The stats tell us why Trevor Rosenthal and Yadier Molina both match up well against the Boston Red Sox.
Entering the 2013 World Series, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals haven't faced one another under meaningful circumstances in more than five years.
Thankfully, this is an age of specific, advanced statistics and look-it-up-instantly search engines and databases. We can overcome their lack of direct interaction and compile tons of fascinating information relating these two pennant winners.
You'll find the best of it presented in the following slides as we set the scene for Wednesday night's much-anticipated opener.
*Stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
This ought to make us all grateful for the 2013 World Series matchup.
Relative to the regular season, the playoffs are extremely brief. That makes it so easy for wild-card teams or lesser division winners to leapfrog the most complete clubs. As much fun as it is to witness underdogs advance so deep, they're generally more inconsistent than the top seeds.
Because the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are so well-rounded—as evidenced by their records this past summer—we can expect a long series with few mistakes made from either side.
The last time these teams clashed with a Fall Classic hanging in the balance was in 2004. The only players from those rosters who'll affect the 2013 series are David Ortiz, Yadier Molina and Mike Matheny (then St. Louis' catcher).
The few passionate Boston Red Sox fans who insist that sweep will have some effect on this upcoming matchup need to zip it. That's not how baseball works.
The St. Louis players and fans weren't permanently scarred by their embarrassing loss last decade. Actually, the team has won more championships since then than Boston has (2006, 2011).
Point is, we're starting from scratch on Wednesday night.
Will Middlebrooks' late-September struggles have carried over into the postseason, so it's unclear if he'll get the opportunity to start in this series.
However, if Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell considers subbing him in at any point, we're suggesting he do so against rookie phenom Michael Wacha. Middlebrooks competed against him in high school when both were big-shot Texas prospects.
OK, maybe that's not a great idea. Wacha tells Kyle Brasseur of ESPNBoston.com that he remembers Middlebrooks bunting against him way back when, presuming the star shortstop didn't think he could make solid contact.
Middlebrooks pleads the fifth: "I don’t remember bunting. He might just be messing with you guys," he said.
The NLCS MVP is scheduled to take the mound in Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 6.
Beginning at about the 7:45 mark of the above video, right-hander Jake Peavy discusses the mascot whose presence has allowed the Boston Red Sox to realize their full potential.
This interview was conducted prior to the ALCS, and at the time, Peavy said the team had gone 25-12 with "Chief" on board. Some simple math tells us that after taking four of six from the Detroit Tigers, the Red Sox boast a 29-14 record since that under-the-radar acquisition.
Not to nitpick, but is it fair that they get to retain such a valuable contributor throughout the playoffs without using a roster spot on him?
ESPN.com shows that home runs have been relatively scarce during the postseason.
One out of every 36.7 at-bats ended with a round-tripper from April to September. Over the past month, however, only one of 45.7 has led to that result.
Pitching staff quality has a lot to do with it, as do the increasingly unpleasant weather conditions.
Either way, this trend clearly favors the St. Louis Cardinals. They had no problems topping the National League in runs scored despite a lack of long balls.
The Boston Red Sox offense was powerful, disciplined and situationally sound all summer. Not surprisingly, the club ranked No. 1 in the majors in numerous categories.
However, the American League Championship Series revealed their kryptonite: power pitching.
The opposing Detroit Tigers set an all-time record by racking up 73 strikeouts in a single postseason series (bonus points for doing it in only six games). There was even a dry spell during which Boston had three hits in 16 innings.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, typical 2013 batters produced at only 86 percent of their usual OPS against power pitching (see tOPS+). Boston's guys were all the way down to 74 percent this season.
The St. Louis Cardinals should have powerful bullpen arms like Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal ready to abuse the Red Sox in the later innings.
Victorino receiving medical attention after a plunking.
Shane Victorino has thrived as a switch-hitter for most of the past decade, but a midseason hamstring injury forced him to make an adjustment.
