Clay Buchholz had a very good season when he wasn't injured. Over 108.1 innings, he posted a 2.78 FIP with a 2.6:1 K:BB ratio. He's actually improved that ratio during his 16.1 innings in the post season. He's been a terrible post season pitcher though. Why? Clay Buchholz has a sudden case of gopheritis with a skyrocketing home run rate. His groundball rate overall has dropped immensely and more of his flyballs than usual are leaving the park.
That's a deadly combination and it speaks toward what has been Buchholz problem all year: health. There was some consideration for starting Felix Dubront over Buchholz in this series because of health issues. I would guess -- and this is just a guess -- that Buchholz is having problems with his mechanics and finishing his pitches. Problems that are probably injury related. He's giving hitters too many hittable pitches as a result and you see the decline in groundballs and increase in hard hit balls.
This is all speculative but it's the thing to watch for going into his start tonight assuming that these aren't just small sample size issues. Can Buchholz keep his pitches down in the zone and generate groundballs or does he leave pitches hanging over the heart of the plate. The Cardinals have an excellent opportunity here to capitalize on a player that has been struggling recently. If, however, the good Buchholz shows up, it could be a rough night for the Cardinals.
Buchholz has little in the way of platoon splits despite being a left hander. He has a wide array of pitches that help him neutralize both sides of the plate: fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup. He doesn't throw particularly hard (low 90s) but the fastball and cutter have proven to be particularly effective due to the deception.
Lance Lynn has actually seen some of the same issues that Buchholz has over his post season starts this year. His groundball rate has dropped and his control has been erratic. To quickly beat a dead horse -- it twitched and I need to make sure it's dead -- this is one of those nights that Matheny would do well to have a quick hook. It's one of those nights where the presence of Shelby Miller could make a big difference without destroying the bullpen if Lynn gets pulled early.
If you want another reason to be worried, and really I'm just here to agitate you all since I'll be in attendance tonight, Lynn has a horrendous career split against left handers. Righties have a .278 wOBA while lefties have a .350 wOBA. Against a team like the Red Sox, that could be his undoing. Watch to see how Lynn tries to neutralize those hitters. If he sees David Ortiz for a second time (i.e. the 3rd or 4th inning) in a big situation, that's probably a mistake on the part of Mike Matheny. Call this a bullpen game or whatever but Lance Lynn's history does not suggest he's well equipped to go deep into this game.
Of course, as Joe Kelly has shown us, it's only one game and if Lynn comes out throwing 96 or 97 mph then it is a different decision calculus. That's a big if and it's not one that the Cardinals would do well to rely on.