2013 World Series: Red Sox and Cardinals Bullpens Are Linchpins to a Crown

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 21, 2013

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara was well-deserving of his ALCS MVP award.
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara was well-deserving of his ALCS MVP award.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Fans probably will not be highlighting the bullpen matchups between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series.

They should be.

Sure, bullpens are not the most heralded group in any MLB postseason.  The focus is often on elite starters or big sluggers and not middle or late-inning relievers.  That does not mean bullpens are any less important.

In fact, both the Red Sox and Cardinals bullpens should prove to be one of the decisive factors in this year's Fall Classic.

Let us examine why.

The St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis' bullpen was a principle reason behind their success against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.  The unit allowed only three runs to the vaunted Dodgers lineup over the course of six games.  If St. Louis carried leads into the later innings, victory was all but assured.

The Cardinals can count on talented relievers like Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist—all of whom have showcased St. Louis' ability to develop young arms.

Rosenthal described the success via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com:

We just have so many guys doing well, and you want to fit in.  You don't want to be the guy who goes out there and doesn't do as well as everybody else.  That's good motivation.  One of my main goals has been out there to just be another guy.  We've got a bunch of guys out there who have experience closing and could get the job done.  I'm enjoying what we've got.

Rosenthal has yet to give up a run this postseason, and the 23-year-old has yet to face the Red Sox.  Over his last seven appearances, opponents are hitting a mere .200 against him.

Cardinals' closer Trevor Rosenthal has been lights out in the postseason.
Cardinals' closer Trevor Rosenthal has been lights out in the postseason.Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It is safe to assume that if St. Louis needs to close out games, Rosenthal should be lights out.  But the rest of the bullpen has been equally as effective.

Edward Mujica is one reliever with experience against Boston.
Edward Mujica is one reliever with experience against Boston.Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Of the aforementioned relievers on the Cardinals' staff, none have pitched against Boston.  Veteran reliever John Axford has faced the Red Sox once and pitched a scoreless inning.  Relievers Edward Mujica and Randy Choate have logged the most innings against Boston during their elongated careers.

Veterans aside, St. Louis' young arms will be the key in late innings during the World Series. 

This element is further described by Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, who states that the Cardinals bullpen is equally as effective as that of the Red Sox.

Essential to St. Louis' success will be this bullpen matchup against the heart of Boston's lineup.  Keeping sluggers like David Ortiz and Mike Napoli from doing damage will be huge.  Shutting down catalysts like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino should also be something to watch.

There is a lack of postseason experience within this young unit, however.  But the Cardinals' young arms have already proven they can handle playoff pressure—just ask the Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Boston Red Sox

As much as St. Louis' bullpen has been impressive this season and into the playoffs, Boston's bullpen is just as dependable. 

In the ALCS versus the Detroit Tigers, Red Sox relievers allowed only one run in 21.0 innings pitched.  Like the Cardinals, Boston's bullpen has been lights out.

Boston can count on veteran arms like Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman and Ryan Dempster.

Dempster has logged the most innings against St. Louis and has a career 4.62 ERA in 169.1 innings against the Cardinals.  Breslow has the second-most innings pitched—3.0—and has yet to allow a run.

The rest of Boston's staff has almost zero history with St. Louis.

Workman logged 4.2 innings during the ALCS—the most out of any middle-inning reliever during the series—and figures to carry his recent success over to the World Series.  With a 4.97 regular season ERA, he may be the lone weak spot coming out of Boston's bullpen.

In spite of that, what has been impressive is how the Red Sox have been able to turn late-inning leads into victories by preserving games long enough to turn the ball over to their closer Uehara.

Boston's manager, John Farrell, described this process via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com.

"I think coming to the postseason, there were a lot of questions circling around our guys to bridge it to Koji," Farrell said.  "And they couldn't have pitched any more consistently, more effectively."

Uehara has been a dominant figure in the Red Sox bullpen.
Uehara has been a dominant figure in the Red Sox bullpen.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the importance was recognized by Uehara receiving the ALCS Most Valuable Player award after Boston disposed of the Tigers in Game 6.

Thanks to Uehara's devastating splitter, he's held left-handed batters to a .354 OPS in the regular season and playoffs—less than half of the typical production by lefties this season (.722 OPS). This factors well against the top of the Cardinals' order, where Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran and Matt Adams have gone lefty-switch-lefty in the 1-2-4 spots of St. Louis' playoff lineup, and another lefty, Jon Jay, hits sixth.

Like St. Louis' bullpen, Boston's relievers will attempt to shut down the middle of the Cardinals' lineup.  Preventing hitters like Beltran and Matt Holliday from having a big impact.  The rest of St. Louis' lineup is no easy task either, but neither was Detroit's.

It seems as if almost every year, playoff games are won or lost in the late innings. 

The 2013 World Series should prove to be the same.  Both teams have excellent bullpens, and both have relatively little experience facing each other.  The Cardinals and Red Sox have ridden their success thanks in large measure to their late-inning relievers and can count on more of the same in the Fall Classic.

How that translates into both teams' game plans is pretty simple: Score early and take the lead.  You will not be able to do much more when the games turn into a bullpen matchup. 

Whoever does have the lead going into the later innings has a clear-cut advantage.

Do not expect either team to give that up.

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.


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