Unable to put his body weight on his left leg—and too stubborn to sit out and let it heal—he decided to swing exclusively from the right side. Victorino made the transition seamlessly. He actually improved against right-handed pitching (.314/.370/.491 before, .300/.386/.510 after) when operating at a platoon disadvantage.
At first, it was a fascinating story. Now it's becoming obnoxious.
The Flyin' Hawaiian has been hit by six pitches in 10 games this postseason, which, according to High Heat Stats, is the most ever for any player in a single October. Four of those "errant" pitches came from right-handers.
He's been plunked 15 times in righty-vs.-righty matchups despite only engaging in those matchups during the second half of the year. That's more than a coincidence; Victorino simply isn't reacting well to inside offerings now that he's seeing them from a different perspective. Expect that total to rise against an all-right-handed St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation.
Talk about finding your niche.
Randy Choate is the quintessential LOOGY—Lefty One-Out GuY—in Major League Baseball today. The St. Louis Cardinals signed the then-37-year-old to a $7.5 million contract last winter because they valued his unique skill set.
Choate uncharacteristically did a solid job against right-handed batters in 2013 by holding them to a .275/.310/.325 batting line. Although he's capable of pitching an entire inning clean, don't count on him being used for more than one or two plate appearances per night.
Pretty safe to assume that this pitch was a strike.
When Martin Prado of the Arizona Diamondbacks drew a walk against Koji Uehara on Aug. 3, the baseball world was a much different place.
- Alex Rodriguez and the other former Biogenesis clients hadn't been officially suspended.
- Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland and Dale Sveum were all employed as MLB managers.
And still, Uehara has not walked another batter.
The 38-year-old continues to pitch and thrive in high-leverage situations for the Boston Red Sox, and he continues to challenge every opponent. Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe reports that nearly 80 percent of Uehara's offerings this postseason have been strikes.
It's safe to say that during this World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals won't ever want to be trailing heading into the ninth inning.
Screaming in pain? After so many innings, I can't blame him.
Our step-by-step plan for the St. Louis Cardinals to win this World Series included a recommendation that Adam Wainwright's workload be carefully monitored. That's because two-and-a-half years removed from Tommy John surgery, the veteran right-hander is working harder than any pitcher has in the past decade.
Waino enters Game 1 with 264.2 innings thrown this year (241.2 in regular season, 23 in October). Assuming this series goes at least five games and he doesn't get shelled in both his outings, he'll surpass the 273.1 innings that Chris Carpenter logged during St. Louis' 2011 championship run.
You would have to go back to Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling's primes to find a major league player who finished with more than that.
If you've never seen a person's arm detach from the rest of their body, watch Wainwright's starts carefully. It could happen at any moment.
This is the fourth time in Carlos Beltran's career that one of his teams has made a deep playoff run. Those 45 total games serve as a small portion of his career, yet his production in them has been ridiculously impressive.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, his .440 lifetime postseason batting average with runners in scoring position is the best ever (minimum 25 AB).
In 2013, we've seen the veteran switch-hitter come through in the clutch on several occasions. Perhaps the most memorable was his extra-inning, walk-off single in NLCS Game 1.
Beltran should be a borderline Hall of Famer based on his summer numbers alone, but he always elevates his game to another level under the brightest lights. Red Sox players, beware.
Needless to say, Torii Hunter had some defensive difficulties at Fenway Park during the ALCS. He's hardly the first visiting player to get burned by the peculiar height of the right-field wall and its awkward angles.
Seeing that happen to such a reputable defender should raises big red flags about Carlos Beltran. He's less agile than Hunter, and the 36-year-old has zero prior experience manning that corner of the outfield at Fenway.
This piece of history is something to keep in mind during Games 1 and 2 (and if necessary, Games 6 and 7).
Meanwhile, although there's nothing particularly challenging about first base at Busch Stadium, its National League rules present somewhat of a disadvantage for the Boston Red Sox.
