There is no question that excellent play from their superstars helped both the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox reach the World Series.
Role players, however, have a way of making a big difference during the Fall Classic, and both the Cardinals and Red Sox have plenty of role players who are just waiting for their opportunity to bust out.
These two teams are so evenly matched on paper that this series could truly go either way, but something has to give. The emergence of an under-the-radar player or two on either side could ultimately be the difference. The star players for the Cardinals and Red Sox can only do so much before they need a little help.
Here are three players who will emerge as X-factors in the World Series to decide which team will hoist the Commissioner's Trophy.
Daniel Nava, Red Sox
Outfielder and first baseman Daniel Nava was a starter for the Red Sox essentially all season long and put up some great numbers.
The 30-year-old switch-hitter clubbed 12 home runs and 66 RBI to go along with a .303 batting average during the regular season. While most figured that he would be a regular for Boston during the playoffs. manager John Farrell has decided to go with Jonny Gomes instead, regardless of matchups.
Gomes actually hit for a higher average against righties than lefties during the regular season at .258, but he pales against right-handers in comparison to Nava, who hit an impressive .322 with 10 home runs against right-handed pitchers this season. Nava was initially tabbed as a starter for Boston with a .273 average in 11 postseason at-bats, but Farrell continues to go with Gomes despite his .200 average. Jonah Keri of Grantland offers as good of an explanation as any for Farrell's decision-making:
Daniel Nava will work hard over the winter to grow a beard, so that he won't get benched for inferior players like Jonny Gomes.— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) October 19, 2013
Farrell very well may continue to roll with Gomes, but since all four of the Cardinals' starting pitchers are righties, conventional wisdom suggests that Nava will get his chance at some point, either as a starter or a pinch hitter. While Nava won't come out and say it, he has to feel slighted to some degree, as he did nothing to lose his spot. If Nava comes through when given the opportunity, though, he'll prove that he should have been in there all along.
Randy Choate, Cardinals
Every team has a situational lefty out of the bullpen, but few are as good and experienced as Randy Choate.
The Cardinals sidewinder was a key figure during the regular season with a 2.29 ERA in 64 appearances, even though most of the opposing batters he faced were elite left-handed hitters. It has been a long time since the 38-year-old veteran has been in this situation, having last reached the World Series with the New York Yankees in 2001, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
Cardinals reliever Randy Choate has pitched in the World Series before – with the Yankees in 2001, when he was 26.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 19, 2013
Choate has faced a lot of batters and played for many different teams since then. He has truly honed his craft over the past dozen years and has become one of the league's premier lefty specialists. That has been on display throughout this postseason where Choate has yet to allow a run or a single baserunner in five outings. There is little doubt that the Cards will need him to continue that run of dominance in the World Series.
The Red Sox may not have a ton of top-level lefty hitters, but one in particular who figures to have a major say in this series is David Ortiz. As a two-time World Series winner and one of the best clutch hitters in league history, Ortiz knows how to get the job done in big moments. Choate's main job in this series will be to retire Ortiz each time he faces him. If Choate is able to execute and get the job done, it will greatly increase St. Louis' chances of winning.
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
Aruban youngster Xander Bogaerts showed flashes of brilliance during a late-season call-up, but it was far from a guarantee that he would even make Boston's playoff roster.
He did, however, and Farrell has to be thrilled that he chose to keep Bogaerts around, as the 21-year-old infielder has played a key role for the Red Sox in the postseason. Bogaerts has supplanted Will Middlebrooks as Boston's starting third baseman in a move that Jon Heyman of CBS Sports calls one of the playoffs' best.
insertion of bogaerts in lineup for slumping middlebrooks was 1 of best managerial moves of postseason. #redsox— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) October 20, 2013
Which player will be the World Series' biggest X-factor?
It's hard to argue with that assessment, as Bogaerts has been as good as advertised. Not only has he more than held his own at the hot corner, but Bogaerts has put together some incredible at-bats from the No. 9 spot in the order.
Although he has yet to drive in any postseason runs, Bogaerts is hitting .500 with three doubles and five walks, which illustrates his amazing patience, especially for someone playing in his first postseason.
What makes Bogaerts so dangerous is the fact that he rounds out a lineup that features the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Big Papi among others.
It's easy to forget about Bogaerts in the ninth spot after all of that firepower, and it leads to Bogaerts seeing some pitches that he can drive. If Bogaerts continues to be selective at the plate, he is bound to see some very hittable pitches in this World Series.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter