Next Steps for the St. Louis Cardinals to Win the World Series
For the fourth time in the last decade, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series. They don't know whom they will play, but they have locked up a spot in the Fall Classic.
The Cardinals have a chance to keep the trophy in the National League yet again and also become the second NL team to win multiple championships this decade.
After beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games, the Cardinals are preparing for the biggest series of the season.
Here are the keys for the Cardinals to bring back the World Series trophy to St. Louis.
*All stats are courtesy of MLB.com.
Set the Tone with the Ace
Winning in six games was an impressive feat. For starters, St. Louis had to face the Dodgers' aces in the first two games before Adam Wainwright made a start in the series. Also, the right-hander made only one appearance compared to the four total made by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
Had the 2013 NLCS gone seven games, Wainwright would have taken the mound in the winner-take-all game. However, he will now be available to start Game 1.
The 32-year-old wasn't as dominant on the road as he was at home, but St. Louis needs him to be the ace yet again.
Check out what he has done in this postseason:
|NLDS Game 1||vs. Pittsburgh Pirates||7||3||1||1||9||0||W|
|NLDS Game 5||vs. Pittsburgh Pirates||9||8||1||0||6||1||W|
|NLCS Game 3||at Los Angeles Dodgers||7||6||2||0||5||0||L|
It's important to note that he did lose his only road start in this year's postseason, but he pitched good enough to win.
Outside of back-to-back starts against the Cincinnati Reds, Wainwright has not allowed more than three runs in a start since the end of July.
Wainwright has a 2.10 ERA in 16 career postseason games, and his last start is the only game that he has lost.
Winning the first game is important. Teams that have won Game 1 have won the title 67 times, and the Cardinals will be sending their ace out there. Wainwright will probably start in Game 5, if necessary, so St. Louis needs to take advantage of those games.
Take Home-Field Advantage Away from the AL
Game 1 is arguably the most important game of the series, but the Cardinals have to find some way to at least split the series before it shifts back to St. Louis.
Teams that have gone up 2-0 in the World Series have ended up winning 42 of the 53 times that it has happened, including 15 of the last 16.
With the American League winning the 2013 All-Star Game, the AL champion will have home-field advantage. That means the Cardinals will have to find some way to win on the road to have a chance in this series.
In a 2-3-2 format, if they can win at least one of the first two games, they will have a chance to wrap up the series in St. Louis.
Although the Cardinals had home-field advantage in the first two rounds, they won a key game on the road against the Pirates and one in Los Angeles.
In two of their last three World Series appearances, the Cardinals have had to start out on the road. They won Game 1 in both series and took home-field advantage away from the AL team.
Heading back to St. Louis down 0-2 is the worst possible scenario for the team. If the Cardinals are going to win the World Series, they must win at least one of the first two games.
Bring the Bats
Despite having the NL's top offense, the Cardinals were atrocious at the plate early in the NLCS. They did get better as the series went on, but they can't afford to leave their bats at home.
Here's one incredible stat provided by Clay Fowler of the Los Angeles News Group:
Below is an another mind-boggling stat, provided by MLB:
The Cardinals weren't swinging the bats the way they were used to, but they found ways to win games.
Boston and Detroit have averaged a total of six runs per game through five games of the ALCS. Through the first five games of the NLCS, there was only one game in which a team scored more than four runs. St. Louis and Los Angeles averaged only 6.2 runs per game in the first five games.
Pitching has dominated the entire postseason, so the Cardinals will have to find a way to score.
Take Advantage of RISP
The Cardinals shattered the record for highest average with runners in scoring position. They hit .330 in those situations in the regular season, which is absolutely incredible.
They were unable to carry that momentum over into the first round of the playoffs. They hit only .185 with RISP against the Pittsburgh Pirates. After going down 2-1 in the series, the Cardinals got hits in three of their final seven opportunities in clutch situations over the final two games.
However, they rebounded nicely against the Dodgers. In the NLCS, St. Louis hit .310 with RISP through the first five games of the NLCS.
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported that Allen Craig could make a return in the World Series. How big of an addition would that be? Craig led the majors with a .454 average with runners in scoring position.
Matt Adams has done a nice job of filling in at first base, but Adams is not on Craig's level in terms of clutch hitting.
Craig is far from the only hitter who has come up big in key situations, so let's see how some of the team's top hitters did this season with runners in scoring position:
|Position||Name||AVG w/ RISP (2013 Season)||AVG w/ RISP (Playoffs)|
As the numbers show, the Cardinals don't have many weaknesses in their lineup. Pete Kozma, who hit .217 overall this year, hit .322 with runners in scoring position. That's pretty impressive.
If Craig comes back, who knows if he will be able to get back to the way he was hitting. Either way, St. Louis has to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities it does get.
Don't Let Opposing Stars Make an Impact
It's not known who will represent the AL in the World Series, but the Cardinals can't let stars beat them.
If Boston wins the ALCS, David Ortiz can't be the guy to beat you. If Detroit manages to come back from a 3-2 series deficit, it has more players who can make you pay. Limiting Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez will not be easy, but it's essential.
Ortiz is hitting only .219 this postseason, but he has three home runs and seven RBI. He has 15 career postseason homers, and he has many clutch home runs to his name. The Red Sox led the majors in runs scored and on-base percentage and finished second in average, so there are plenty of players who can make a pitcher pay. However, it's Ortiz whom the Cardinals need to keep in check.
Detroit has a trio of stars in the middle of its lineup. Cabrera and Martinez have combined to hit .333 with a home run and five RBI in the ALCS. Fielder has hit only .211 and has not knocked in a run. Holding him in check has been the deciding factor so far.
If the Tigers make it to the World Series, the Cardinals can allow the trio to get hits. They just can't allow them to leave the yard. Make guys like Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson get big hits rather than one of the stars.
It's unclear how the AL champion will handle its lineup when the series heads to St. Louis, as the designated hitter will either have to play the field or sit on the bench. That will certainly help the Cardinals by taking away a bat out of its opponent's lineup.
St. Louis has the lowest ERA (2.34) of any team in the playoffs. It has found ways to neutralize guys like Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.
Now it will have to continue to pitch opposing stars tough if it is going to win the World Series.