though the latter performed well against left-handed Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS and could warrant another start against Lester. 

Players are going to have lesser numbers against power pitchers because their stuff is generally better overall than what you will see from a finesse pitcher or a groundball guy, which is what you see from the Cardinals’ lineup. 

The Red Sox haven’t fared a lot better against pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff, which could make for a compelling game that comes down to the bullpens. 

Again, we see that one of the best lineups in baseball has problems against power pitchers. Xander Bogaerts doesn’t have much of a sample size to judge, which could actually work in his favor because opposing pitchers won’t know how to work him or what it takes to get him out. 

Of course, given the at-bats we saw from Bogaerts in the last two games of the ALCS, there may not be a way to get him out. He is such an advanced hitter with an incredible eye at the plate to work counts and put himself in position to drive a pitch he likes. 

Another factor that must be taken into consideration is how the Cardinals have fared against left-handed pitchers in 2013. They had success against Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS, but that has been the exception instead of the rule this year. 

The Cardinals’ .675 OPS against southpaw starters ranked 26th in baseball this year, ahead of teams like the Astros, Mariners, Royals and Marlins.

The good news is Lester will be the only left-handed starter the Cardinals see in this series. The bad news is, they will likely face him three times if the series goes seven games. 

On the flip side, the Red Sox have done a lot more damage this season against right-handed pitching. 

That balance is what makes the Red Sox so dangerous. Even if you try to play matchups late in games, like throwing a lefty against Jacoby Ellsbury or David Ortiz, manager John Farrell has done a brilliant job of separating them with players who can crush southpaws like Pedroia (.937 OPS in 2013) and Victorino (.861 OPS in 2013). 

One area that Wainwright has been so successful this season that could give him problems against this Boston lineup is percentage of swings on pitches out of the strike zone. Lester, while slightly better than the MLB average, doesn’t rely as much on hitters chasing. 

The reason this is a potential problem for Wainwright and the Cardinals is because the Red Sox are not a team prone to chasing pitches out of the strike zone. His 36.2 percent of swings on pitches out of the zone ranked third in the league, behind Cole Hamels and Matt Harvey. 

The Red Sox ranked third in fewest percentage of swings on pitches out of the strike zone, though they only ranked 26th in contact percentage on pitches swung at in the zone. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals might actually do well against a pitcher like Lester who relies heavily on swings in the zone to get outs. They ranked first in the National League and second in baseball, behind Texas, in percentage of contact made in the zone at 89.2. 

Given the lack of experience both lineups have against the opposing starter, I don’t think we are going to see either side go off for a lot of runs and chase the starting pitcher out of the game early. 

The Cardinals should feel good by virtue of having their best pitcher on the mound in the opening game of the World Series. Even in the one playoff game he struggled, Wainwright didn’t pitch poorly, giving up just two runs. He got hit a little harder than usual, but was able to limit the damage. 

Lester has been a little erratic at times, walking three hitters in two of this three playoff starts. Despite that wildness, opposing hitters haven’t been able to square the lefty up a lot. He gave up two homers against Tampa Bay in Game 1 of the ALDS, but has only allowed one extra-base hit (a double) in 11.2 innings in two starts since that game. 

In other words, all you have to do is expect great pitching from both starters and you won’t be disappointed. 


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