After months of spring training, 162 regular-season games and the gauntlet of the postseason, two teams stand above the sport, ready to square off for a World Series title on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
For the first time since the 1999 season, the team with the best regular-season record in the National League will take on the team with the best from the American League. If upstarts, wild cards and underdogs are your thing, this World Series isn't for you.
If you prefer tradition, history and front offices committed to winning, regardless of the monetary or public relations cost, this World Series is for you.
Baseball fans, regardless of age, have seen this tilt before. 1946, 1967, 2004. Now, nine years after their last clash in the Fall Classic, the Cardinals and Red Sox meet again, and we will break it all down here.
1. 2B Matt Carpenter
2. RF Carlos Beltran
3. LF Matt Holliday
4. DH Allen Craig
5. 1B Matt Adams
6. C Yadier Molina
7. 3B David Freese
8. CF Jon Jay
9. SS Pete Kozma
If this lineup looks familiar, you probably watched the National League Championship Series. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has found a good mix, especially with October legend Carlos Beltran in the No. 2 hole. His ability to get on base, hit for power and work the opposing pitcher make him one of the most dangerous hitters in the sport, even at an advanced age of 36.
Of course, the one name that might jump off the page is Allen Craig. According to CBS Sports' Mike Axisa, the Cardinals' regular first baseman is facing live pitching and nearing a return to the field for the first time in six weeks.
If he can play, look for Craig to serve as the designated hitter in the American League park and as a pinch hitter in the National League park.
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2. RF Shane Victorino
3. 2B Dustin Pedroia
4. DH David Ortiz
5. 1B Mike Napoli
6. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
7. LF Daniel Nava
8. SS Stephen Drew
9. 3B Xander Bogaerts
The best offense in baseball has few holes and fewer reasons to worry about offensive production after finding a way to best the dynamic and overpowering Tigers rotation in six games.
For manager John Farrell, the debates will center around how to best deploy his one-dimensional boppers when the series shifts to St. Louis and away from the comfort of having a DH and sitting down Jonny Gomes against an entire staff of right-handed pitchers.
First, it's time for Farrell to go away from Gomes, a notorious lefty killer, in favor of Daniel Nava. Over the next week, St. Louis will throw some combination of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn at the Red Sox order. All four are right-handed. During the regular season, Nava hit .322/.411/.484 against right-handers.
The harder decision will come when deciding how to use the Ortiz-Napoli combination at first base in St. Louis. Without the luxury of a DH, one will sit to start games. Due to the right-handed-leaning staff of the Cardinals and Ortiz's ability to rake in October, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox not attempting to deal with his defense at first base during at least two of the three games on the road.
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Michael Wacha
3. Joe Kelly
4. Lance Lynn
After clinching the National League pennant on Friday evening, the Cardinals have the luxury of setting up their staff with four days to rest and prepare for the Red Sox offense. Maximizing the starts for the Wainwright-Wacha combination will be crucial to jumping out to a series lead and potentially wrapping up a championship in Boston.
For as great as Wainwright is, the pitching story in baseball right now is Michael Wacha. The 19th pick of the 2012 MLB draft hasn't just burst on the scene, he's blown the top off the sport. In three postseason starts, the 22-year-old has posted a 0.43 ERA and been atop the mound to stave off elimination (Game 4 in Pittsburgh) and clinch a World Series berth (Game 6 vs. Los Angeles).
Kelly and Lynn don't possess the stuff or ability to shut down a great Red Sox offense, so St. Louis will need big efforts out of its top two before either takes the mound.
1. Jon Lester
2. John Lackey
3. Clay Buchholz
4. Jake Peavy
While the Red Sox offense earned the publicity they received during the regular season and run through October, the starting pitching in Fenway has been underrated.
Despite the top three of Detroit's rotation (Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander) limiting Red Sox hitters to a 6-for-69 start in the ALCS, Boston won two of the first three games to set up an eventual series victory. Those wins came due to Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey matching Detroit inning by inning.
Wainwright and Wacha are throwing at the highest level of all eight of these starters, but the Buchholz-Peavy pairing is much more sound than Kelly-Lynn during the swing games of the series.
Every single October, World Series previews, predictions and breakdowns float around the Internet. The common theme: If Star Player X outproduces Star Player Y, this team will win!
