The last time the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals met in a World Series, let's just say the connotations were a little different.
OK, that series may be the most historically significant of this century. Boston, 86 years removed from its last championship, had just become the first team in Major League Baseball history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. And the Red Sox did so against the New York Yankees. In a series that felt like a World Series by itself.
The Cardinals would be but a mere epilogue to that story, with Boston sweeping the series to capture the championship. That series ended a postseason run that still feels too improbable to be true less than a decade later.
This time around, the stakes are high, but not quite in the same historical context. St. Louis rebounded just fine from that 2004 loss, winning World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. The Red Sox captured another championship in 2007—the Curse of the Bambino no longer lives in those hallowed Fenway halls.
Instead, one could argue the Red Sox and Tigers are battling for the super-early Team of the Century crown. Boston, St. Louis, New York and the San Francisco Giants have each won two World Series crowns, but none of MLB's monoliths have won three.
That will of course change this year. The Cardinals vanquished the high-priced Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night, and Boston followed in kind by doing the same to the Detroit Tigers on Saturday. Both division winners who defeated their intradivision wild-card foes in the LDS and captured their LCS in six games, the Red Sox and Cardinals have taken eerily similar paths to this clash.
Now, it's time to see which side diverges from that path. With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of the 2013 World Series matchup, complete with a schedule, key storylines, predictions and all the good nonsense you people expect from these things.
|Game 1||St. Louis Cardinals @ Boston Red Sox||Wed, Oct. 23||8:07 p.m.||FOX||Postseason.TV|
|Game 2||St. Louis Cardinals @ Boston Red Sox||Thu, Oct. 24||8:07 p.m.||FOX||Postseason.TV|
|Game 3||Boston Red Sox @ St. Louis Cardinals||Sat, Oct. 26||8:07 p.m.||FOX||Postseason.TV|
|Game 4||Boston Red Sox @ St. Louis Cardinals||Sun, Oct. 27||8:15 p.m.||FOX||Postseason.TV|
|Game 5*||Boston Red Sox @ St. Louis Cardinals||Mon, Oct. 28||8:07 p.m.||FOX||Postseason.TV|
|Game 6*||St. Louis Cardinals @ Boston Red Sox||Wed, Oct. 30||8:07 p.m.||FOX||Postseason.TV|
|Game 7*||St. Louis Cardinals @ Boston Red Sox||Thu, Oct. 31||8:07 p.m.||FOX||Postseason.TV|
MLB.com (*If Necessary)
Cardinals: Will Michael Wacha Be Able to Dominate at Fenway?
Remember Albert Pujols? The player the Cardinals fans roundly criticized management for allowing to walk away in free agency? Yeah, Cards GM John Mozeliak would like a refund on those complaints.
In three postseason appearances, Wacha has almost entirely justified the Pujols decision. The 2012 compensatory first-round pick is 3-0 in the 2013 playoffs, giving only one earned run over 21 innings while striking out more than a batter per frame.
Wacha was named the NLDS MVP after his rousing Game 6 outing, where he allowed only two hits and struck out five Dodgers in seven innings. Going back to the regular season, Wacha has allowed two or fewer hits in three of his last four starts. He's the only rookie in MLB postseason history to have two scoreless starts in a series.
The kid is good. And he'll probably anchor the Cardinals' rotation for the next decade, barring a freak injury that always seems to happen to young phenoms.
The question that will probably define this series for St. Louis is whether he can perform on the grandest of stages.
Boston fans (and the history of Fenway Park to a certain extent) have a way of getting to young players perhaps better than any. Mike Matheny hasn't named his rotation for the World Series yet, but one has to assume Wacha will start Game 2 and Adam Wainwright will get the Game 1 nod. Both would have more than enough rest to make it happen.
That means it's very likely both of Wacha's World Series starts will come at Fenway (assuming Game 6 for his second outing). Only one of his spectacular postseason performances thus far has come away from Busch Stadium. The very limited splits we have on Wacha also show he's been far stronger at the friendly confines than when pitching elsewhere.
He shares that trait with an overwhelming majority of rookies. And most players. How Wacha handles Fenway, however, will be vital simply because the Cardinals need him to be excellent.
We know that Wainwright will show up, but behind him and Wacha are two major question marks for this series. Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn have a combined one quality start this postseason between them. Lynn has been especially miserable, allowing just under two baserunners per inning and giving up seven earned in 11.2 innings.
St. Louis needs to be able to rely on Wacha, simply because it knows it can't rely on the back portion of its rotation. We've already seen him be historically great. Now let's see if he can do it again. As thousands of over-served Red Sox fans call him four-letter words that rhyme with his last name when using a Boston accent.
This will either be the crowning of our new pitching overlord or an early-career stepping stone for a young pitcher. Either way, it'll be fun.
Red Sox: Can a Team Survive When Its Most Outstanding Player is a Closer?
Because that's exactly what happened through the first two rounds of the postseason. When the Cardinals advanced, there wasn't much question that Wacha would walk away with the series MVP trophy. Wacha was far and away the most outstanding player in either LCS.
When Boston won, there wasn't as much clarity. Shane Victorino hit a seventh-inning grand slam to push the Red Sox over in Game 6, but he hit .125 for the series and has generally been a gaping hole in the lineup for 83 percent of the contests.
David Ortiz hit the series' other huge slam in Game 2, but followed that up by going 1-for-15 over the final four games. And a number of other players (John Lackey, Jacoby Ellsbury, etc.) were solid but not MVP-worthy.
The voters eventually landed on Koji Uehara, who was the right choice but one indicative of an overall unsureness. Mariano Rivera was the last player to win an LCS MVP as a reliever, and that happened in 2003—long before a strong undercurrent of baseball scribes began regularly deriding the save. It seems almost quaint to have a closer win a series MVP in this era, like a wide receiver winning an NFL MVP trophy.
That's not to necessarily take away from Uehara's performance. He was spectacular. In five ALCS appearances, he held the Tigers scoreless, allowed only four hits and picked up saves in three of Boston's four wins, getting the victory in the other. Since the beginning of July, Uehara has given up just 17 hits, per ESPN's Mark Simon.
Applauding Uehara and showing concern about the Red Sox who play the other eight innings is not mutually exclusive. Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy both boast ERAs more than three runs higher than their regular-season numbers. John Lackey can only hold on so long before he goes full John Lackey. The lineup is great, but Ellsbury is the only everyday starter with a batting average better than .256.
Boston can get to Kelly, Lynn and possibly even Wacha at home. We'll just have to see whether it can be consistent or if the Red Sox will be left praying for more clutch grand slams to buoy their effort.
Although it would have been nice to see two teams off the beaten path make the Fall Classic, it's hard to argue with the end result. The Red Sox and Cardinals were the two best teams in the regular season for good reason, and this is about as evenly matched as you can get.
The overarching reason I chose to highlight the "negatives" in the previous section is because that's exactly what the series will come down to. In a battle of evenly matched opponents, the victor is always the one with the fewest glaring holes in its resume.
And that's why the Boston Red Sox will be your 2013 World Series champions. Their vaunted lineup cannot stay dormant forever, they have four veteran starters all capable of going seven scoreless and they have home-field advantage. The latter part is something I don't want to harp on, but there's no substitute for knowing that Games 6 and 7 are at Fenway.
Nor is there any substitute for having veteran pitching. Wacha has been unbelievable this postseason, but it's too much to ask him to continue that. Not at Fenway. Not against that lineup. Not with the struggling Lynn and Kelly coming behind him and adding more pressure to the situation.
We'll go six, boys and girls, but that's it.
Result: Red Sox over Cardinals in six games.
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