Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 Fall Classic: Parting of the “Red Sea”

Add another chapter to this baseball royalty rivalry as for the fourth time in their illustrious histories, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox meet in the World Series. In until 2004, when the Red Sox ended 88 years of championship futility among other things, the Cardinals had sung sweet music against Boston winning the previous two match-ups in 1946 and 1967. The Red Sox of course 11 years ago, capped off their magical comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS after trailing 0-3 with a sweep of the Red Birds in the Fall Classic. That leads us to the present where both teams won the most games during the regular season in their respective leagues with identical records of 97-65. Despite the small differences in the shades of red on the uniforms and starting rotations where St. Louis has a slight edge, these teams are so evenly matched you’d have to be Moses blessed by the power of God to see the future of how this series is going to turn out! Adam Wainwright falls back into his number one slot in the Red Birds pitching rotation as the series opener starter against John Lester of the Sox. The right-hander was solid in his only start against the Dodgers in the NLCS despite a 3-0 loss in game three of the series. He pitched seven innings giving up six hits with two earned runs and five strike outs. Lester was equally impressive in his only ALCS start a 4-3 win in game five in Detroit. He tossed 5&1/3rd, allowing seven hits with just two earned runs. The game two starters are Michael Wacha for the Cards and John Lackey of the Sox. Here is where St. Louis gets the first edge in the series. Wacha to date is the story of the post-season so far. The 22-year –old rookie baffled the Dodgers line-up twice allowing no runs and clinching the NLCS for St. Louis in a 9-0 victory earning him most valuable player honors. With that said, Lackey is a much better pitcher at Fenway Park (game two site) then on the road. In two post-season starts, Lackey has produced two wins with one quality start. He’s tossed 12 innings, giving up 11 hits but only four earned runs while striking out 14. Wacha may be as hot as a pitcher can be this time of year but Lackey is a veteran and knows how to battle through an inning. The three and four men in each rotation are where some question marks maybe creep in. Game three matches up another rookie in the Card’s Joe Kelly against veteran Clay Buchholz. Kelly pitched to mix results in the NLCS, winning a close game one against the Dodgers that Los Angeles should have taken, only to lose in the re-match in Los Angeles in game five getting hit hard in the 6-4 defeat. The return of Buchholz from injury pushed the Sox onto another level for the post-season. While not picking up a win three post-season starts, he did give Boston a quality start and wasn’t the losing pitcher in any of his games, throwing 16.2 innings overall, allowing 19 hits and ten earned runs against a beastly Detroit Tigers line-up. Lance Lynn starts game four for St. Louis at Busch Stadium against Jake Peavy. Lynn picked up the series swing game for the Cards with a solid 4-2 victory at Dodgers Stadium giving up six hits in 5&1/3rd innings with two earned runs. Peavy on the other hand will need to be a lot better than his disastrous ALCS start in Detroit where he lasted just three innings giving up five hits and seven earned runs with just one strike out, an epic fail the Red Sox can’t afford to try and withstand with the World Series trophy at stake. As far as the starters go, we have to give a small edge to the Cardinals. Wainwright has the most post-season experience of any pitcher in the series and Wacha has shown the most over-power stuff so far. The game three and four matches appear to be a total toss-up as far as which pitcher will show up and not let the moment engulf him on the mound. Defensively and at the plate this teams are a splitting image of each other but of course in the different leagues. Behind the plate Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been solid for the Sox hitting .273 with 14 homers and 40 doubles during the regular season. He produced the walk-off hit in game two of the ALCS during the Red Sox comeback win. However, Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the game, calling pitches, throwing out runners and coming up with big hits. The Cards get a solid edge in the catcher spot. At first base it will be interesting to see of the Red Sox gamble and play David Ortiz on the road where he’ll have to play in the field as opposed to just the DH spot at home, keeping his bat in the line-up but also taking Mike Napoli’s out as well as Napoli’s glove. Whoever is in the Boston line-up at first has more experience and just as much power as St. Louis rookie Matt Adams who didn’t produce much in the NLCS but did homer in the divisional series win over Pittsburgh. The edge here to come up big in the clutch has to go the Red Sox way at 1B. Arguably the two best hitters from each club play at second base. Matt Carpenter hit .318 with 55 doubles and 78 RBI, while scoring 126 runs in the regular season for St. Louis. Who could forget his epic plate battle with Clayton Kershaw in the Cards clinching game six win of the NLCS where he forced