Red Sox-Cardinals World Series preview

October 23, 2013 - 5:16 am

Just a year after finishing in the basement of the American League East and losing 93 games, the Red Sox are going to the World Series. Awaiting the Red Sox, the best team in the American League in the regular season and postseason, will be the best team in the National League in the regular season and the playoffs, the Cardinals. Both teams finished with a 97-65 record at the end of 162 games, and both teams won their league championship series in six games, with the Cardinals wrapping up the NLCS against the Dodgers on Friday night in St. Louis, while the Red Sox won a dramatic Game 6 against the Tigers the next evening. It's the first time since 1999 that the two teams with the best records in their leagues will face off in the Fall Classic. There are plenty of similarities between the Cardinals and Red Sox, and the two clubs match up well. One can expect a lot of offensive firepower between the two teams, as each finished atop its league in runs scored (Red Sox with 853, or 5.27 runs per game, and the Cardinals with 783, 4.83 runs per game). Both clubs have both veterans and rookies making a big impact, with the Cardinals'€™ Michael Wacha taking home the NLCS MVP award and Red Sox 21-year-old infielder Xander Bogaerts forcing his way into the lineup at third base for the foreseeable future. They both have seasoned playoff performers in the middle of their lineup, with David Ortiz (15 home runs, career .899 postseason OPS) for the Red Sox and perhaps one of the greatest postseason performers of all time, Carlos Beltran (.337/.449/.724 in 45 playoff games) for St. Louis. Another similarity? Both teams feature dominant closers, but neither occupied that role back in April. Red Sox fans are well aware of ALCS MVP Koji Uehara and his split-fingered fastball'€™s journey to the closer'€™s role after a string of injuries depleted the bullpen. Like Uehara, the Cardinals'€™ Trevor Rosenthal took over in later in the season, earning the role in August after Edward Mujica hit a rough stretch. Rosenthal is a 23-year-old power pitcher who features a 97 mile per hour fastball. He'€™s tossed seven scoreless innings and recorded three saves this postseason. As far as the rest of the bullpen goes, both teams'€™ relief corps have been extremely effective. Red Sox relievers have compiled a 0.91 ERA between the two series and allowed just one run in 21 ALCS innings. The Cardinals 'pen has been equally impressive, posting a 1.42 ERA in the NLCS. The Red Sox, who are known to work pitch counts to force starters out of games early, won'€™t be facing the same kind of bullpen as they did in the LCS against the Tigers. The Cardinals boast a group of hard-throwing relievers, including Carlos Martinez (who regularly hits triple digits on the radar gun), Kevin Siegrist and John Axford, who both throw in the upper 90s. "They're bringing in guys that all throw 100 and have filthy stuff," Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava acknowledged. But that doesn'€™t mean the Red Sox will alter their game plan. '€œI don'€™t think our approach will change," Nava said. "We have to stick with what we'€™ve had the whole year. We know their bullpen is strong. We know their starting pitching is strong. We know they are a very good team." Like the Red Sox'€™ previous opponent, the Cardinals are not a speedy club. During the regular season, they stole only 45 bags, seven less than Jacoby Ellsbury racked up by himself. That'€™s good news for the Red Sox, since they'€™ve allowed the most stolen bases in the majors this season. On the other hand, the Cardinals have done an excellent job of controlling the running game. Led by one of the best defensive catchers in the majors, Yadier Molina, the Cards allowed only 39 stolen bases, the least in baseball, while holding runners to a 60 percent success rate. The Red Sox'€™ running game should be an interesting aspect to keep an eye on, seeing as how they were successful in 85 percent of stolen base attempts in the regular season and swiped 11 bases this postseason, eight more than any other team. The Cardinals will get a boost in their lineup with first baseman Allen Craig joining the World Series roster after landing on the disabled list back on Sept. 4 with a sprained left foot. Craig will serve as the designated hitter for Games 1 and 2 in Boston. The Cardinals lineup features many '€œclutch'€ hitters (and the team as a whole hit .330 with runners in scoring position in the regular season) but few have performed better with men on base than Craig, who hit .378/.432/.532 with runners on and .454/.500/.638 with runners in scoring position during the regular season. However, since Craig has been out since the beginning of September, he hasn't gotten the chance to go on a rehab assignment with a minor league team and therefore has not seen game action in about a month and a half. '€œWe'€™re going up against a very complete team,'€ Red Sox manager John Farrell said. '€œThey have very good young pitching, they have good pitching in general. Just what I'€™ve looked at so far, they are well-balanced, they hit with runners in scoring position like no other and they look to put guys in motion with the hit and run quite a bit. They are a complete team.'€ It'€™s the fourth meeting between the two teams in the Fall Classic, and the first since the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in 2004 to win their first World Series in 86 years. The two clubs also met in 1946, a classic series that showcased the two best offenses in baseball and ended with Enos Slaughter'€™s famous dash to home plate in Game 7.  It'€™s the second time in three years the Cardinals have reached the World Series -- they won it all in 2011 -- and the fourth time they'€™ve been there in the last 10 years. For the Sox, it'€™s been six years since their last World Series appearance after the victory in 2007. Here are the probable pitching matchups for the World Series. Game 1: Jon Lester (2-1, 2.33 this postseason) vs. Adam Wainwright (2-1, 1.57) Game 2: John Lackey (2-0, 3.00) vs. Michael Wacha (3-0, 0.43) Game 3: Clay Buchholz (0-0, 5.40) vs. Joe Kelly (0-1, 4.41) Game 4: Jake Peavy (0-1, 8.31) vs. Lance Lynn (2-1, 5.40) Game 5*: Lester vs. Wainwright Game 6*: Lackey vs. Wacha Game 7*: Buchholz vs. Kelly * - if necessary WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Perhaps the most significant difference between the Red Sox and Tigers and one of the deciding factors of the ALCS was the strength of the bullpen. Red Sox relievers were lights-out for the most part, and Uehara'€™s dominant postseason performance (five saves, one run, five hits, 13 strikeouts in nine IP) was acknowledged with the ALCS MVP award. But the strength of the bullpen doesn'€™t stop with the closer. Set-up men Craig Breslow (no runs, three hits in seven innings) and Junichi Tazawa (one run allowed in five innings over eight appearances, three strikeouts) have been impressive in their first two playoff series as well.  