The 2013 World Series has been set. The Boston Red Sox will represent the American League after defeating the Detroit Tigers 4-2, and the St. Louis Cardinals will come out of the National League after taking down the Los Angeles Dodgers by that same margin.
The question is: Which key matchups will decide this rematch of the 2004 World Series?
This series will pit two of the most patient, balanced teams in MLB against one another. Perhaps more significantly, it will provide baseball with the opportunity to determine which team truly is better after both finished with MLB-best records of 97-65.
It's all worked out in the way it should. Here are the matchups that will determine which team wins.
|2013 MLB World Series Schedule|
|Game||Road Team||Home Team||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||St. Louis Cardinals||Boston Red Sox||Wednesday, Oct. 23||8:07 p.m.||FOX|
|2||St. Louis Cardinals||Boston Red Sox||Thursday, Oct. 24||8:07 p.m.||FOX|
|3||Boston Red Sox||St. Louis Cardinals||Saturday, Oct. 26||8:07 p.m.||FOX|
|4||Boston Red Sox||St. Louis Cardinals||Sunday, Oct. 27||8:15 p.m.||FOX|
|5 (if necessary)||Boston Red Sox||St. Louis Cardinals||Monday, Oct. 28||8:07 p.m.||FOX|
|6 (if necessary)||St. Louis Cardinals||Boston Red Sox||Wednesday, Oct. 30||8:07 p.m.||FOX|
|7 (if necessary)||St. Louis Cardinals||Boston Red Sox||Thursday, Oct. 31||8:07 p.m.||FOX|
Carlos Beltran vs. Junichi Tazawa
When it comes to postseason baseball, few things are as critical as situational pitching. For the Red Sox, the master of that craft has been setup man Junichi Tazawa.
Tazawa routinely shut down Miguel Cabrera during the American League Championship Series. It won't get any easier against Carlos Beltran in the World Series.
Beltran is currently hitting .256 in 11 postseason games with two home runs and 12 RBI—the highest mark of any player in 2013. More times than not, Beltran has been the difference between victory and defeat for the Cardinals.
Neither one of these pitching staffs can be expected to let up runs early in games, so this series will come down to whether or not Beltran can solve Tazawa.
The Cardinals have a cast of elite pitchers, and the Red Sox have proven postseason commodities throughout their rotation. For that reason, relief pitchers will be vital in the World Series, as close leads and ties must be preserved against clutch hitters.
For Boston, shutdown relievers Koji Uehara and Tazawa will be trusted to continue shutting opponents down. For St. Louis, the National League champions will be looking to Beltran to continue stepping up in clutch situations.
Runs will be tough to come by, and when they're scored, it will be late in games. The winner of this battle will win the World Series.
Yadier Molina vs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
For the Cardinals and Red Sox, a case could be made that the most important players on the roster are the catchers. This isn't due to Yadier Molina and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's work in the batter's box, but instead their skill behind the plate.
Both Boston and St. Louis run up pitch counts and make pitchers work for every out. That means the two catchers will need to produce magnificent games, helping their world-class pitchers to develop a rhythm early and keep the their number of throws as low as possible.
Los Angeles Dodgers catcher AJ Ellis offered some superb advice for Molina and Saltalamacchia: get ahead 0-1.
It seems simple, but against patient lineups that are laced with big-play ability, getting ahead in the count is not as easy as it sounds.
Both Molina and Saltalamacchia have revered pitchers that they're catching for, and that certainly makes their job easier. Boston and St. Louis are also two of the most patient teams in baseball, which means that every pitch will need to be precise.
Plain and simple, the catcher that helps to call the better game will win.
The Red Sox ranked No. 1 in runs scored, on-base-percentage and slugging percentage, and finished No. 2 in batting average during the 2013 regular season. Surprisingly, only two players had at least 20 home runs and only three reached 75 RBI.
The team rankings are a product of patience at the plate and extraordinary balance.
The Cardinals ranked No. 3 in runs scored and on-base percentage, and No. 4 in batting average. Four full-time starters hit above .300, five players had at least 78 RBI and another five had an on-base percentage above .350.
St. Louis is just as balanced and resilient as Boston.
What this all adds up to is a battle for the ages between two pitching staffs that have elite personnel and an uphill battle ahead of them. Neither squad will be caught first-pitch swinging on a consistent basis, and no starter will go deep into games without throwing a high number of pitches.
The question is: Which group of starters will weather the storm and put their respective bullpens in position to close out?
At the top of Boston's rotation, Jon Lester has a career postseason ERA of 2.49 and John Lackey has a mark of 3.10 in 16 appearances. For St. Louis, Adam Wainwright has a 2.10 ERA in 16 playoff games played and Michael Wacha is 3-0 with a number of 0.43 in three starts.
The top-tier pitchers are trusted, but this will come down to whether or not Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy can provide the supporting fire that Boston needs. On the opposite end, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn must step up under the bright lights of the World Series and come up with key wins.
This will be a pitcher's duel, and the winner of that aspect will take home the World Series title.