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Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
St. Louis Cardinals Closer: Trevor Rosenthal
Rosenthal's 2013 Regular Season: 2.63 ERA, 1.91 FIP, 1.4 WAR in 74 G
How awesome was Rosenthal from April through September?
Grantland's Michael Baumann put his stats and Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel's stats side by side, and concluded that with the same supporting cast, they would have been virtually identical.
We've noted that Matt Adams, David Freese and other regular position players for the Cardinals don't have the flexibility to touch their toes. To prevent them from ruining close contests, Rosenthal does his best to strike out all his challengers.
He finished sixth among MLB relievers with a 12.90 K/9, according to FanGraphs. Kimbrel is the only one ahead of him on that list who posted a higher ground ball rate. That tells us that the 23-year-old expertly avoids contact, but even when he can't, the balls put in play are relatively harmless.
By the way, he also hasn't allowed a run in 13 career postseason appearances.
Setup Men and Middle Relief
On the verge of free agency, Edward Mujica has imploded. According to Derrick Goold of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he blames it on fatigue—so that obviously hurts the team's bullpen depth.
His ill-timed loss of confidence leaves Randy Choate, baseball's prototypical LOOGY, as the lone trustworthy veteran in the later innings. He quietly had a very good campaign, holding opposing lefties to a .176/.268/.224 batting line. Here's a fun fact from FanGraphs: Choate was one of 219 National League pitchers to throw at least 30 innings, but he was the only one who didn't allow a home run.
That's right, we're dissing John Axford. The former closer is most certainly not "trustworthy," despite a 1.74 earned run average with St. Louis during the summer. He continues to be inexplicably hittable, even against right-handed batters.
Mike Matheny would rather utilize his standout rookies in tough spots.
Dating back to mid-September, Carlos Martinez has given up only three hits in his past 11 innings, and his heater is almost on par with Rosenthal's. Kevin Siegrist is Matheny's second lefty matchup option. He generates more swings-and-misses than Choate, but he also occasionally loses his command.
Meanwhile, Shelby Miller has spent most of the past month pacing back and forth in the bullpen. St. Louis had concerns about his late-summer struggles and snubbed him from the playoff rotation. Nonetheless, it'd be foolish to forget about somebody who maintained a 119 ERA+ in 31 starts and nearly completed a no-hitter (courtesy of MLB.com).
Boston Red Sox Closer: Koji Uehara
Uehara's 2013 Regular Season: 1.09 ERA, 1.61 FIP, 3.6 WAR in 73 G
The oldest player on either World Series roster (38) still has a child-like enthusiasm for the game.
Who can blame him? If he's going to lead all relievers in earned run average and strikeout-to-walk ratio, let him high-five everybody in sight.
Uehara has always been a special strike-thrower, but at age 38, he has finally shaken the "fragile" label that followed him during previous tenures with the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers. There's no longer any hesitation about using him on back-to-back days.
In 45 appearances since the beginning of July, the Japanese right-hander has allowed only two walks and two earned runs.
Make sure to re-read that sentence several times. It could be a few years—or generations—until we can apply it to another closer.
Setup Men and Middle Relief
The Red Sox collectively have more October experience than the Red Birds, but key arms like Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Brandon Workman are all here for the first time. The latter two both rack up gaudy strikeout totals with ease.
If there's any individual worth worrying about, it's Breslow. The 33-year-old left-hander began losing the strike zone a bit in September, but that was downplayed as he continued to string together scoreless appearances. With four unintentional walks and a hit batsman in seven postseason innings, it doesn't seem that he has put those troubles behind him yet.
Felix Doubront is Boston's version of Shelby Miller, an overpowering starter who faded down the stretch.
All things considered, this battle of the bullpens goes to the Red Sox because of Uehara's unrivaled brilliance as well as their relievers' microscopic 0.84 earned run average so far this postseason.
Very Slight Advantage for Red Sox