Let’s set aside the tired storyline trying to turn the NLCS into an apocalyptic struggle between the bat-flipping, Hollywood-loving Dodgers and the old-fashioned, Midwestern values of the Cardinals. Better yet, let’s shred it into pieces, throw the pieces into a dumpster and light the dumpster on fire. The Cardinals’ catcher has a neck tattoo. Joe Kelly stomps around like a lunatic after a big strikeout (as he should). Tradition-upholding veterans Jerry Hairston, Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto play for the Dodgers. It made for a fun and sensible series set-up, but now we have actual baseball being kind of ignored. Stop before Stan Musial’s grandson gets beaten up by Dodger fans.
The absurdity of the ceaseless stereotype becomes even more absurd when you consider what everyone should be talking about instead. It’s Game 6, a survival game for Los Angeles and a champagne game for the Cardinals, and Clayton Kershaw is facing Michael Wacha. The best pitcher on the planet against the rookie who has become the postseason’s hottest. Tonight will bring most enticing game of the season to this point.
It figures to be defined by Kershaw and Wacha, the consensus best left-hander in baseball and the rookie right-hander who has flirted with two no-hitters in the past month. You probably have a pretty good idea of how Kershaw operates. He mixes an effectively wild, high-90s fastball with a curveball from hell and a funky deliver that, no matter how many times they have seen, seems to always catch hitters off guard.
But what about Wacha? The 22-year-old has dominated almost exclusively with fastballs and changeups. He throws his fastball 69 percent of the time and his changeup on 24 percent of his pitches, and he sprinkles in the occasional curveball. He can run his fastball up 98 miles per hour, and his changeup darts late and zips in the high 80s.
Wacha also works incredibly quick, and his pace helps dictate at-bats. Wacha came within Ryan Zimmerman’s infield-dribbler single of no-hitting the Nationals at the end of September. The next day, a couple Nationals hitters said they wish they had stepped out of the box or called time more often. They weren’t looking for gamesmanship. They just wanted to take their at-bat on their terms, and Wacha’s rapid-fire approach made for an uncomfortable confrontation.
The Dodgers will be facing Wacha for the second time this series, which is something he hasn’t experienced in the major leagues. In the regular season, Wacha faced nine different teams in his nine starts. (He did double up on a couple opponents, if you count his six relief appearances.) In the playoffs, Wacha made his second start against the Pirates. All he did against a Pirates lineup that had already seen him once was carry a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
In Game 2 against the Dodgers, Wacha allowed five hits and struck out eight over 6 2/3 shutout innings. Tonight, with their ace on the mound, the Dodgers will try to do better and force a Game 7 in St. Louis. It will be decided not by some contrived culture war, but by two of the best pitchers in the game. And it’s probably going to be pretty awesome.
Game 6: Dodgers at Cardinals
8:30 p.m., TBS
Kershaw (0-1, 0.00) vs. Wacha (1-0, 0.00)