Skipper John Farrell plans to insert David Ortiz at first when the series heads to St. Louis. Big Papi started a pair of contests at the position during the 2007 World Series, but he has made barely two dozen appearances out there since then. Aging six years in that span certainly doesn't make him any more qualified.
Depending on how many balls the Cards put on the ground in Games 3-5, Ortiz's defense could end up negating his contributions at the plate.
These aren't your older brother's Boston Red Sox, who were notorious for advancing from station to station under Terry Francona's direction.
No, the 2013 team dominated on the basepaths during the regular season with a league-best 86.6 stolen base percentage (123-for-142). Nothing has changed in October, as the club ran often and efficiently in the ALDS and ALCS, stealing 11 bases in 13 tries.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino are the biggest threats, and watch out for Quintin Berry coming off the bench.
Nobody runs on Yadier Molina, but will the Red Sox?
On the flip side, Yadier Molina is widely considered baseball's top defensive catcher. He reinforced that reputation in 2013 by gunning down 43.5 percent of the numskulls who dared to challenge his rifle of an arm.
His backup, Tony Cruz, also did a great job in that department during Molina's absences. Overall, the St. Louis Cardinals ranked No. 1 in the majors with a caught stealing percentage of 40.
Tony Lee of ESPNBoston.com has a clever line about this matchup, calling Molina "the game’s version of disinfectant, with guys like [Jacoby] Ellsbury playing the part of the tile scum."
Something's got to give in the World Series.
We oftentimes overrate the importance of gaining a platoon advantage. Talent ultimately affects a plate appearance much more importantly than handedness.
In this case, however, the lefty swingers on the Boston Red Sox ought to be legitimately feared. Their combined .304/.377/.506 batting line against right-handed pitchers in 2013 is roughly equivalent to Mark Teixeira's lifetime production.
We can imagine ageless southpaw Randy Choate getting several opportunities to neutralize them.
Here we go again—strength vs. strength.
A big hat tip to High Heat Stats for finding Michael Wacha's hot/cold zone against left-handed batters in October. The 22-year-old owns a microscopic 0.43 earned run average in the postseason, largely because he's using his special changeup to overcome platoon disadvantages.
More from High Heat Stats' David Hruska:
Nearly 52% of all of Wacha’s postseason pitches have been either low or away (or both) to lefties, which explains why they have managed to hit an anemic .156 in 32 at-bats against the rookie. Wacha has been able to hit Molina’s mitt directly on the outer corner of the strike zone time and time again, following St. Louis’ perfectly built game plan to the letter and he’ll need to do so again in Game 2.
Wacha facing the Boston Red Sox makes Thursday night's matchup appointment television.
Wacha facing (and retiring) Adrian Gonzalez.
We're including a third Michael Wacha-related fact/stat because, well, he's just been so indescribably excellent.
Irregardless of handedness, this rookie sensation will shut down a lineup's most fearsome members. Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez are among the batters who have occupied the No. 3, 4 and 5 spots on the teams he's battled in October; none of them recorded hits.
The Boston Red Sox trio of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli will attempt to do better.
Who honestly believed that John Farrell would have so much success in his first season as Red Sox manager?
Las Vegas didn't have much faith in the Boston Red Sox coming off the Bobby Valentine disaster, but neither did most of us.
When 2013 got underway, the odds of Boston going all the way were only slightly better than those of the Chicago White Sox doing the same. The Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays were universally considered stronger World Series contenders.
This team's swift rise from laughingstock to American League champ reminds us that there's a ton of parity in baseball right now.
The combination of home-field advantage and accomplished veterans makes the Boston Red Sox slight favorites in this World Series, according to NumberFire.com (h/t Gordon Edes, ESPNBoston.com).
That site also believes that there's a strong possibility (nearly 62 percent chance) of it taking at least six games to decide a champion.
All indications are that this is going to be one of the most closely contested and well-played Fall Classics of the 21st century. If the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals live up to that hype, then doesn't everybody win?
Ely Sussman is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He’s hoping to deepen relationships with his fantastic online audience (that means you) via Twitter.