World Series 2013: X-Factors Who Will Determine Championship

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 19:  Xander Bogaerts #72 of the Boston Red Sox hits a double against Max Scherzer #37 of the Detroit Tigers in the fifth inning during Game Six of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park on October 19, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The World Series has produced some unlikely heroes over the years. Anything can happen in a best-of-seven slate, so it's rarely the stars who solely decipher the MLB champion.

Before moving on to his SABR-friendly law firm in the magical world of Parks and Recreation, David Eckstein won a World Series MVP trophy nearly as big as the scrappy shortstop himself when he collected nine hits for the then-Anaheim Angels in 2002. They were all singles, so maybe he didn't deserve the honor, but he still helped the Angels squeak out a tightly contested series over the San Francisco Giants.

When the Boston Red Sox square off with the St. Louis Cardinals, we will all have our eyes set on Adam Wainwright, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. If you haven't yet accepted that Matt Carpenter and Koji Uehara are studs, get with the times.

But who else can make the difference during the Fall Classic? While I'm not bold enough to delve over the edge of sanity and put all my cards in the Shane Robinson basket, expect these guys to make their presence felt during the World Series.


1B Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals

Did anybody even notice that the Cardinals were operating without one of their most prolific bats?

Allen Craig, who hit .315/.373/.457 during the season at first base, missed the first two rounds of the postseason with a foot injury. Since St. Louis stayed alive without him, the club will now get him back on the grand stage, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

Since every game played in Boston requires each club to tout a designated hitter, it's perfect timing for Craig, who can bring his potent bat to the table without testing his injured leg on the field. Considering Matt Adams is a pretty darn good hitter himself, having slugged .503 during the season, it also helps to avoid an uncomfortable decision for manager Mike Matheny.

Craig became a folklore legend by batting .454 with runners in scoring position. While such a stat has been proven to vary greatly, the Cardinals will try to milk one or two more key hits out of him before that rate normalizes to a more human level.

St. Louis can also use some pop off the bench at home, so look for Craig's performance in crucial at-bats to help sway the outcome.


SS/3B Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

Who better to be an X-factor than the X-Man? (Are we not calling him that yet? If so, let's start.)

Will Middlebrooks' postseason swoon (.174/.269/.261) paved the way for rookie Xander Bogaerts to receive playing time during the ALCS. He has reached base eight times in 11 plate appearances, making a strong case to take over completely at the hot corner with the title on the line.

It seems like a lot to ask from a 21-year-old who was handed scarce playing time during the end of the season, but the highly regarded prospect has shown plate discipline beyond his years, drawing 10 walks in 61 career plate appearances (including the postseason).

While Middlebrooks provides hulking power in the traditional sense, Bogaerts has swatted a double in each of his past three games. His 1.000 slugging percentage probably isn't sustainable, but it's still nice.

Insert Bogaerts into an already-loaded lineup and the Red Sox will be awfully hard to keep off the scoreboard.


RP Randy Choate, St. Louis Cardinals

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Sure, we could talk about closer Trevor Rosenthal's electric arm, but we all know he's amazing. The Cardinals' best reliever well before landing the ninth-inning gig, Rosenthal struck out 108 batters while walking just 20 through 75.1 innings. 

But the way managers use closers, they are only relevant if the team holds a late lead. If Boston consistently gains the upper hand, Rosenthal will likely foolishly sit in the bullpen while lesser arms attempt to extinguish the fire.

Before Rosenthal gets his chance to lock down a championship, St. Louis will need Randy Choate to hammer down some essential outs against Boston's left-handed sluggers.

The 38-year-old lefty specialist has performed his job flawlessly during the playoffs, retiring all seven batters he has faced. Lefty opponents hit just .178/.268/.224 against Choate during the season, so he represents the ultimate weapon against a lineup with several left-handed hitters.

It just so happens that Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew are all left-handed hitters.

Expect a few big showdowns pitting Choate against Ellsbury and Ortiz, who won't have as easy of a time smashing a go-ahead grand slam against the veteran southpaw.