By Mike Ivcic
I should have known better. I started off my LCS preview by talking about how well I did with my LDS picks, and promptly got both LCS picks wrong. Kids, let this be a lesson – when you do something right, just keep your mouth (or in this case, fingers) shut.
So now we’re left with a 2004 rematch – Red Sox vs. Cardinals. Typically I always root for the two series – the World Series and the Stanley Cup Finals – to go seven games just because I want to see as many games as possible before the season ends. In this case, though, I’m hoping in a big way for a repeat of that ‘04 series, because the fewer games the Cardinals win, the happier I am. Will that happen? Probably not – which is why I’m going to write a few hundred more words in this preview to let you know exactly what I see playing out in the 2013 Fall Classic.
1) Boston Red Sox vs. 1) St. Louis Cardinals
Game 1 @ Boston – Wednesday, October 23, 8:07pm (FOX)
Game 2 @ Boston – Thursday, October 24, 8:07pm (FOX)
Game 3 @ St. Louis – Saturday, October 26, 8:07pm (FOX)
Game 4 @ St. Louis – Sunday, October 27, 8:15pm (FOX)
*Game 5 @ St. Louis – Monday, October 28, 8:07pm (FOX)
*Game 6 @ Boston – Wednesday, October 30, 8:07pm (FOX)
*Game 7 @ Boston – Thursday, October 31, 8:07pm (FOX)
Boston Projected Rotation: Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Peavy
St. Louis Projected Rotation: Wainwright, Wacha, Kelly, Lynn
Why Boston Will Win: Clutch Hitting and Bullpen
I’ve never seen a team hit so poorly and still win, thanks primarily to their clutch hitting. On the backs of three swings – David Ortiz’s dramatic grand slam that tied game two, Mike Napoli’s solo homer that provided the only run in Boston’s 1-0 game three victory, and Shane Victorino’s grand slam that effectively finished Detroit in game six – the Red Sox got themselves here. They hit just a paltry .202 in the series as a team, and only Napoli, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia had more than three hits in those six games. Still, the hits came at crucial times, and that’s always been a hallmark of the successful Boston teams over the last decade-plus.
Oh, and the bullpen – did I mention the bullpen? Koji Uehara was named ALCS MVP for a reason, like maybe his 6 innings in 5 games where he allowed just four hits while striking out nine, walking none, and earning three saves and a win. He wasn’t the only stellar Boston reliever, though – only Junichi Tazawa allowed an earned run after jogging out of that bullpen, giving the Red Sox relief corps a microscopic 0.43 ERA. If the Cardinals don’t get to the Boston starting staff (an entirely different discussion with the way John Lackey pitched against Detroit) they may not have a chance to win games late because of the way the Sox can close out games they’re leading and come from behind to overcome even multiple-run deficits.
Why St. Louis Will Win: Starting Pitching and Experience
Only Pedroia, Ortiz, and Jon Lester were part of the last Boston team to win a World Series, while a good number of the players on the Sox roster are either younger players making their first real foray into the postseason or players who have had plenty of experience coming up just short (Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, and Napoli come to mind). Yes, Victorino and Lackey have rings, but none of that compares to the experience sitting in the Cardinals dugout. This team won the World Series just two years ago and as a franchise will be starting their eighth playoff series in the last three postseasons. Players like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright have each been a part of two championships teams (even if Wainwright’s second ring came without him ever throwing a pitch as he recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2011), while David Frease and Carlos Beltran have proven an uncanny ability to produce big hits in the postseason. Much of this batting order was present for that 2011 win as well, so it’s not like the “clutch hitting” aspect is absent with the Cardinals. It goes beyond just the hitting, though, to encompass the all of the “little things” that go into winning postseason baseball – taking pitches, moving runners, getting easy outs, etc. St. Louis has operated this entire postseason with a “been there, done that” mentality, which will serve them very well against Boston.
That won’t be nearly as important, though, as the starting pitching duo of Wainwright and Michael Wacha, who have been virtually unhittable for the past month. Wainwright has allowed four earned runs in 23 innings (1.57 ERA) with one walk and 20 strikeouts, while Wacha has been even better with just one earned run allowed in 21 innings (0.43 ERA, same as the entire Boston bullpen) with four walks and 22 strikeouts. That should make for some great matchups between two pitchers that walk almost no one and a lineup that saw 1,000 more pitches than any other baseball team this season. The Cardinals top two are currently slated to pitch games 1-2 and 5-6, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all, especially if the Cardinals are trailing in the series, to bump Lance Lynn from game four and move Wainwright up a slot to potentially give him three starts should the series go seven games.
These teams each have the prerequisite aspects of a typical World Series team – starting pitching, bullpen, good defense, clutch hitting, and experience. It’s the reason these two teams were each the best in their respective leagues during the season, and why they each outlasted a team worth more “stars” in their respective LCS battles. Mike Matheny and John Farrell are each managing in their first World Series, so there’s not even an edge there. So how does one make a pick between two teams that seem so even and so similar? Well, in each of the last four seasons the team with home field advantage has won the World Series – the 2008 Phillies were the last team to win it all without having the first two games in their own stadium. Combine that with my continued undying loathing of Beltran, Molina, and Wainwright – the three key players in the Mets devastating 2006 NLCS loss – and it’s a pretty easy choice for me.
Boston 4, St. Louis 2
“The Tenth Inning” thanks everyone for reading this season, and we’ll see you for spring training in February – only at the Ultimate Capper!
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