This is it, folks. This is the beginning of the end. The penultimate moment of the 2013 baseball season. The only time some people actually watch baseball. That’s right – it’s World Series
The 109th edition of the Fall Classic has matched up the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals for the world to enjoy. We should applaud MLB for doing this, as these were arguably the best two teams in all of baseball this year in their respective league – the first time this has happened since 1999. And since MLB is not like the BCS, you cannot argue how these teams reserved their seat at the table. They did so by being the best not only in the regular season but also in their postseason runs up to this point.
One can argue that the Cardinals are the most dominant team of all-time in the National League. With 11 World Series titles and 19 total appearances, the Redbirds are at the top of each of those categories. And although they’ve won two titles in the last seven years, it will be the 2004 World Series that is sure to be mentioned before and after games. That year, the Cardinals faced a monumentally momentous Boston Red Sox team who was searching for their first title since 1918. The Sox obliged their faithful fans that October and drubbed the Cardinals that year, ending decades of Bambino curse talk and forever altering the outcome of one of the greatest cinematic features of all time.
Even though that Series win was the first for the Sox in a very long time, they also won three years later in 2007 and have seven titles overall. Along with 12 total appearances in the World Series, the Red Sox themselves are no mystery to the postseason. With that said, and putting Jimmy Fallon aside for a bit, let’s focus on this World Series, and who has the upper-hand when all is said and done.
Time and again it is said and it seems like people are not listening. Pitching carries your team in the postseason. That is as bold of a statement as “defense wins championships” in football. Or, in the case of basketball, the old adage of “Tim Donaghy wins championships” can be used. To each his own, one may argue, but there is no arguing that pitching does indeed win championships in the postseason – and both teams have some weapons.
If you can sit there and tell me that you knew the Cardinals would be in the World Series without Allen Craig and Chris Carpenter leading the way through the first two rounds of the postseason, you’d probably be a Cardinals fan. If Michael Wacha and Matt Adams don’t do what they’re currently doing, the Cardinals are losing in four games to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Instead, the Cardinals have discovered something – they now have yet another future ace in Wacha, who took down NLCS MVP honors this year. In three games this postseason, Wacha has a 0.43 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP. He has given up only 1 ER this postseason, which was a 1-out, 8th inning HR to Pedro Alvarez that broke up his no-hitter. He is holding batters to a .116 BAA against this postseason. In other words, I’d let my sister date him. On top of that, the Cardinals have this other guy named Adam Wain-something that’s pretty good himself.
Adam Wainwright goes Game 1 against Boston’s Jon Lester and could set the pace for what to expect this series. These are the two team’s official aces. Wainwright, who is coming off a Cy-Young-like season, is second only to Wacha in postseason dominance for the Cardinals. In three starts, he’s given up only 4 ER while toting a 0.78 WHIP. Needless to say, the Sox may be in trouble but Lester isn’t too shabby himself. He’s sporting a 2.33 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. If he can control his K:BB ratio, he can dominate just like the two Cardinals staffers.
Game 2 finds John Lackey going up against Wacha in what will be a game of tests. Can Lackey be a big-game performer again? He’s done well so far in this postseason, and held it together pretty well over the regular season. But in front of a World Series-crazy crowd, against the Cardinals, and facing Wacha – will he be able to hang? Although the move to place Lackey as the Game 2 starter ahead of Buchholz may seem bold, especially since he is coming off two straight under-performing seasons (6.41 ERA in 2012, 4.40 ERA in 2011), some do not think it’s so wacky to pitch Lackey.
This year Lackey has performed like the pitcher the Sox thought they were getting when they signed him away from the Angels in the 2009 offseason. And given Wacha’s performance on the road in 2013 (4.34 ERA, .316 BAA), Red Sox coach John Farrell might be on to something. If they can steal the first two games at Fenway and head to St. Louis with arguably their best regular season pitcher on the mound (Buchholz) the Red Sox might be able to turn the tide sooner than later – which, in a seven game series, isn’t a bad thing.
Facing Buchholz in Game 3 is Joe Kelly, another Cardinals youngin’. Despite rumors of a possible injury Buchholz and the Sox might be hiding from the public, he’s still planning to go against Kelly. Game 4 features Jake Peavy vs. Lance Lynn. These last two games could be where we see the most out of both bullpens, which is potentially the strength of these two teams.
The ALCS MVP was Koji Uehara and for a reason. He has been nearly unhittable, and in the close games that the playoffs seem to always provide, to be able to throw a pitcher out there with unhittable stuff is golden. Although at times Junichi Tazawa was the real key versus the Tigers, being brought in to face Miguel Cabrera on multiple occasions and getting the job done, it was the patchwork jobs done by Brandon Workman and Craig Breslow that really tied the start of the game to the end of the game. Boston carries a team 3.05 ERA into the World Series, and that’s after facing Detroit and Tampa Bay in their first two playoff matchups.
On the other side of the ball you have the Cardinals and their young bullpen. Starting with Trevor Rosenthal, who was a starter-turned-closer a la Jonathan Papelbon, St. Louis could actually be the deeper of the two teams. Carlos Martinez has been a workhorse setup man for them this postseason, having already pitched in seven games. In fact, they have five pitchers, including Martinez, who have pitched in five or more games. Only two of those pitchers have given up a run. Combined, the Cardinals have a 2.34 ERA and .207 BAA in the playoffs. Those are the types of numbers that a team who is struggling to hit will not want to face.
