When the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox met in the 2004 World Series, it signaled the return of two proud franchises to the pinnacle of baseball. Things have certainly changed a lot over the past nine years, as the Cards and Sox have established themselves as two of the league's best in the seasons since.
St. Louis has reached the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, and it won the World Series back in 2011. Boston makes its return to the postseason after a three-year absence, but it has a chance to win its third World Series in the past decade just like the Cardinals.
Both the Cards and Red Sox have been in the mix all season long, and they have been viewed as potential World Series teams due to their well-balanced rosters. It is safe to say that each has lived up to its immense promise, and it should make for a fantastic World Series.
Here is further analysis of what it will take for each team to win the World Series, as well as a final prediction for which squad will lift the Commissioner's Trophy.
Keys to Cardinals Victory
What the Cardinals have done over the past couple seasons is truly incredible, considering the fact that they lost arguably the best player in franchise history to free agency when Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels prior to last season.
Pujols certainly hasn't lived up to his lofty contract, largely due to injuries, and St. Louis seemingly hasn't missed him. The likes of Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday have stepped up, and Carlos Beltran was a huge addition following Pujols' departure as well.
Allen Craig picked up much of Pujols' slack over the past two seasons, and he was having a monster season in 2013 prior to an injury cutting his season short. Craig hit .315 with 13 home runs and 97 RBI, and the Cards have somehow thrived without him. They may not have to play without him much longer, though, as Craig may very well be healthy enough to serve as St. Louis' designated hitter in road games against the Red Sox, according to ESPN's Buster Olney:
NL teams are usually at a disadvantage in the World Series due to the lack of a competent DH, but that won't be the case if Craig plays. Perhaps even more important than the Cards' lineup, though, is their starting rotation. The combination of Adam Wainwright and rookie Michael Wacha has been nearly unhittable, and they will have to continue to pitch that way, since there is a notable drop-off when the likes of Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn start.
Keys to Red Sox Victory
The Red Sox's turnaround from last season to this one has been incredible, as they went from being one of the league's worst teams to one of the best.
The managerial switch from Bobby Valentine to John Farrell has been huge, but a number of shrewd roster additions have played a big role as well. Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara and a host of others have completely changed the look of the team, and it has clearly been for the better.
Boston led the league in runs scored during the regular season, and it was among the league's most patient teams as well.
The Red Sox's ability to drive up pitch counts has been key to their success this season. It will be particularly important when Wainwright and Wacha are on the mound for St. Louis. Boston's true advantage over St. Louis may reside in the bullpen, however, as Uehara was named the ALCS MVP, according to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal.
The Red Sox bullpen has been a tough nut to crack with Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Brandon Workman allowing a total of two earned runs in 26.1 innings. The Cards have some impressive arms in their pen as well, including closer Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist, but Boston has had more sustained success in that area. If the Red Sox bullpen continues to thrive, it will be very tough for the Cardinals to win this series.
Casual baseball fans may not be particularly thrilled with this matchup due to the fact that the Cardinals and Red Sox have been in the mix often over the past decade. With that said, there is little doubt that both teams are deserving. It isn't often that the AL's best and the NL's best from a record perspective meet in the World Series, but that is precisely what will happen this year, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
These teams are evenly matched on paper, so it is very difficult to separate one from the other. Both teams have a great deal of experience when it comes to going deep in the playoffs as well, and that should help immensely in big moments.
As is often the case, this series will almost certainly come down to pitching. The Cardinals and Red Sox both have excellent lineups that can score some runs, but pitching is where there may be some separation.
The top of St. Louis' rotation is better with Wainwright and Wacha, but Boston has more depth. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are perfectly capable of hanging in there against Wainwright and Wacha, but Boston clearly has an advantage when John Lackey and Jake Peavy face Kelly and Lynn. Add in Boston's ability to lock things down late in games due to a lights-out bullpen, and the Red Sox have to be given the nod in six games.
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