Inside MLB | World Series preview
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 02:10
Nine years ago, the Boston Red Sox snapped a historic World Series drought with a 4-0 sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, easily winning their first title since 1918. Since then, these two teams have been among the best in baseball nearly every year, and each has won two titles apiece in the last nine years.
Now, the two teams are back to battle it out in the World Series once again. Only one player remains on each team’s roster from the 2004 series — David Ortiz for the Sox and Yadier Molina for the Cards — but this year’s best-of-seven series will pit the two most successful franchises of the last decade against each other in a mesmerizing matchup. Here’s the Daily’s primer.
Sox on offense
Throughout the ALCS, the Red Sox only scored in 11 of their 53 times at-bat and looked absolutely stymied by the Tigers’ starting pitchers. Max Scherzer twice left the Sox absolutely clueless, yet had his masterful performance undone by shaky relief pitching and questionable decisions from manager Jim Leyland. In Games 2 and 6, David Ortiz and Shane Victorino came through with late-inning grand slams to lift the Red Sox to the win, but the Sox did struggle at the plate, hitting only .202 in the series.
Although Ortiz and Victorino came through in the clutch, the pair only hit .091 and .125, respectively, in the ALCS, a figure that needs to improve if the Sox have any chance of putting runs on the board against a stellar Cardinals pitching staff. Additionally, the Red Sox will need to find some kind of contribution from shortstop Stephen Drew, who hit a paltry .050 in the ALCS, and from Jonny Gomes, who struck out seven times in the series.
The Sox have been buoyed, however, by rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts, who in his first postseason has reached base in eight of 11 plate appearances. He wasn’t even a massive part of a Red Sox offense that was the best in baseball this year. If he can bolster the roster in Will Middlebrooks’s place, the Sox look primed to gain some of their hitting mojo back. All year, they’ve been resilient. With an offense that was so potent in the regular season, don’t be surprised if the bats begin to heat up, even against a deep Cardinals rotation.
Cardinals on offense
A big question for the Cardinals’ lineup heading into the World Series will be what they can get out of Allen Craig, who looks set to return after missing the entirety of the postseason thus far. In the regular season Craig hit .315 and knocked in 97 runs, so adding his output to a Cardinals team that put up 17 runs in the final three games of the NLCS could be a massive boost for St. Louis.
The Cardinals will also benefit from the ability to use a designated hitter in the games at Fenway. Craig should slide right into this role, and St. Louis should feel the effect of having an extra hitter in the order in those games. The Cardinals also boast one of the greatest postseason hitters of all time in Carlos Beltran, who will make the Red Sox pitchers pay for any mistakes.
Somehow, the Red Sox rotation continues to hold together and come up with huge starts at key moments. Led by Jon Lester and John Lackey, the Sox cobbled together a 3.06 ERA in the ALCS, but Clay Buchholz struggled mightily in his Game 2 assignment. Lester will take the hill to start the series, and he and Buchholz will need to put together solid performances before Lackey and Jake Peavy take the mound.
But the key to Sox pitching is that the starters really only need to make it through five or six innings before manager John Farrell can turn the ball over to a bullpen that has been lights out throughout the postseason. Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow have been very effective, but it’s closer Koji Uehara who has been vital to the Red Sox’ dominance. Uehara has five saves this postseason and has allowed just one earned run to go along with 13 strikeouts and a .452 opponent OPS. Calm on the mound in the tight spots, Uehara is the biggest edge for the Red Sox pitching staff.
Perhaps the only bullpen better than the Red Sox’ is that of the Cardinals, which boasts a stable of young arms, including Trevor Rosenthal and Seth Maness, that controlled the Dodgers for most of the NLCS.
Even better than that bullpen, however, have been the Cardinals’ top starters, 22-year-old phenom Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. Wacha has posted a ridiculous 0.43 ERA during the postseason, while Wainwright has allowed just four runs in three playoff starts. The rotation is set up so that Wainwright will pitch games one and five, with Wacha likely throwing two and six, meaning the Cardinals could get the four wins they need from these two aces.
But questions remain about both Wacha’s inexperience and the back end of the Cardinals’ rotation, where Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn may struggle against the Red Sox offense.