30 2/3 IP
28% Strikeout Rate
10% walk rate
2-0 Record against Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs
Once the outstanding performance on a great stage is seen, it is not soon erased from memory. Michael Wacha pitched roughly one-third of his major league innings in the playoffs last year. After pitching around sixty innings in the regular season, Wacha saw his total increase by 50% in helping the Cardinals to the World Series including those two head-to-head matchups against Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs. Beating the best pitcher in baseball two starts in a row is a very difficult task. Over the next week, the Dodgers are likely to receive the edge from those who do not think the Cardinals can beat Clayton Kershaw twice in one series. It's been done before, the Cardinals have the pitcher that out-dueled Kershaw less than a year ago, and he might not pitch an inning in the series.
The Cardinals are chasing a Michael Wacha that may not exist right now. They are searching, he is searching, for the stuff that made him a playoff hero last season, and for the pitches that made him an ace just five months ago.
73 1/3 IP
25% strikeout rate
6% walk rate
Heading to October, it is last October on our minds, but it is easy to forget that Michael Wacha pitched better in the first two months of the season than he did last fall. He and Wainwright combined for the best 1-2 punch that the Cardinals had ever seen in the month of April. Wacha was still developing as a pitcher last October. During the regular season last year, Wacha threw his curveball just five percent of the time. As Ben noted heading into Game 6 of the NLCS last year, Wacha had upped his curveball use to 12%.
In tonight's crucial NLCS Game 6, we won't see the Wacha who made his big-league debut in May. The Iowa City native has evolved from that fastball-changeup pitcher to one who deploys a fastball, changeup, and curveball. The key to Wacha's success tonight may very well be how effectively he can utilize his curve to keep the Dodgers off-balance at the plate.
Wacha entered Spring Training with some questions about repeating his performance. He reassured many with a Spring performance that included 23 strikeouts and four walks in 20 1/3 innings. He continued his dominant ways in the regular season. He went fastball-changeup on his callup to fastball-changeup-curveball in the playoffs to fastball-changeup-curveball-cutter to start this season. Dayn Perry did a deeper dive of Wacha's curve at the beginning of the season.
The movement and depth, though, are there. In fact, Wacha's vertical break on his curve is greater than the league average, and he also shows better-than-average glove-side run, especially this season. Given those raw ingredients, Wacha has a potential out pitch, provided he improves his command with further use.
In early June, before he was shut down, Ben discussed Wacha's expanded repertoire. The cutter was not getting too many swings and misses, but it was inducing a lot of weak contact. Just a few weeks later, Wacha would hit the the disabled list with an unusual stress reaction in his scapula.
16 2/3 IP
14.5% strikeout rate
9.2% walk rate
Michael Wacha's Spring Training in September gambit was always going to be risky, and his September numbers bear that out. He could not command his fastball enough to throw his changeup on his return to the majors. After struggling on September 9th, his turn in the rotation was skipped before getting two shots to show the Cardinals he could be an asset in the postseason.
8.3% strikeout rate
25% walk rate
Is the first two innings against Arizona on Friday the Michael Wacha the Cardinals can expect to receive in the playoffs? If he comes out like he did against Arizona, the bullpen will not be an option for him as he would need to be effective immediately.
30% strikeout rate
0% walk rate
Wacha dominated the final 3+ innings he pitched against Arizona. He showed he has the ability to throw all four his pitches. Of his 98 pitches in the game, he threw at least 10% of all four including 23 changeups. Wacha used the full complement of his pitches and showed a snippet of what he can be. The Cardinals are in a precarious position, and I don't envy their decision. Putting Wacha in the postseason rotation removes either John Lackey or Shelby Miller, pitchers who have been better than Wacha over the past month. Putting Wacha in the bullpen brings questions about what he is capable of in short bursts and takes away a spot from a hitter on the bench or a reliever more comfortable in that role.
Wacha's talent and track record are tantalizing. He can be, has proven to be, a difference-maker in a short series. What he's shown indicates he could probably use at least one more start to get it all together. The Cardinals have the time, with ten days of rest between Wacha's last start and a potential Game 4 against the Dodgers. Getting Wacha an atmosphere to further hone his pitches to get them ready for a start could prove problematic. Wacha wants to start and the Cardinals want him to start. We'll find out shortly whether that is enough.