While the concept is sound, it's often the bit players, middle relievers or lesser-known contributors who make the difference between winning a title and going home in the bittersweet role of second place.
Here are four players, two on each side, who should grab your attention during the World Series. Their impact could mean more than anything David Ortiz or Carlos Beltran do to outhit each other.
Craig Breslow, RP, Boston Red Sox
As chronicled in this ALCS primer, Red Sox lefty Craig Breslow isn't just a lefty one-out guy and should be deployed against both left- and right-handed sluggers. His ability to take down the top of the Cardinals order can be crucial in the late innings of this World Series.
Xander Bogaerts, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Twenty-one-year-old infielders aren't supposed to have series-changing impacts on the World Series, but Bogaerts isn't your ordinary rookie. If he can bring the kind of plate discipline and power that led to a moonshot double off the left-center field wall off Max Scherzer in the ALCS, Cardinals pitchers should be wary.
Trevor Rosenthal, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
The headlines around closers heading into the World Series rightfully belong to Koji Uehara. Simply put, the Red Sox closer was unhittable this season and took his prowess into October. Yet, by the end of October, the closer who baseball is talking about might reside in St. Louis. If Rosenthal can continue to pump 99 and 100 mph fastballs by the opposition, the Red Sox will be in trouble late in games.
David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
I know, I know. He's banged up and coming off a regular season that featured a career-worst OPS, but Freese is a dangerous October hitter. Over the last three Octobers, the 30-year-old third baseman has knocked in 29 runs.
Every game, regardless of what is at stake, is about matchups. Don't expect the 2013 World Series to be any different.
We can run through the tale of the tape with every single hitter and pitcher, but certain battles will determine a champion. Below are two important ones.
Adam Wainwright vs. Shane Victorino
Due to turnover on the respective rosters and their opposite standing in the National and American League, there isn't much history between the players on these teams.
However, Red Sox spark plug Shane Victorino has seen Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in 23 plate appearances during his time in the NL.
While he only hit .227 off him in the past, those were during his switch-hitting days. How will Wainwright handle the new, improved and strictly right-handed hitting Flyin' Hawaiian?
Yadier Molina vs. Quintin Berry
The preeminent defensive catcher in the sport versus a perfect (thus far) base stealer at the major league level. With the World Series featuring three potential games in a National League park, double-switching will become part of Farrell's game plan.
At some point, expect Berry to enter the game to run. When he does, the entire world will be watching to see if Molina can end a streak of 28 consecutive stolen bases. The result could be the difference between a crucial win or loss.
Pitching forum: Adam Wainwright vs. Jon Lester
Venue: Fenway Park
When the pageantry ends on Fox, the World Series will be about baseball. In a battle of aces, Adam Wainwright will bring his best stuff to the home park of baseball's best offense. Despite working into and out of trouble during the first few innings, the control artist will settle down to pitch seven innings of one-run ball.
Meanwhile, Jon Lester will struggle to keep the ball in the park. By the fourth inning, Lester will have allowed only three hits, but all will have landed over the Green Monster for long balls. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina all go deep for an early Cardinals cushion.
By the time the ball is handed to Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth inning, Boston fans will get a taste of what Koji Uehara did to the opposition all year long. Pedroia, Ortiz and Napoli will strike out in succession, staking the NL champs to a 1-0 series advantage.
Series: 1-0 St. Louis
Pitching forum: Michael Wacha vs. John Lackey
Venue: Fenway Park
In what will eventually become the highlight reel shown during Scott Boras' free-agent presentation over the winter, Jacoby Ellsbury will show why he's a $100 million player during the pivotal game in Boston's season. With the Red Sox staring an 0-2 series hole in the face, along with a trip to St. Louis for three straight games, Ellsbury will deliver.
From the start, he'll be the best player on the diamond. In the first inning, Ellsbury reels in two spectacular catches to rob Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran of base hits. By the bottom of the frame, his walk, stolen base and run scored give Boston a lead it'll never relinquish.
Three hits, one walk, three runs scored and a pair of stolen bases make the 30-year-old Ellsbury the star of the evening. With an uncharacteristic poor start from Michael Wacha (5.1 IP, 5 R, 5 H, 3 BB, 3 K), Red Sox starter John Lackey can throw strikes and pace himself throughout the excellent Cardinals lineup.
