clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Michael Wacha and postseason proveyness

New, comments

Can the Cardinals' 2013 postseason ace regain his past October form against the Cubs?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 season was an amazing one for the St. Louis Cardinals. They won 97 games en route to their first division title since 2009. St. Louis defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS and Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. A key contributor to the Cardinals' National League pennant run was then-rookie Michael Wacha.

2013 NLDS Game 4

Wacha's postseason debut was a must-win game. The Cardinals trailed the Pirates 2-1 in the NLDS. It they had lost that afternoon in PIttsburgh, their season would have been over. Wacha was nails through seven innings, holding the Pirates scoreless and hitless. With a 2-0 lead in the eighth the righty surrendered his first hit, a solo homer by Pedro Alvarez. Wacha followed the roundtripper by issuing a walk to Russell Martin. After that, manager Mike Matheny gave Wacha the hook and replaced him with another rookie, Carlos Martinez. The Cards held on and won the game, forcing Game 5 at Busch Stadium, which Adam Wainwright started and St. Louis won. Wacha posted a very impressive line in his first postseason start: 7 1/3 IP, 9 SO, 2 BB, 1 H, 1 R.

2013 NLCS Game 2

NLCS Game 1 was a dramatic affair that the Cards won in 13 innings. With 1-0 series lead, Wacha took the hill for Game 2 against Dodgers ace and eventual Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw. Wacha outpitched his rival and the Cards held on to win 1-0. Wacha put up the following line in his second postseason start: 6 2/3 IP, 8 SO, 1 BB, 5 H, 0 R.

2013 NLCS Game 6

Wacha vs. Kershaw II was nowhere near as close as the first matchup. Matt Carpenter put together an epic plate appearance against the southpaw and the Cardinals opened up the floodgates, plating seven runs credited to Kershaw and nine overall. The Cardinals clinched the pennant with a 9-0 victory thanks in part to Wacha's outing: 7 IP, 5 SO, 0 BB, 2 H, 0 R. Wacha won the NLCS MVP award for his outstanding two starts in the series.

2013 World Series Game 2

After three consecutive sterling starts to begin his postseason career, Wacha was due for something less than dominance. And that is what happened in the second game of the World Series. After a sloppy opener that gave the Red Sox a 1-0 series advantage, the Cardinals' backs were up against the wall (Green Monster?) when the Aggie took the hill. Wacha fought through six innings and his teammates did the rest. The Cards won 4-2 to send the series to Busch tied. Wacha finished with a solid if unspectacular line: 6 IP, 6 SO, 4 BB, 3 H, 2 R.

2013 World Series Game 6

By this point, Wacha had proven himself on baseball's biggest stage and that earned him Matheny's trust. Wacha took the hill with the Cards down 3-2 in the series. It was another lose-or-go-home contest, just like in PIttsburgh. And Matheny left Wacha in long enough to lose the game and series. The Red Sox shelled the righty and he wound up the owner of the following line: 3.2 IP, 5 SO, 4 BB, 5 H, 6 R. This game often gets omitted from any discussion of Wacha's 2013 postseason.

2013 Postseason

Wacha pitched extremely well for the Cardinals during the 2013 postseason. Wacha's stats over his five 2013 postseason starts are impressive at least in terms of strikeouts and run suppression. Wacha's peripherals are a little less impressive, which isn't all that surprising given the walks he issued in his World Series starts.

G

GS

IP

BABIP

LOB%

K%

BB%

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

5

5

30.2

.186

80.7

27.7

10.1

7.9

2.64

3.44

3.86

A lot of water has passed under the bridge these last two years. Wacha started 2014 in the St. Louis rotation and actually pitched better than he had during his postseason run. But a rare shoulder condition interrupted his season. Wacha spent 68 days on the disabled list with a stress reaction in his throwing shoulder and when he came back, he wasn't the same pitcher. The Cardinals included Wacha on their postseason roster, but Matheny did not use him in a game until the bottom of the ninth in NLCS Game 5, and we all know how that ended.

Nonetheless, Wacha's past postseason performance sits prominently on his résumé. Matheny even cited to it on Sunday during press availability at Wrigley Field before NLDS Game 3, which will pit Wacha against Chicago's Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta.

Matheny is a product of the twisted meritocracy that is MLB so it's not surprising to see him place such weight on a two-year-old performance over four games to the exclusion of Wacha's more recent and decidedly bad efforts in his 2013 postseason finale and lone 2014 appearance on the October stage. It's myth-making, to a degree.

The reality is that the Wacha who was so good on the postseason stage two years ago very probably no longer exists. That pitcher was a shoulder injury ago. The Wacha who will start NLDS Game 3 is not the same pitcher who dominated the Pirates and Dodgers during the 2013 postseason.

Consider Wacha's 2015 stats compared to those from October 2013:

Split

G

GS

IP

BABIP

LOB%

K%

BB%

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

2013 Post

5

5

30.2

.186

80.7

27.7

10.1

7.9

2.64

3.44

3.86

2015 Total

30

30

181.1

.272

76.2

20.1

7.6

11.2

3.38

3.87

3.88

2015 2nd Half

13

13

74.0

.272

77.1

20.8

10.6

16.4

4.01

4.93

4.28

Sep/Oct 2015

5

5

24.0

.273

68.2

17.0

16.1

43.8

7.88

7.84

5.03

I included Wacha's second half stats due to Joe's post on how this season has been a tale of two halves for the righthander. I threw in Wacha's results for September and October of 2015, as well, which are particularly ugly. It's safe to say that Wacha's 2015 results leave little basis to expect a callback performance in against the Cubs. Unlike Arrieta, who keeps ascending to new Super Saiyan levels, Wacha's pitching effectiveness is trending downward. Entering NLDS Game 3, there's little reason to expect October 2013 Wacha to show up, except for faith in postseason proveyness.

The situation is worrisome. The margin of error against a great pitcher like Arrieta is razor thin. Matheny must have a short leash on Wacha and pull him at the first sign of trouble. He can't leave Wacha in to lose the game like he did in the decisive game the 2013 World Series, the decisive game of the 2014 NLCS, or in Wacha's last regular season start of 2015 against the Pirates.