Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Series Preview: World Series

The Cardinals/Red Sox World Series at a glance.

Largely on the strength of a pitcher who was drafted less than a year and a half ago, the Cardinals advanced to the World Series to face the Boston Red Sox. Boston, whose turnaround from a disastrous Bobby Valentine-led 2012 season was rather remarkable, has the home field advantage in the series due to Bud Selig's rather idiotic treatment of the annual All-Star Game.

2013 Season Series: 0-0
Boston and St. Louis did not play each other this year and haven't met in the regular season since 2008. Their last meeting in the World Series was in 2004, which proved to be a house of horrors for a previously unstoppable Redbird machine. Only David Ortiz and Yadier Molina remain from the two teams' 2004 World Series rosters, and Molina was just the backup to current manager Mike Matheny at the time.

Starting Pitching: Adam Wainwright / Michael Wacha / Joe Kelly / Lance Lynn vs. Jon Lester / John Lackey / Clay Buchholz / Jake Peavy
It's hard to recall a pitcher as young and suddenly successful under the brightest lights as Wacha is right now. In his final start of the season (and just 9th of his big league career), Wacha came within one out of a no-hitter. In his three playoff starts, he's allowed just one loud run (and 8 total hits) with an NLCS MVP trophy to show for his good work. Wainwright has been in ace form of late, while Kelly and Lynn have been a bit of a mixed bag. The Red Sox foursome are all quality starting pitchers and well-known commodities, but none can match the Cardinals ace or the recent work of the young rook. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Bullpen: Trevor Rosenthal vs. Koji Uehara
Rosenthal can hit 100 on the gun and has impressed in his end of season role as the Cardinals closer, but 38 year old Uehara has literally been insane. Playoffs included, Uehara has struck out 114 batters while walking 9 and allowing 10 runs. Alongside Rosie in the Redbirds pen is Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist, while Boston's pen includes Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales, Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman and (oddly enough) Ryan Dempster. The Cardinals have many situational relievers while the Red Sox are flush with spot starter types (and Dempster). ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Catcher: Yadier Molina vs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Molina hasn't quite been the same player this year since a midseason injury, but his loads of playoff experience and success in big moments will serve him well here. Salty has one of the all-time great baseball last names, not to mention one of the longest ones, and he's thrived as Boston's first full-time catcher since Jason Varitek retired. No one can quite handle pitchers like Yadi as is evident by the results his young counterparts continue to achieve. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

First Base: Matt Adams vs. Mike Napoli
Adams is a bit of an all-or-nothing player at the plate, which can lead to some spectacular whiffs in key moments. The short porch at Fenway Park for the slugging lefty could prove to be very favorable to him, however. Adams may be replaced at first by Allen Craig by the time the series shifts to St. Louis, depending upon how much progress Craig can make. Napoli, a converted catcher, similarly runs hot and cold at the plate but has considerably more experience than Adams. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Second Base: Matt Carpenter vs. Dustin Pedroia
Carpenter's bat finally started to show some life in the NLCS after an abysmal Divisional Series, and the league's leader in doubles, hits and runs will be depended upon heavily on the biggest stage. Pedroia led his league in those same categories in 2008 en route to an MVP award and has continued to be one of the better offensive second basemen around. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Third Base: David Freese vs. Xander Bogaerts/Will Middlebrooks
Freese has rarely reminded anyone of 2011 this year and has been removed for defensive purposes in nearly ever game. There's still plenty of time for him to come up with something heroic, but it's possible that his rough injury history is really catching up to him even though he hasn't played a lot of big league games for his age. Bogaerts, the 21-year-old Aruban prospect, replaced Middlebrooks as the starter for the final two games of the ALCS. John Farrell will probably ride the hot hand. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Shortstop: Pete Kozma vs. Stephen Drew
Kozma is generally a plus fielder and is the Cardinals best baserunner. Unfortunately, he brings his glove to the plate and tries to hit with it, or at least that's what it seems like. Stephen Drew likely won't ever live up to his early offensive promise, but he won't embarrass himself at the plate. ADVANTAGE: RED SOX

Right Field: Carlos Beltran vs. Shane Victorino
Beltran is one of the game's all-time best playoff performers, while The Flyin' Hawaiian brings loads of playoff experience to the table as well. Victorino has played in the postseason in every season of his career save his rookie year and last year, and his memorable grand slam helped propel the Red Sox into this final round. This one is close. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Center Field: Jon Jay vs. Jacoby Ellsbury
Jay plays a solid center field and should get along just fine with Fenway Park's abbreviated dimensions. However, in what is quickly becoming the opposite of a small sample size, Jay has a .190/.259/.485 career playoff slash line, enough to frighten anyone at this spooky time of year. Ellsbury is the game's premiere base thief and can usually hold his own with the bat in his hands. ADVANTAGE: RED SOX

Left Field: Matt Holliday vs. Jonny Gomes
Holliday is the Cardinals rock solid #3 hitter and superstar. He faced the Red Sox in their last World Series appearance in 2007, when Boston prevailed over Holliday's Rockies. Gomes is heavily used against left-handed pitching, where he thrives. Given that the Cardinals have no lefty starters, Daniel Nava could figure into the equation quite a bit. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Designated Hitter: Allen Craig vs. David Ortiz
Craig hasn't played a game since September 4th, but when he last played he was leading the league in RBI (97) and leading the galaxy in batting average with runners in scoring position. His power took a dip this season as it did pretty much across the board in the Cardinals clubhouse, but no one in the National League was more effective when it counted the most. It remains to be seen how effective he will be with all of the time off. Big Papi has quietly put together another stellar season at age 37, and his every at bat will be worth dropping whatever you're doing to tune in for. ADVANTAGE: RED SOX

Bench: Daniel Descalso / Shane Robinson / Tony Cruz / Kolten Wong vs. David Ross / Quintin Berry / Mike Carp / Daniel Nava
The Cardinals biggest playoff offensive contribution from the bench so far was a Shane Robinson home run that sort of squeaked over the wall in Game 3 of the NLCS. Carp is a slugger than doesn't get consistent playing time while Nava is essentially a regular without a regular position. Mike Napoli will also join this crowded bunch when David Ortiz plays first base in St. Louis. This is a stacked and scary Boston bench. ADVANTAGE: RED SOX

Manager: Mike Matheny vs. John Farrell
Matheny has built up a little bit of criticism along the way, but it's hard to argue with someone who has brought his team to the World Series in his second season as a professional manager after coming within one game of it in his first. Farrell is in his first playoff dance, but Boston must have liked something about him during his time in Toronto as they bizarrely included him somehow in a player trade between the two teams. Farrell has done a lot to soothe the nausea that Red Sox fans must still feel when Bobby Valentine's name is brought up, but it also helps a ton that many key players are healthy this year when they weren't last year. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Prediction: CARDINALS in 7

Hey, as unlikely as it seems, it's happened before.

Game 1 game time is 7:00 CDT (8:00 EDT) at Fenway Park with national coverage on FOX. Go Cards!