Can the Cardinals get revenge for 2004? [World Series preview]
The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox were both the top teams in their league during the regular season, and they both proved that once again through their play leading up to the World Series. We last saw these two teams play each other in the World Series in 2004, where the Red Sox swept the Cards to win their first championship in 86 years. Something tells me that this one won't be a sweep, and should be a lot more competitive than that one.
This should be a fantastic series, and a long, hard-fought battle between two extremely good teams. Both of them have strong lineups, strong pitching staffs, and reliable bullpens.
Here's the schedule:
Game 1: Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) at Red Sox (Jon Lester), Wednesday Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Cardinals (Michael Wacha) at Red Sox (John Lackey), Thursday Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) at Cardinals (Joe Kelly), Saturday Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Red Sox (Jake Peavy) at Cardinals (Lance Lynn), Sunday Oct. 27, 8 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary): Red Sox (TBD) at Cardinals (TBD), Monday Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m.
Game 6 (if necessary): Cardinals (TBD) at Red Sox (TBD), Wednesday Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary): Cardinals (TBD) at Red Sox (TBD), Thursday Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m.
All games will be televised on FOX
Both the Red Sox and Cardinals will likely go back to their Game 1 starters in Game 5, if it gets to that point.
Some of the key players in this series could be a couple guys who have seen limited action lately. For the Red Sox, rookie Xander Bogaerts has been coming off the bench since he came up to the big leagues in mid-August. Still, he has been forcing the issue lately with his incredible patience at the plate, and is making an extremely strong case for the starting job at either 3B or shortstop. He has shown incredible poise both at the plate and in the field, particularly for someone who just turned 21 at the beginning of this month.
On the other side, Allen Craig could be a huge X factor for the Cardinals. Craig was an All-Star this year and swung the bat extremely well, but has been sidelined since early September due to a foot injury. However, he says he's ready to return to action, and he could make an already dangerous St. Louis lineup even better.
The scary thing about the Cardinals is that even with Craig injured, they still managed to get pretty solid play from Matt Adams, who has proven to be a capable replacement. With Craig in the lineup, the Cardinals will be able to field an American League-type offense in Fenway, with Craig most likely in the DH role, and they'll have another solid bat off the bench in St. Louis, no matter which of the two end up playing first base.
Another aspect that has been outstanding for the Cardinals is their pitching staff. Adam Wainwright will likely finish in the top 5 in NL Cy Young voting this year, but he hasn't even been their best pitcher over the course of the season. Rookie Michael Wacha, who will start Game 2 against John Lackey, has been phenomenal for the Cards, going 3-0 with a ridiculous 0.43 ERA. Wacha won the NLCS MVP for the Cardinals, and it was extremely well deserved. If the Cardinals go on to win, it's almost a lock that Wacha will be a huge reason for it.
Speaking of League Championship Series MVPs, Koji Uehara has been a breath of fresh air for the Red Sox. They came into the year with Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey as their first two closing options. When both of them went down due to injury, Uehara stepped in and went on to have one of the greatest seasons by a closer in baseball history.
He only took over the closer's role on June 26, but once he got the job, he took the bull by the horns and pitched better than anyone could have possibly expected. He racked up 20 saves in that period, blowing only 2 saves, struck out 59 in 44+ innings, walked only 2, and sported a rather ridiculous 0.41 ERA. Opposing players batted only .091 against him, with a .260 OPS.
The Red Sox offense, despite outscoring the entire league in the regular season, was held down pretty well by the Detroit Tigers' starting pitching in the ALCS. If the Cardinals can do the same in the World Series, things could get dangerous for the Red Sox, since the Cardinals don't have a shaky bullpen like Detroit.
On the other hand, if the Red Sox offense catches fire, this could end quickly. They do a great job of working the count, and they could tire out young pitchers like Wacha and frustrate the Cardinals pitchers, forcing them to get impatient and make bad pitches.
Both of these teams are extremely talented, and this should be a long series. Between Carlos Beltran and David Ortiz, we'll see some of the best big-game hitters in the game, and there are a lot of other talented and underrated players on both teams. STL catcher Yadier Molina is the best all-around catcher in baseball, Matt Carpenter had a great breakout season, and Matt Holliday has been a solid power threat for years. For the Red Sox, guys like Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are constantly a threat to not only get on base, but also move quickly along the basepaths and always push for the extra base.
Molina's excellence behind the plate should slow down the Red Sox on the basepaths a bit, where they were one of the most prolific base-stealing teams in baseball. The Red Sox stole 123 bases this year, and were caught only 19 times. However, Molina is notoriously tough to steal against, throwing out 43% of opposing baserunners. Red Sox players have already hinted that they will probably steal less, out of respect for Molina's arm. When they do steal, it will likely be against pitchers who have a long delivery to the plate, or aren't paying enough attention to the runner, since beating Molina straight up is quite the challenge.
From top to bottom, both of these teams are loaded with talented veterans, remarkably poised young players, and everything in between. This series is a baseball fan's dream, and there should be some excellent baseball played over the next 8 days.
My (slightly biased) prediction: Red Sox in 7.