Rookie Brandon Workman also has come through in big spots, tossing 5 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out three and walking two. '€¢ Since kicking off his 2013 playoff campaign with a 3-for-4 showing against the Rays, Shane Victorino hasn'€™t been getting on base very often. But although he went just 3-for-24 in the ALCS, his hits have come at the right times. His grand slam in Game 6 to give the Red Sox the lead and propel them into the World Series brought his RBI total to eight for the postseason. In six postseason at-bats with the bases loaded, Victorino has gone 4-for-6 with two grand slams and 16 RBIs. Although the outfielder is batting just .237 in the 2013 postseason, he'€™s hitting .400 with a 1.078 OPS with runners on base. '€¢ Lester continues to look like the true ace of the Red Sox staff, turning in two impressive performances during the ALCS, although his first resulted in a loss due to the Red Sox offense being no-hit through eight innings. Lester'€™s second outing lasted only 5 1/3 innings, but he held the Tigers to two runs. Overall, he'€™s allowed five runs and 16 hits in 19 1/3 innings, good for a 2.33 ERA in the playoffs. John Lackey also put together an outstanding start in game 3, outdueling Justin Verlander and shutting out the Tigers through 6 2/3 innings while allowing just four hits in a game that that Sox would eventually win with just one run. WHO'S HOT: CARDINALS '€¢ Wainwright has been pitching like a true No. 1 this postseason, allowing only four runs in 23 innings and striking out 20 while walking just one batter in three starts. Wainwright, who led the league with 241 2/3 innings pitched this season and posted an impressive 6.26 strikeout to walk ratio in the regular season, lost his only NLCS start, but he was masterful in the NLDS against the Pirates, tossing a one-run shutout in Game 5 while also earning the win in the series opener. '€¢ Wacha has been outstanding this postseason, outdueling Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw not once, but twice, and shutting out the Dodgers in both of his NLCS starts. In three starts this postseason, the rookie has allowed just one run over 21 innings (a 0.43 ERA) while giving up just eight hits and four while and striking out 22 batters. The only run he allowed came on a home run. Wacha, who made his major league debut on May 30, went 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.098 WHIP in just nine starts and six relief appearances this regular season. '€¢ Shane Robinson is not one of the bigger names on the Cardinals roster, but he'€™s come through in some big spots off the bench this postseason. He'€™s 3-for-7 in the postseason, driving in three runs including a home run in Game 4 of the NLCS to give the Cardinals some insurance in a 4-2 victory (Robinson has hit only five home runs in 221 regular-season games in his career). With outfielder Jon Jay struggling at the plate lately, it'€™s not unlikely that Robinson sees more playing time in the World Series. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Stephen Drew has managed only three hits this entire postseason (one triple, two singles) and went just 1-for-20 with a walk and 10 strikeouts in the ALCS. But despite the .086 batting average and .254 OPS for the postseason, Drew remains in the lineup while Bogaerts takes over at third base, thanks to his stellar defense throughout the regular season and the playoffs. '€¢ Peavy turned in a stellar start in the ALDS, but things didn'€™t go quite as well in the next series. Peavy lasted just three innings, giving up seven earned runs on five hits and three walks while recording only one strikeout. Peavy dealt with uncharacteristic command problems and ended up taking the loss. The right-hander has not fared well in postseason starts for the most part, coming in with a 10.31 ERA in four playoff appearances. '€¢ Franklin Morales hasn'€™t seen a lot of action this postseason, but he'€™s been shaky in his few appearances. Though he did not allow a run in the ALCS, he was charged with a blown save in the series finale with the Tigers, allowing an inherited runner to score on a hit and a walk. The lefty also gave up a run in one third of an inning of work in the division series, walking one and giving up one hit. Morales, who had exhibited control problems all season long, walked an average of 5.3 batters per nine innings in the 2013 regular season. WHO'S NOT: CARDINALS '€¢ Molina had a disappointing NLCS, going 5-for-22 with only one RBI and no extra-base hits in the six game series. Overall, he'€™s batting .256 with a .715 OPS this postseason. The catcher, who had a possible MVP-caliber regular season (he hit .319/.359/.477 in 136 games) was particularly unproductive in the middle four games of the series, going 1-for-13 and grounding into two double plays. '€¢ David Freese was a postseason hero when the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, but he'€™s struggled in the 2013 postseason. The third baseman is hitting just .198 in 37 at-bats with two extra-base hits, although one of those was a home run. He'€™s driven in four runs in 11 games and scored three times. Freese notched only his second multi-hit game of the playoffs in the Cards'€™ 9-0 victory over the Dodgers in the decisive Game 6. '€¢ Pete Kozma is one of the few weak links in the Cardinals lineup. After hitting .217/.275/.273 with 20 doubles and one home run in 143 games as the starting shortstop, Kozma has managed only five hits this postseason, with just one going for extra bases. Like Drew, Kozma is still in the lineup primarily because of his defensive capabilities, as he is regarded as a more solid defender than alternative option Daniel Descalso.