the lefty into 11 pitches before lacing a rally starting double down the right field line that led to the deciding three-run inning? Those are the type of at bats he’s capable of. The heart and soul of the Red Sox however is Dustin Pedroia. He is a master with the glove, while also hitting .301 with 42 doubles, driving in 84 runs and scoring 91runs himself. He is by far the superior fielder but their base running skills are both dangerous so we’ll call this match-up a draw. At shortstop both the Cards Pete Kozma and Boston’s Stephen Drew are awesome flashing the leather. However at the plate Drew has a solid on base percentage and good power, so he wins the battle here. Moving to third base, this isn’t 2011 and we’re not seeing the MVP David Freese at all. He’s hitting just .189 with nine strikeouts and four runs batted in for the entire post-season. But Boston’s answer is a bit of a question mark as rookie Xander Bogaerts appears to be now getting the nod in place of Will Middlebrooks. He does have tremendous speed on the bases and is a contact hitter with a good eye as well but it’s hard to say how he’ll hold up under the pressure of a World Series game. We’re going to call this match-up a draw as well. On to the outfield and in left it’s Matt Holiday against the Red Sox Daniel Nava or Johnny Gomes. Nava is solid but Gomes seems to be getting the post-season nod. Gomes has made some nice plays in the field but overall Nava is a much better defensive player. Holiday on the other hand like Gomes could be a liability in the outfield. At the plate however Holiday is a much more clutch hitter and a more experienced post-season player. Holiday gets a nice edge in this category. Like all centerfielders both Jon Jay of St. Louis and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Sox can fly on the bases and run down balls in the allies. Jay though seems to be out of sync altogether compared to what we’ve seen from him in the post-season before. Ellsbury is hitting .400 in the post-season with 21 total bases with six steals. Jay is hitting eighth for the Cards while Ellsbury is leading off for the Sox which tells you all you need to know. Big advantage for Boston with Ellsbury’s entire post-season performance to date. Maybe the best match-up all over the field is in right where Carlos Beltran goes head to head with Shane Victorino. Victorino is a proven post-season performer and winner, grabbing a ring with the Phillies in 2008. He came up with the game winning grand slam to put Boston into the World Series in game six of the ALCS. He also is roadrunner on the bases and can play the outfield with the best of them. Beltran continues to make a name for himself as one of the best post-season hitters of this generation. His arm in the outfield is deadly as the Dodgers found out with him gunning down Los Angeles’ potential winning run in Mark Ellis on a tag-up in game one of the NLCS, which really turned the series in the direction of the Cardinals. But before you can throw someone out, you have to be able to get to balls and Beltran’s foot speed is nowhere near Victorino’s ability to cover ground. We’ll have to give a slight edge here to the flying Hawaiian. Of course when games 1, 2 and possibly 6 and 7 are played, they’ll be at Fenway Park with a designated hitter. So you match up Allen Craig and Ortiz. Craig was the Cards overall best hitter with RISP (59 for 130) during the regular season. But he’s missed all post-season play up this point with a Lisfranc injury. If can return as the productive .315 hitter overall along with his clutch gene in play, this is a big positive for the Cards who’s bench is not good. Big Papi handles the DH role for Boston at home and we all know how that story usually plays out. Advantage here goes to the Red Sox. In the intangibles category, one stat really sticks out in general. No team in baseball in the regular season hit right-handed pitcher better than the Red Sox. Their .818 team OPS against righties was the best in the majors by 30 points. Of course all four St. Louis starters are right-handed with just two exceptions coming out of the bullpen in Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate so the Red Sox get the check mark here. Speaking of the bullpen, both teams bring the heat. St. Louis throws multiple flame-throwers like Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Siegrist and closer Trevor Rosenthal. Boston brings to the table Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Ryan Dempster and closer Koji Uehara. Both of these bullpens have been completely reliable in the post-season with neither team suspect heading into the seventh inning holding onto a lead so this category is called even. With all that information examined closely there is just one more stat that says plenty about the Red Sox. Boston of course finished in last place during the 2012 season causing the removal of manager Terry Francona. With John Farrell taking over the Red Sox have not only responded but also have come together as the most unified team in the majors this season. In other words, setting aside the entire beard thing they’ve attached themselves to, the Sox simply have the look of ‘it’s our year”. We like Boston to beat St. Louis in six games for their third title of the new millennium.

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