Michael Wacha has started 65 innings in his career, fewer than Dicky Gonzalez, Lorenzo Barcelo, Donovan Hand, Adam Pettyjohn, or Darwin Cubillan. And Mike Crudale. We've decided Wacha is some sort of invincible super-ace. We've watched him play the part. But he's still as raw as rookies get. He's just a pup.
Joe Kelly has started 31 games in his career, fewer than Sam Deduno, Rick van den Hurk, Matt Chico, and Rich Ankiel. He's bounced between the rotation and the bullpen for the last two seasons, not finding a permanent home in the rotation until after the All-Star break. He's still as raw as young pitchers get. He's just a pup.
Both young pitchers will have to start an elimination game in the World Series in what's possibly the most hostile situation possible. There will be 38,000 fans yelling about hands touching hands, audibly willing their team to their first home-clinched championship in almost a century.
Man, the Red Sox are in a tough spot.
Is it weird, that that's my initial reaction? Because that's my initial reaction. There's no doubt the Red Sox have the advantage, mind you. They're at home, and they need to be a .500 team over the next two games, while the Cardinals have to be perfect. But for some strange, unexplained reason, I trust Wacha and Kelly. They seem like pitchers I wouldn't want my team to face.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, are starting John Lackey and Jake Peavy. That's $30 million worth of starting pitchers I don't trust a lick. At least, on the surface. The Red Sox are 3-0 in Lackey's starts this postseason. They're 3-0 in Peavy's starts in the playoffs, too. Let's see how they match up against the Cardinals' starters:
Beyond that, it's not like the worthwhile stats favor the youngsters, either. Lackey and Peavy both had excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios this season. So did Wacha in his limited innings. Kelly wasn't so hot, though. He was behind Henderson Alvarez and Ryan Dempster in K/BB. He had the most hittable mid-90s fastball this side of, well, Henderson Alvarez. If you're looking for pitchers with a better chance of keeping the baseballs out of play, the Red Sox have the advantage.
And they're at home, which is a bigger advantage. Everything about the Red Sox situation suggests they have the upper hand. Yet I can't stop looking at the matchups and thinking the Cardinals are positioned well.
Here's why: I know the guys the Red Sox are starting. I've seen them rise, and I've seen them fall. I've seen Lackey finish off a World Series before, and I've seen him look less than dominating.
I've seen Peavy look like a post-Pedro wizard, showing off preternatural command and superlative stuff at an age where he should have been confused, in college, and listening to awful music instead. Then I saw the decline, the experimental surgery, and the return of a guy who sat around 90/91 m.p.h.. The Peavy from this postseason has seemed like a liability, not an asset.
But I've never seen Kelly struggle. And I'm not sure if Wacha has ever thrown a bad game in his life. I see the bad outings in the minor- and major-league game logs, but I don't believe them.
Eventually both Cardinals pitchers will go through trials and tribulations. And when they do, there's a good chance the Red Sox duo will be out of the game. All the anecdotal junk rattling around in my brain will be relevant to Wacha and Kelly, then. Even if they're good, I'll still ding them for it.
So it takes a little effort, but removing the cognitive bias leads me to a different conclusion. Lackey and Peavy are probably better bets than Wacha/Kelly. It's still weird that Lackey's good again, but no more so than Wacha emerging from the River Styx as a fully formed ace. And Peavy's shown an ability to miss bats this year that's far superior to Kelly's. Forget the rest of his career. Just going by the last 32 starts, Peavy looks like the better pitcher.
Then there's Fenway Park ...
Nope, the Red Sox are still the team with an overwhelming advantage. You knew that. But just in case you were like me, thinking about how Wacha and Kelly were a tougher matchup than Lackey and Peavy, know you're probably off. It'll take some baseball weirdness for the Cardinals to win two straight at Fenway.
Fortunately for them, though, baseball's been sitting in the sun and drinking all day. It's totally dehydrated and incoherent. Something's going to happen that will make Lacky, Peavy, Wacha, and Kelly seem like movie extras. All things being equal, though, I'll take the Boston pair. They aren't as unknown and mysterious as the Cardinals' pitchers. But they're probably better. For now.