For the first time since 1999, the year the Yankees swept the Braves, the teams with the best records will play in the World Series.
This is the fourth World Series played by the Cardinals and Red Sox. The Cardinals beat the Red Sox in 1946 and 1967. Both went seven games. The Red Sox swept St. Louis in 2004 to end the famous “Curse of the Bambino,’’ giving them that gave them a title for the first time since Babe Ruth played for them in 1918.
The series opens in Boston. The last time the Cardinals and Red Sox played in Fenway Park was in 2008, when the Cardinals won two of three.
The Cardinals, going to their fourth World Series in the last 10 years, are known for their rookie pitching, record-setting average with runners in scoring position and their ability to win despite a list of injuries. The Red Sox, who were part of Boston’s healing process after the Boston Marathon bombings last spring, are known for their bullpen, their clubhouse chemistry and an offense that led the American League in run scored.
Now onto the matchups:
Catcher: Yadier Molina is the only Cardinal left from the 2004 World Series team, the season he was current manager Mike Matheny’s backup. Molina is a National League MVP candidate because of his hitting and the way he led the Cardinals’ rookie pitchers. The Red Sox have Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had a solid season and came up with a clutch hit in the ALCS. Advantage: Cardinals.
First base: Matt Adams took over for the injured Allen Craig and the team didn’t skip a beat. The bearded one, Mike Napoli, playing in his second World Series, will be remembered for his American League Championship Series home run vs. the Tigers’ Justin Verlander. Advantage: Red Sox.
Second base: The Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter led the majors with 199 hits and 55 doubles. His 11-pitch at-bat, which included eight foul balls, versus the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw resulted in a double and started a rally that eventually led to a series-clinching win. Boston’s Dustin Pedroia is the heart and soul of the Red Sox, but in 38 postseason games, his numbers (.253/.335/.422) aren’t as close to his career numbers (.302/.370/.454). Advantage: Red Sox
Shortstop: The Red Sox’s Stephen Drew didn’t hit in the ALCS, but his glove work is the reason manager John Farrell keeps him in the lineup. The Cardinals will use weak-hitting, strong glove Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso, a better hitter but a weaker defender that Kozma. Advantage: Red Sox.
Third base: David Freese, the hometown boy who is defined by his clutch hitting in the 2011 World Series, struggled in a season so frustrating that he came to the ballpark not knowing if he was going to be in the lineup. The Red Sox are flush with prospects. Will Middlebrooks played well during the regular season, but was replaced by Xander Bogaerts in the ALCS. Bogaerts, a shortstop who played 10 games at third in the minors, has played six postseason games with six hits, including three doubles, six walks with seven runs scored. Advantage: Cardinals.
Left field: It is nearly impossible to define the character of Jonny Gomes and what it means to a winning team. But Gomes hit .188 and got more playing time in the ALCS than Daniel Nava, who was hitting .333. The Cardinals’ Matt Holliday had a strong finish in the final two months and his signature is his consistent power, run production and a yearly .300 average. Advantage: Cardinals.
Center field: The re-emergence of leadoff batter Jacoby Ellsbury from injury has fueled the Red Sox’s AL pennant. He led the AL with 52 steals while posting a .355 on-base percentage. The Cardinals’ Jon Jay hit .276 and set career-highs in runs (75) and hits (151), but he slumped and was benched during the National League Championship Series. Advantage: Red Sox.
Right field: After going 2-for-23, Shane Victorino’s grand slam in ALCS Game 6 put the Red Sox in the World Series for the third time in a decade. Victorino and Jim Thome are the only two players in history to have two grand slams in the postseason. At 36, the Cardinals’ Carlos Beltran is playing in his first World Series after playing and losing in seven postseason games that could have put him in the World Series. Beltran has 30 postseason career hits, making him one of three National League players to have at least 30. The other two are Albert Pujols (37) and Chipper Jones (31). Advantage: Cardinals.
Designated hitter: In an era of rotating DHs, Boston’s David Ortiz, known as “Big Papi,” is 37 and known this year for his rousing Fenway speech after the marathon bombing and his Game 2 grand slam in the ALCS. Ortiz was 0-for-6 with four strikeouts before the grand slam, but it kept alive his streak of getting at least one hit in 14 consecutive postseason series. The Cardinals will likely use Allen Craig, the man who replaced Albert Pujols and led the Cardinals in RBI with 97, despite being out since Sept. 4 with an injured left foot. Advantage: Red Sox.
Rotation: Both teams have time to set their rotations. Rookies accounted for 44 percent of the Cardinals’ outs in the National League Championship Series. The Cards will likely use Adam Wainwright, who has a 1.57 ERA in the postseason, and Michael Wacha, the NLCS MVP, in the first two games and then some combo of Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly. Shelby Miller, who had 15 wins, will be relegated to the bullpen, and the Cards say he has about 14 innings left in his season. The Red Sox will probably start lefty Jon Lester in Game 1 followed by Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Lefties give the Cardinals fits, so Lester is key. Buchholz missed three months and has stamina issues. Lackey looked tired in September, but pitched brilliantly in the postseason. Jake Peavy is a six-inning pitcher at best. Advantage: Cardinals.
Bullpen: The Cardinals’ bullpen dominated in the NLCS, but the Red Sox were even better versus the Tigers in the ALCS. In 34 postseason innings, the Red Sox have allowed three runs while striking out 28. The Cardinals have closer Trevor Rosenthal, lefty Kevin Siegrist and righty Carlos Martinez, all of whom can throw in the mid to high 90s. The Red Sox have former Oriole Koji Uehara, a closer whose 91 mph fastball appears like 96 mph. Uehara won the ALCS MVP. Lefty Craig Breslow and righty Junichi Tazama showed their effectiveness as setup pitchers in the ALCS. Edge: Red Sox.
Prediction: Cardinals in seven games.