The 109th World Series begins tonight between the National League champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the American League champions, the Boston Red Sox. Both of these franchises have a strong tradition as well as a rich recent history, as the Cardinals will be playing their 4th World Series out of the last 10, and the Red Sox will be playing their 3rd out of the last 10. The Cardinals won it all in 2006 and 2011, with their lone Series loss in this stretch coming to the Red Sox in 2004, with the Sox also winning the Series in 2007. These two teams have met in three previous Fall Classics, with the Cardinals winning in 7 games in both 1946 and 1967, and the Red Sox sweeping the Cards in 2004. Let’s have a look at some of the matchups in the 2013 Fall Classic.
Lineup: Red Sox (barely). The Cardinals will have some help from the returning Allen Craig, who will be able to play DH in the games in Boston. It is unsure, however, how well Craig will hit, since he last played on September 4. He joins clutch hitters Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday in a very solid Cardinals lineup. But the Red Sox have a tendency to force opposing pitchers to throw more pitches, wearing them down over time, and eventually get the big, timely hits to beat them. Expect Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia to shine, and we know David Ortiz will be strong for the Sox.
Bench: Cardinals. With Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma platooned at shortstop, one will always be on the bench. In addition, Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers have contributed throughout the playoffs. The Red Sox bench, which I had doubts about at the beginning of the playoffs, have also proven their worth, with contributions by Jonny Gomes, Matt Carp, Quentin Berry, David Ross, and the platoon combination of Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks at third base.
Rotation: Cardinals. This was a tough call, as the names in the Red Sox rotation are more recognizable and the players are much more experienced. Jon Lester will start Game 1, and will be backed up by John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy. But what the Cardinals lack in experience, they make up for in stuff and nerves of steel, with Lance Lynn, in just his second full season, and rookies Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha, who won the NLCS MVP award after being extremely stellar. And of course, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is always brilliant, and hasn’t allowed a run in 3 innings of previous World Series action (he was the closer for the 2006 Cardinals).
Bullpen: Cardinals. This is another tough decision (kind of a theme in this series). I had seen the Red Sox bullpen as a weakness going into the playoffs, but they have been very solid, with Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Franklin Morales shining so far in the postseason. The Cardinals’ bullpen ERA during the regular season was 0.36 better than the Red Sox, and like the rotation, they simply have a bunch of good, strong arms, including Edward Mujica, Seth Maness, and John Axford, in addition to the 38-year-old veteran of the staff, Randy Choate, whose last World Series appearance was with the 2001 Yankees.
Closer: Red Sox. I’ve given the edge to the Cardinals opponent in each round on this criteria, but in this case it isn’t because of Trevor Rosenthal’s inexperience, but instead Koji Uehara’s excellence. Rosenthal has proven himself as a viable option, not allowing a run in 7 innings this postseason, and 8.1 innings in the playoffs last year. Uehara, however, showed the world why he would have been 2nd on my Cy Young ballot, if I had one. His ALCS MVP award was earned with 3 saves and a win, with 6 innings pitched in the series and 9 strikeouts, while allowing just 4 hits and no runs. Expect Uehara to continue to shine in the World Series
Manager: Red Sox. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would have the edge in this category against most opponents, as all he’s done in his two years is get within a win of the World Series last year, and reaching it this year, after taking over for future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa, who retired after the Cardinals 2011 title. John Farrell, however, took over the Red Sox last winter after they had gone 69-93 under Bobby Valentine. Following some offseason roster changes, and the inspiration the team led in Boston after the Marathon bombings on April 15, the team proved they were the best in the east, going worst to first, and beating the Rays in the ALDS and the Tigers in the ALCS. Even before the playoffs, Farrell showed why he should be AL Manager of the Year, and has now solidified that award that he is likely to win.
Home-field/crowd: Red Sox. This is a tough one, as these two teams have equally proud and intense fan-bases who know their baseball and have had a lot to cheer about over the last decade. In the end, the Red Sox would have 4 games at home, if the series goes the distance, and the Cardinals would only have 3. Therefore, give the slight edge to the Red Sox because of the incredible atmosphere created during playoff games at Fenway Park.
In all seven of these criteria, it was very difficult to choose one team with a better unit or individual, and the Red Sox ended up with a slight edge in 4 of the 7 criteria. Therefore I think they will win the series in 7 games, 4-3. If this happens, it would be the first time the Red Sox win in a World Series Game 7, as they are currently 0-5. That being said, since Game 7 in 1986, the Red Sox have not lost a World Series game, sweeping in both 2004 and 2007. Regardless, this should be an excellent series, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals win the series, even though I’m picking against them. The only thing that would surprise me is if the series was a sweep, either way, or even if it ends in 5 games, because both teams are too good for that. This is, after all, the first World Series since 1979 to include the teams with the best records and the best run differential from both leagues. One final note is that tonight’s Game 1 will be pivotal, according to this trend: the winner of Game 1 has won 21 of the last 25 World Series.