Wainwright, Craig and the Fenway outfield are on Stan McNeal's mind heading into World Series Game 1
By STAN McNEALFS Midwest
ST. LOUIS -- This being late October, let's start with a Game 1 weather report: Temperature in Boston is expected to be 46 degrees at first pitch with a 65 percent chance of rain. The rain chance drops to 20 percent by 10 p.m. Boston time.
Now, three things to watch Wednesday night -- assuming the weather cooperates:
Wainwright and the grind factor
The Red Sox's lineup is notorious for working counts, stepping out of the box, fiddling with batting gloves and, generally, turning a three-hour game into a four-hour game. As a team, the Red Sox took the first pitch 79.6 percent of the time in the regular season, the most in the majors. First baseman Mike Napoli led the majors in pitches seen per at-bat (4.58), and four other Red Sox regulars also averaged more than 4 per at-bat. (The
Cardinals had only two -- Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams -- who saw more than 4/AB.)
Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright, on the other hand, is a quick-working strike thrower. (Looking ahead, Game 2 starter Michael Wacha likes to work even faster.) Wainwright has averaged one walk per start this season, including playoffs, and many of those came on a full count when he didn't give in and throw a cheap strike.
So how the Red Sox approach Wainwright will be a major key to the game. Does Wainwright focus on throwing strike one knowing the Red Sox don't often swing on the first pitch? Or, knowing how much Wainwright likes to attack the strike zone, do the Red Sox take a more aggressive approach, particularly on the first pitch of an at-bat?
Wainwright is at his best when he pounds the zone and doesn't worry about a hitter's approach. He should not let the Red Sox's patience change the way he pitches.
A footnote: Pay close attention to Shane Victorino's at-bats. He leans over the plate and has no problem accepting a hit by pitch. He has been hit six times in the postseason, twice as many as the entire Cardinals team.
Craig and the rust factor
The way his return from a foot injury is being trumpeted, much is being expected of Allen Craig. Too much, if you ask me. While the mere sight of his name in the batting order gives the Cardinals' lineup a more dangerous feel, let's not forget Craig hasn't hit in a game in 49 days. That's like nearly a third of a regular season. As far as we know, he has taken only a few sessions of live batting practice.
To think he can step in and immediately return to being Allen Craig, extraordinary clutch hitter, is not realistic. Batting him sixth or seventh in Game 1 would be a wise move to ease a bit of the pressure, if it's possible to have pressure eased during the World Series.
Cardinals outfielders and the Fenway factor
Many times when a fly is hit to left field, you wonder if Matt Holliday will be able to make the catch. He actually has been playing a decent left field lately. But now he has to deal with the Green Monster, which can create all kinds of funny ricochets depending on where the ball hits the wall. At least Holliday won't have to run around a lot in left field. Because of the Monster, there's not a lot of left field in Fenway Park.
But there's lots of space in center and right field, especially right-center. That can't be comforting for Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran, who, as we saw in Los Angeles, do not cover all that much ground.
They might want to work on their communication, too. They do not want to have a recurrence of what happened in Los Angeles, and they really want to avoid what happened to Rays right fielder Wil Myers in the ALDS. Myers was virtually camped under a fly in front of the Red Sox bullpen but, to the horror of the Rays, backed off at the last moment. Though Myers never explained exactly what happened, some believe the rookie fell victim to someone in the Red Sox bullpen shouting, "I got it." His non-play turned around the game the Rays were leading 2-0. They ended up losing 12-2.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.