For the first time since 1999, the teams with the best records in their respective leagues have advanced to the World Series. After winnings 97 games, the Red Sox took care of the Tampa Bay Rays in four games and then dispatched the Tigers in six. The Cardinals, also winners of 97 games, came back against the Pirates and won in five games before beating the Dodgers in six games. Due to the American League victory in the All-Star Game, the Red Sox have home field advantage and host games the first two games on Wednesday and Thursday. Two evenly matched teams should make for an exciting final round of the playoffs.
The Cardinals are expected to start ace Adam Wainwright, rookie Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, and Lance Lynn in the first four games. They will match up against Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy. If you were to rank the pitchers, Wainwright heads the list. Two full seasons removed from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright pitched 241 1/3 regular season innings with an ERA of 2.94. His 6.2 fWAR was behind only Clayton Kershaw in the National League. His curveball has been devastating all year, and he threw it 27.3% of the time in 2013. He's been even better in the playoffs, giving up only four runs in 23 innings with 20 strikeouts to only one walk.
As good as Wainwright's been, Michael Wacha has been even better. Drafted just 16 months ago with the pick the Cardinals gained when Albert Pujols signed with Anaheim, Wacha's innings were monitored closely this year. He only made nine starts in the regular season. He's been phenomenal in the postseason, giving up just one run in 21 innings while striking out 22. Both Pittsburgh and Los Angeles had two cracks at Wacha in a short period of time but were unable to figure him out. Lester and Lackey are not exactly pushovers. Lester had a 3.75 ERA this year due to some inconsistency, and Lackey pitched extremely well at home this season.
Boston will have the advantage in games three and four when Buchholz and Peavy match up against Kelly and Lynn. Buchholz pitched well while not injured, and Peavy has struggled, but he is still likely better than Lance Lynn, who faded down the stretch for the second straight year. It might be easy to call the matchup even, but that ignores the format of the seven game series. In the first six games, Wainwright and Wacha will pitch four. The two games where the Red Sox have the advantage with Buchholz and Peavy are both on the road.
Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals have excellent lineups, although both have been exposed by good pitching in the playoffs. Despite beating the Tigers in six, Detroit's excellent rotation was gunning for a no hitter in half of the games in the series. Both teams boast a strong top five. Boston is likely to go with Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Mike Napoli against St. Louis' Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina. Craig has not played since early September, but all signs point to him being the designated hitter this series. The Cardinals lineup continues with Matt Adams. Adams has struggled with lefties in the playoffs, but going against Francisco Liriano, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu is no easy task. Former playoff hero David Freese struggled this year, as did centerfielder Jon Jay. Closing out the lineup is shortstop Pete Kozma. If he contributes anything offensively, consider it a fluke as he hit .217/.275/.273 during the year.
The bottom of the Red Sox lineup will include Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, and either Will Middlebrooks or Xander Bogaerts. Boegarts is the Red Sox top hitting prospect and the reason the organization felt comfortable trading away Jose Iglesias as shortstop of the future. Middlebrooks has solid pop, but is strikeout-prone at the major league level. When the teams are in St. Louis, Boston will be losing one of it's best hitters as either Napoli or Ortiz will have to sit. For St. Louis, either Adams or Craig will be on the bench. Both lineups are solid, but top to bottom the Red Sox and their league-leading 853 runs hold the advantage.
Edge: Red Sox
St. Louis' bench should get a boost, at least for the games in St. Louis, with Allen Craig's return to the lineup. Unfortunately for St. Louis, the bench should not be expected to contribute if they are to win the World Series. Shane Robinson did hit a home run in Game 4 of the NLCS, but between Robinson, Daniel Descalso, Kolten Wong, and seldom used catcher Tony Cruz, the bench has provided little for the Cardinals to be optimistic about.
Boston's bench is in better shape than the Cardinals. In St. Louis, the Red Sox will have Mike Napoli off the bench. In addition to Napoli, they will be able to use whoever sits between Middlebrooks and Bogaerts, the underrated Daniel Nava, Mike Carp for power, and Quintin Berry for speed. The Red Sox have assembled a solid bench should manager John Farrell have a need late in games.
Edge: Red Sox
With Ellsbury, Victorino, Drew, Bogaerts, Pedroia, and Napoli, the Red Sox have plus defenders at multiple positions. Gomes, and potentially Ortiz are the only real liability. The Cardinals do have the best defensive player in baseball with Yadier Molina, but average players at best surrounding him. Jon Jay has been a disappointment in the field after several solid years. He is flanked by two aging sluggers in Holliday and Beltran. While both played at a higher level earlier in their careers, those days are behind them. Adams is not a great first baseman while Carpenter, Kozma, and Freese are all pretty close to average.
Edge: Red Sox
Koji Uehara has been fantastic all year long posting a 1.09 ERA. His success has continued in the playoffs, giving up only one run on five hits while striking out 13 in nine innings. Farrell has shown a willingness to pitch him more than one inning which could be key in this series. The rest of the Red Sox bullpen is not on Uehara's level, but they have been mostly effective. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman, Felix Doubront, and long man Ryan Dempster round out the bullpen for the Red Sox.
While not quite as effective as Uehara, Trevor Rosenthal has been electrifying, dialing up 100 mile per hour fastballs at the end of games. Rosenthal, like Uehara, was not the closer at the beginning of the year, but seized the opportunity when given a chance. He also has the ability to go more than one inning when necessary. Carlos Martinez, turning just 22 in September, has taken advantage of the setup role despite just 21 major league appearances. The Cardinals will also send out veteran John Axford, ground ball specialist Seth Maness, lefty Kevin Siegrist and his 0.45 ERA, LOOGY Randy Choate, Edward Mujica in case of an emergency, and long man Shelby Miller.
Boston has the edge with lineup, bench, and defense while St. Louis has the better pitching staff. If Boston is to win, they will need to overpower St. Louis. They will not be able to capitalize on the bullpen like they did against Detroit. For the Cardinals, they need their pitching to keep them in the game and hope the lineup does enough like it did against the Dodgers. Ultimately the Cardinals' pitching advantage will prove too much. They will have Wainwright and Wacha in four of the first six games. Win three of those and one of the home matchups against Lackey or Kelly and they will once again be World Champs.
Prediction: Cardinals in Six
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