The Red Sox can hit. That was proven in the regular season when they led all of the majors in runs scored. The Cardinals can hit too. They led the National League in run differential. However, both teams have found it quite difficult to lay any good wood this entire postseason. During the regular season, nearly two-thirds of all teams slugged over .700. In these playoffs, only one team has done that – the Los Angeles Dodgers – and they did most of that damage in the NLDS. Although both Boston and St. Louis have struggled mightily, they still find themselves in contention for the title and have the pedigree to break out of that slump as a team.
An addition to the Cardinals lineup that will be immediately felt is Allen Craig. Instead of using Shane Robinson or Daniel Descalso at DH, the Cardinals now have Craig and his 97 RBIs (in 134 games) to play with. He will be immediately inserted into the lineup. Although he’s not your typical cleanup hitter, Craig will spend a lot of time hitting gaps, much like Yadier Molina, and provides a pretty solid batting average for a power guy. With him in the lineup, along with Molina, Beltran, and Holliday, the middle four of the Cardinals lineup can produce some runs. Although they don’t pack the most punch HR-wise, they can hit a few. And Matt Adams, who will most likely play 1B in the NL park (sending Craig to the bench) can swing too. He was the only Cardinals hitter to slug over .500 and will be sorely welcomed versus RH-pitching. Toss in David Freese and Matt Carpenter, and the Cardinals have an abundance of smart hitters who will take a walk, push a single to the opposite field, or drive a ball into the gap. A home run is great, but a consistent attack of hits can be more demoralizing sometimes. The Red Sox coaching staff will need to monitor this situation at all times.
The bench for the Cardinals is mighty thin. Of course, you have your pesky David Eckstein-type players like Descalso and Kolten Wong, but there is no one to really fear off the bench as an opposing pitcher. The starting lineup is where it’s at for St. Louis and they should capitalize on that strength. Meanwhile, the bench in Boston is completely different. Daniel Nava could be late blossom. But he can hit. His 2013 slashline of .303/.385/.445 and the ability to hit from both sides of the plate is scary. On top of him, you have Mike Carp and either David Ross or Jarrod Saltalamacchia (whomever doesn’t catch that game) available off the bench. Quintin Berry has blazing fast speed and can provide a late-inning steal if needed. Boston has seen that before. But starting pitching is where it’s at for Boston.
Jacoby Ellsbury is a great leadoff hitter. Whoever scoops him up this offseason will be a very happy team with a very happy fanbase. With that said, the guy can play. He can hit for average, take a walk, can run like few others can, and has the ability to pop a little power in his bat. With Ellsbury, Game 6 ALCS hero Shane Victorino, and Mr. Laser Show himself, Dustin Pedroia, the Sox have the ability to score runs immediately in the first inning. All can hit. All can run. All can hustle. If the Cardinals wish to hold the big innings to a minimum, they most focus on these three guys because the power hitters of Boston can really make you pay. With David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have two hitters than can absolutely crush the ball. And being a lefty-righty combo, situational pitchers typically do not fare well against these two (and the front five of the Sox lineup, to be fair). Where the Cardinals are loaded with RH hitters, the Sox have a fair share of right-handed, left-handed, and switch-hitting batters. You really have to get credit to the Tigers starters for maneuvering through these guys pretty easily.
The God of BA w/RISP is back! In 152 plate appearances during the regular season, Allen Craig had a slashline of .454/.500/.638. That is…um…well…REALLY REALLY GOOD! Over the course of the season, Craig had 97 RBIs while hitting a slashline of .315/.373/.457. When healthy, he can play 1B, 3B, and OF. Craig can crush lefties and is a wanted man in that regards, as the Cardinals wavered in the .230s against southpaws in 2013. However much production and playing time Allen Craig can provide will only allow the Cardinals additional gasoline to put on the fire.
AL DH in NL Park
The DH doesn’t hit in the National League, so what will the Sox do with Mike Napoli and David Ortiz in St. Louis? The obvious answer is to sit Napoli and play Ortiz at 1B, but do the Sox risk Napoli at C possibly, moving the less-talented hitters of Saltalamacchia or Ross to the bench? Depending on who is pitching for the Cardinals and what the current standing of the series is, this could really matter. Needless to say, it’s possible whatever move is made here will affect the core of the Red Sox lineup.
There are a million x-factors that could happen in this series that could hold more importance than Xander, but this kid can play. And if he can play on the big stage when called upon, he will be scary in the future. Bogaerts was 2-for4, with 3 BB, 3 R, and played phenomenal defense at the hot corner in his two starts against Detroit. If the Sox can get that consistently out of their 3B slot, that only makes their bench more powerful (sending Will Middlebrooks to the bench to join Mike Carp, Nava or Jonny Gomes, and either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz in the NL park). No bullpen will be safe.
Although the Cardinals have the slight edge in pitching, the Red Sox took care of the Tigers who had a similar pitching resume and an additional ace. Meanwhile, the Cardinals did the same to the Dodgers. The aces of staffs just don’t seem to be winning in this postseason. Too many times has an ace pitched into the later innings of a game and found himself with a no decision or loss for the outcome. This will most likely continue into this series as well. With how young – although very talented – the Cardinals pitching staff is, and how bombarding the Red Sox hitters can be, the Cardinals may find themselves on the losing end of a few early outcomes. If the scores stay low, though, the Cards have a shot. And if Boston’s pitching totally collapses, the Cardinals have the ability to put runs on the Green Monster. But those are ifs, and when speaking of professional athletes, you’d be safer betting on the more likely scenarios. So, in seven games, the Boston Red Sox will take the World Series title and become the fourth-winningest team in Major League Baseball history.