This doesn’t happen too often in any sport, where the two best teams throughout the season end up in the championship round. But for the first time since 1999, the World Series got it.
Boston and St. Louis were the class of their leagues, each finishing 97-65, and proved it in the postseason to reach the 109th Fall Classic.
It’s the equivalent of having all four No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, which has only happened once (2008). Or the top-seeded AFC and NFC teams reaching the Super Bowl, which has happened once (2010) in the past decade.
“I think it’s going to be a tremendous series; those are the two best teams,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington, whose team went a combined 7-2 against the Red Sox and Cardinals in the regular season.
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“I’ve watched it all. Both have great bullpens, both have great starting pitchers and both teams have difference-makers. It should be exciting. We’ll just have to wait and see who wins.”
The Cardinals and Red Sox have met three other times in the World Series (1946, 1967 and 2004). The Cardinals prevailed in seven games in the first two and nobody would be surprised if this series took the full seven to decide.
In ’04, though, the Red Sox completed a sweep to end nearly a century of heartbreak. It was their first World Series win since 1918.
The Red Sox-Cardinals matchup doesn’t have the same history as Yankees-Dodgers, who have met a record 11 times to decide the world champion, but a fourth meeting between these two storied franchises already has its place in the record books before it begins.
What’s working for the Red Sox: Everything seems to be going in Boston’s direction. The Red Sox have shown they are versatile enough to win in different ways. They are coming off an impressive showing in the ALCS against the Tigers. Mike Napoli had a pair of home runs in the series, and David Ortiz and Shane Victorino — despite poor averages — came through with clutch grand slams. Jon Lester and John Lackey carried the rotation, and Koji Uehara was perfect in all three of his save opportunities.
Cause for concern: Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz had subpar outings in the ALCS and appear to be the weak links of the rotation. John Lackey, despite his solid ALCS start, had struggled before that. Finally, while the offense has come through with timely hits, it has been inconsistent. Stephen Drew went 1 for 20 in the ALCS, David Ortiz was 2 for 22 and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jonny Gomes each went 3 for 16 (.188).
What’s working for the Cardinals: They have the best catcher in the game with Yadier Molina. Carlos Beltran continues to show why he’s one of the best postseason batters of the past decade, and Matt Carpenter brought his bat to life a little more in the NLCS compared to his struggles in the NLDS. But the reason the Cardinals are here is their pitching staff, which posted a 2.09 ERA in the NLCS. Michael Wacha was dominant in his two starts, throwing 132/3 scoreless innings, Adam Wainwright threw seven innings of two-run ball in his start and Joe Kelly has pitched well enough in the playoffs.
Cause for concern: The offense combined to hit .211 in the NLCS, although it did manage to score 21 runs. Matt Holliday (.200), David Freese (.190) and Pete Kozma (.067) are among the struggling batters. Another area of concern for the Cardinals has to be starting on the road and not having home-field advantage. Boston went 53-28 at Fenway Park and will have the luxury of starting the series there.
Who has the edge?
The Cardinals have the best catcher in the game, Yadier Molina, and have the clear edge there. But the Red Sox are stronger at first base (Mike Napoli over Matt Adams), shortstop (Stephen Drew over Pete Kozma) and third base (Xander Bogaerts over David Freese). Second base seems to be a wash between Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter.
Edge: Red Sox
The Cardinals boast two proven postseason veterans in the corner outfield spots with Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. Beltran and Holliday have a better track record than Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, but the Red Sox have a better center fielder in Jacoby Ellsbury compared to Jon Jay.
David Ortiz hasn’t had a great postseason, but that doesn’t take away from his rebound season. And he is a bigger threat at DH than Allen Craig, who is returning from an injury that cost him more than six weeks. The Red Sox have a versatile bench with veteran catcher David Ross, the speedy Quintin Berry and bats such as Mike Carp and Daniel Nava. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have a relatively weak bench with Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso and Kolten Wong.
Edge: Red Sox
The Cardinals continue to restock their rotation year after year. Adam Wainwright is an established ace, and Michael Wacha shined on the biggest stage by beating Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS. Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn are decent options, too, although Wainwright and Wacha are the 1-2 punch. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have been led by Jon Lester. John Lackey improved in the ALCS, which bodes well. However, Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz haven’t been as dominant as the Red Sox would have hoped.
Koji Uehara has been as dependable as ever for the Red Sox, which can’t be said for his 2011 postseason with the Rangers. He has mixed his pitches well and baffled hitters throughout, and the Red Sox have a nice nucleus of setup men before him including right-handers Junichi Tazawa and Brandon Workman, and left-hander Craig Breslow. The Cardinals have been nearly as good at getting the ball to closer Trevor Rosenthal. Hard-throwing Carlos Martinez has emerged as the setup man, and left-handers Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate have been effective.
Edge: Red Sox
Texas ties (school)
Boston’s John Lackey (UT Arlington), Will Middlebrooks (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau High School), Brandon Workman (Texas); St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter (TCU), Michael Wacha (Texas A&M), Shelby Miller (Brownwood High School), Randy Choate (San Antonio Churchill High School).
Rangers ties (years in Texas)
Boston’s Mike Napoli (2011-12), Koji Uehara (2011-12), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2007-10), Ryan Dempster (2012); St. Louis’ assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina (2010).
The Cardinals have a strong rotation, but it’s not as good as the Tigers’. And the Red Sox were able to get past the Tigers for the AL pennant. With home-field advantage and a shutdown bullpen, they’ll do it once again. Boston wins it in six games.