This year’s October Classic features two familiar foes – familiar to both the big stage and to each other. Boston and St. Louis faced each other in 2004, and have three appearances between them since (the Cards two, the Sox one) and both have long, rich histories and rabid, large fan bases. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages for each team, starting with the bats:
There’s always a lot of talk about pitching winning championships. However, the simple fact is that either way, the best offense in the league is going to win the World Series in 2013, as these were by far the best offensive teams in their respective leagues. Boston was the only team to score more than 800 runs in all of baseball, and averaged 5.27 runs per game, while the Cardinals scored 782 runs, nearly 80 more than the second-place Rockies. In short, they are both great at-bat.
However, they are great in VERY different ways. Boston is a traditional, power-laden, balanced offense – they hit for average, power (fourth in the AL in homers), they draw walks (second in AL), and they strike out a lot (fourth in AL). Only David Ortiz hit 30+ home runs, but they had eight batters hit 12 or more homers. Many recent offensive juggernauts have looked like the 2013 Sox in many ways. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are not a power-hitting team (13th in home runs, and only four batters hit 12 or more), and they don’t hit for a crazy-high average overall (.269, a good but not great figure). They do avoid the strikeout (14th in the NL and most impressively, they hit historically well with runners in scoring position (.330).
I favor the Sox offense for three reasons: #1, I think St. Louis’ average with runners on is a bit fluky, and hard to sustain in the postseason – and their offensive struggles against the Pirates and Dodgers at times bore that out. #2 Boston has more depth – Daniel Nava was a GREAT hitter in the regular season, and he’s been a bench player for most of the playoffs. He’s a potent left-handed option for the Sox, and if he starts then Jonny Gomes becomes a dangerous pinch-hitter in his own right. The Cards have no bench weapons at all unless Allan Craig is able to return from a foot injury (he hasn’t played since Sept. 4). If Craig is unable to go or is ineffective, the Cards have no good DH options for four of the seven games in this series. #3 I think instant offense is at a premium in this series, and the Sox simply have more power AND more speed threats (Ellsbury, Victorino, and Pedroia all had 17+ Steals for Boston, while no one had more than 10 for St. Louis) than the Cards do. It’s close, but the Sox hold the edge in my mind.
Here is where I think the Cards have the advantage, mostly due to the late-season breakout of Michael Wacha. In Wacha’s last four starts, including his last of the regular season, Wacha has thrown 30 innings while allowing only NINE hits and ONE run! Adam Wainwright is also ace-level (four runs in 23 postseason innings), and Joe Kelly has become a capable third starter. Lance Lynn has been shaky, but rookie Shelby Miller is an option as fourth starter as well.
Boston counters with three solid starters in Jon Lester, Clay Buchholtz, and John Lackey, all of whom have been effective in the postseason. Fourth starter Jake Peavy got rocked in his only ALCS start and has to be considered a question mark for the team. Lackey doesn’t have ace-level stuff anymore, and he is a good bet to turn in a mediocre start in this series, and none of the Boston starters are good bets to go eight or more innings. Overall, St. Louis has the better rotation and has been exceptionally effective in the postseason, so they get the edge here.
Both teams have extremely effective bullpens, but again they achieve success in vastly different ways. St. Louis has several relievers that throw extremely hard, especially closer Trevor Rosenthal. They have two effective lefties in Siegrist and Choate, and Seth Maness in a double-play machine. Overall the Cardinals have amassed a 1.80 ERA in 30 October innings.
The Sox do not boast the flamethrowers in their ‘pen, but in 32 postseason innings they have a 0.84 ERA. Closer Koji Uehara perfectly symbolizes their relief corps, as he has amassed 13 strikeouts in nine postseason innings despite boasting a fastball that rarely exceeds 90 MPH. Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman, and Junichi Tazawa have also been effective in October for Boston.
This is so close I’m tempted to call it even, and I cannot choose between the teams’ closers…but I trust the Cards’ relievers slightly more than I trust the Sox’ set-up men. I give the slightest of edges to St. Louis here.
Both managers are very solid and have more or less stayed out of the way and let their teams play the game on the field. MY only real beef is with Boston’s John Farrell deciding to bench Nava on a hunch, despite the clear evidence that he is far better against right-handers than Gomes. Considering the Cards have an all-righty rotation, the Nava-Gomes story may be the biggest decision either manager faces in the World Series – and to me it’s a no-brainer, Nava should start each game.
Both teams play well at home and both teams have loud, intelligent home crowds, but Fenway Park is a much more idiosyncratic park than Busch Stadium so I give the Sox the edge there, especially with the AL earning home-field advantage for the World Series.
As I say every time, there are NO upsets in a short baseball series, especially when two teams of this caliber meet up. Anything and everything is possible, and we will likely see an unsung hero or two from each team step up.
I think this series will go at least six games, and I think Wacha in particular will baffle the Sox – he seems to be very hard to hit for teams that have not seen him before – but I think Boston’s offense and home-field advantage are enough to overcome St. Louis’ pitching advantages. BOSTON IN SIX.
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.