Koji Uehara slams the door, but a 7-2 lead feels comfortable from the early innings.
Series: Tied 1-1
Pitching forum: Clay Buchholz vs. Joe Kelly
Venue: Busch Stadium
Displaying the form that led to talk of an AL Cy Young before an early June injury, Clay Buchholz's pitches dance and jive around the strike zone all night, keeping the St. Louis crowd quiet as zeros fill the scoreboard.
St. Louis is frustrated, but far from out of it due to Joe Kelly's dominant outing. Without the luxury of a DH, John Farrell sits Mike Napoli in favor of starting David Ortiz at first base. Despite a second-inning misplay on a ball in the second-base hole, the move doesn't backfire defensively. However, Ortiz's 0-for-4 night versus Kelly puts Farrell's decision under the microscope for detractors.
By the late innings, both starters are long gone, but a run still hasn't crossed the board. In the top of the 10th inning, Farrell finally calls up Mike Napoli to pinch hit against the flame-throwing Carlos Martinez. When the young righty leaves a 99 mph fastball up, Napoli deposits it into the right-field seats, giving Boston the only run of the pivotal Game 3.
Series: 2-1 Boston
Pitching forum: Jake Peavy vs. Lance Lynn
Venue: Busch Stadium
Over the last two decades, only 10 pitchers have posted a better ERA than Jake Peavy's 3.51 career mark. The names (Martinez, Brown, Maddux, Johnson, Santana, Clemens, Oswalt, Halladay, Hudson, Schilling) are familiar, but unlike Peavy, they all did something in their respective careers: win a postseason game.
While the October memories for Schilling (great) and Brown (underwhelming) are vastly different, everyone on the list had at least one signature moment in October.
For Jake Peavy, the time is now. Building on the excellent starts from John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, Boston's midseason acquisition pitches into the seventh inning, allows just two runs and watches the combination of Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara take care of the rest en route to a 6-2 victory.
After three straight victories, Boston will attempt to end the World Series in St. Louis like it did in 2004.
Series: 3-1 Boston
Pitching forum: Jon Lester vs. Adam Wainwright
Venue: Busch Stadium
With its season on the line, St. Louis turns to Adam Wainwright to steady the ship and pitch the series back to Boston. Due to seeing Wainwright for the second time in less than a week, Boston's bats, led by the new, improved and only right-handed hitting Shane Victorino, touch up Wainwright for two runs in the third inning.
If Jon Lester was in a groove, it might be enough. Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, the long ball is there to bite him again. After Carlos Beltran's second home run off him in the series, Matt Adams takes him deep for a three-run home run and a Cardinals lead in the fifth inning.
After Wainwright gives the lead back to Boston on a Dustin Pedroia two-run double, the stage is set for an eighth-inning battle between Craig Breslow and Carlos Beltran with runners on the corners. Despite Breslow limiting right-handed batters to a .208 average during the season, Beltran wins.
His double to the left-center field gap scores two runs and gives St. Louis a 7-6 victory to send the World Series back to Boston.
Series: 3-2 Boston
Pitching forum: Michael Wacha vs. John Lackey
Venue: Fenway Park
Before David Ortiz arrived in Boston, the franchise hadn't won a World Series in 85 years. By the end of Game 6, the Red Sox will have three trophies in a decade.
After St. Louis quiets the raucous Boston crowd with a three-run first inning, John Lackey settles down, only allowing one more run for the rest of the night. Due to Michael Wacha's bounce-back performance (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER), the Red Sox look done in Game 6, and Fox prepares for a Game 7 in Fenway the next night.
In a decision that will be rehashed for years, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sends out Seth Maness for the eighth inning. Despite Michael Wacha pitching well and only having 93 pitches through seven innings, Maness is in to face 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts at the bottom of the Boston lineup.
By the time Matheny blinks, he's handing the ball to Randy Choate with the bases loaded and David Ortiz strolling to the dish. Choate's ability to hold down lefties (.198 career BAA) is cited as an antidote for Ortiz's career of October heroics. In a repeat performance of Game 2 of the ALCS, Ortiz delivers in the only way you'd expect: with a grand slam to right field.
Koji Uehara slams the door for a 5-4 victory and a World Series title in Boston!
Series: 4-2 Red Sox win
How do you see the 2013 World Series playing out? Leave your thoughts below!