For just the second time since the strike-shortened 1995 MLB season, the teams with the best record in both leagues during the regular season have reached the World Series.
The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers and their payroll to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. They are also the first team with home field advantage in the National League playoffs to reach the Fall Classic since the 2004 Cardinals did so. That year was the last time the Cardinals faced the Boston Red Sox on baseball’s grandest stage and the rematch of Boston’s sweep will commence Wednesday.
While the media always tries to play up the history of the World Series, and therefore bill this series as a rematch from ’04, in reality only a couple of players remain from that series. David Ortiz is the only Red Sox player still on the team, and the only Cardinal is catcher Yadier Molina, who was then backup to current Cards manager Mike Matheny. (Pitcher Chris Carpenter is still a Cardinal, but not on the active roster. He was also out with an injury in 2004, a major factor in that series.) Both teams have many players long on playoff experience nonetheless.
The Red Sox once again will have home field advantage in the Series courtesy of the American League’s All-Star game victory in July. The Cardinals’ home advantage was crucial in Game 5 of the NLDS and Game 6 of the NLCS this year. Fenway Park is a bandbox which will present a new challenge for the Cardinals, who need to win at least one of the first two in Boston. Both fanbases pride themselves on being the best, so it will be interesting to see if either team gains an edge due to their home crowd.
The pitching for both teams has been outstanding so far this postseason, especially the relievers. Both teams had to shuffle their bullpens throughout the year, but the final products have been amazing. Perhaps the most compelling matchups will be that of the starting pitchers. The Cardinals boast a top-heavy rotation with ace Adam Wainwright and rookie sensation Michael Wacha, while the Red Sox have a more solid and consistent veteran rotation. Game 1 slates Wainwright against Jon Lester and both have sterling postseason résumés.
The starters for the following games have not been set in stone, but it figures to be Clay Buchholz versus Wacha in Game 2 and then John Lackey against Joe Kelly for Game 3 in St. Louis. The Game 2 matchup could be a dandy, but the Red Sox figure to have an advantage in Game 3, as Lackey is a proven big-game pitcher. Lester is the only Red Sox left-handed starter, notable because the Cardinals struggle against lefties, going only 19-23 in games where the opposing starter was a southpaw according to baseball-reference.com.
The Cardinals hope a boost against lefties is coming in the form of slugger Allen Craig. Craig has finally been cleared to play from his foot injury and his replacement Matt Adams has struggled against left-handed pitchers. However Adams has played well enough to the point where the fragile Craig will likely only play designated hitter, at least for the first two games. Nevertheless if Craig can be his normal clutch-hitting self then the Cardinals’ lineup is even more dangerous.
Although the Cardinals won it all merely two seasons ago, they still have plenty of players hungry to win a title, foremost of them being Carlos Beltran, who was not on the 2011 team, and has never played in the World Series. As discussed earlier, Beltran is a professional who cares deeply and knows that this may be his last shot at a ring. Additionally, Adam Wainwright missed the entire 2011 season, and he is yearning to show that he can be the ace of a World Series winning team. Matt Holliday was underwhelming in the 2011 World Series, ending with a hand injury that caused him to miss the conclusion of Game 6 and also the clinching Game 7. He wants to exorcise those demons as well as take revenge against the Red Sox from his own defeat in 2007 when he was a member of the Rockies.
The bottom line for the Cardinals is that they will probably have to score more runs than they have been lately in order to take home the championship. The last game against the Dodgers aside, the Cardinal bats have been pretty quiet throughout the postseason and it is unrealistic to expect their pitching to continue this tear, especially in the American League park.
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