While the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox are still preparing for the first pitch of the 2013 World Series, the Bleacher Report crew of MLB lead writers is busy trying to piece together strengths and weaknesses for both teams.
As you would expect for a series between two teams that finished with identical 97-65 records, there is no clear consensus among the five writers over what will happen. The Red Sox do hold a 22-13 edge in the seven categories split between the writers, but even that gap doesn't feel huge considering how the Cardinals' strengths matchup with the Red Sox weaknesses.
In an effort to put some method to the madness that will ensue when Game 1 kicks off from Fenway Park on Wednesday, here is how we see the Cardinals and Red Sox in the Fall Classic with analysis of each category to follow.
|Category||Jason Catania||Joe Giglio||Jason Martinez||Zach Rymer||Adam Wellls|
|Offense||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|Defense||Red Sox||Cardinals||Cardinals||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|Bench||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|Baserunning||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|Bullpen||Cardinals||Red Sox||Red Sox||Cardinals||Cardinals|
Zach Rymer's Offense Analysis
The Red Sox led MLB in runs scored and on-base percentage in the regular season, and were one of only three teams to hit as many as 175 home runs and steal as many as 100 bases.
Best and most balanced offense in baseball? Yeah, best and most balanced offense in baseball.
Granted, the Red Sox haven’t hit like themselves in the postseason. David Ortiz has only had two good games. Dustin Pedroia is hitting .256 with a .311 OBP. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .231 with a .259 OBP. Stephen Drew is a dreadful 3-for-35 with one walk and 12 strikeouts. And so on down the line.
But while the Red Sox haven’t been themselves in the postseason, they’ve scored three more runs than the Cardinals have despite playing in 10 games to St. Louis’ 11. Also, Boston’s collective OPS this postseason is 80 points higher than that of St. Louis.
Adam Wells' Defense Analysis
A clear strength for the Red Sox, defense has been a high priority for this team in recent years. You could see it when the team added Stephen Drew as a one-year stopgap in the offseason, a move which played off brilliantly in Game 6 of the ALCS when he moved far to his left, dove and threw out Miguel Cabrera to keep it a 2-1 game before Shane Victorino's heroics.
Overall, neither team was elite in the field this year. Boston ranked 17th and St. Louis ranked 20th in defense, according to Fangraphs.
However, if you do a position-by-position breakdown, the Red Sox come out looking much better than the numbers would suggest, especially up the middle. Drew (shortstop), Pedroia (second base), Jacoby Ellsbury (center field) and Victorino (right field) were all elite-level defensive players in 2013.
Even Saltalamacchia, while not a great defensive catcher, made strides in 2013 with his blocking and receiving skills, at least to my eye. He still struggles to throw would-be base stealers out, just 21 percent this year, but as Jason Catania so astutely pointed out, the Cardinals aren't a team with much speed to use.
On the flip side, the Cardinals had two elite-level defenders in 2013 (Yadier Molina and Pete Kozma). After that, going by Fangraphs' defensive ratings, seven of their next eight top defenders are pitchers. The one player who splits that group up, Shane Robinson, is a bench player.
There is certainly value in having great defensive pitchers, but it doesn't speak well about the rest of the team when they are floating around average or below-average in the metrics.
I don't think the Cardinals will botch a play that loses them a game. If, however, you were to ask me which team is most likely to make a great defensive play that saves a game, I would have no hesitation in saying the Red Sox.
Jason Catania's Baserunning Analysis
The presence of Yadier Molina behind the dish will offset things somewhat, but this might actually be the Red Sox’s biggest advantage of all. Boston is one of the elite teams when it comes to making smart choices and things happen on the bases.
Thanks to Ellsbury, Victorino and Pedroia at the top of the lineup, Boston stole 123 bases (fourth-most in baseball) while being caught only 19 times—the fewest in the majors.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are filled with slow, plodding runners like Molina, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Matt Adams, David Freese and Allen Craig (who’ll only be further hampered by an injury to his foot). No wonder they swiped only 45 bases, second-fewest in the sport.
And whereas the Red Sox also have Quintin Berry, who is 28-for-28 on stolen base attempts in his career, the Cards don’t even have a legitimate off-the-bench threat to pilfer in a pinch.
Joe Giglio's Bench Analysis
Which is the greatest advantage in the series?
The Red Sox are poised to deploy the more versatile bench in the World Series. When the series shifts to St. Louis for the middle three games, John Farrell will have multiple late-game options to use against Mike Matheny. From Berry (28-for-28 in career stolen base attempts) to power bats Daniel Nava, Johnny Gomes and Will Middlebrooks, options will be aplenty depending on that evening's starting lineup.
Of course, with first base only available for either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz, Farrell will have a first base/designated hitter bench bat similar to Joe Torre's Cecil Fielder/Tino Martinez duo in 1996.
As Jason Martinez pointed out, St. Louis' bench, while less star-studded, has received rally-starting moments from players like Shane Robinson and Daniel Descalso. What they lack in punch, though, could be the difference in a World Series game.
If a game or two bleeds into extra innings, St. Louis might need two or three hits to secure the wining run. Boston? With speed or power, the Red Sox can beat you quickly.
Jason Catania's Starting Rotation Analysis
In Games 1 and 2, the Red Sox are expected to throw lefty Jon Lester and righty John Lackey, both of whom are quality arms capable of dominating when on their games.
Lester has been the better of the two this October (5 ER in 19.1 IP), but even he hasn’t looked anywhere near as strong as either of the Cardinals’ two righty aces.
Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, who earned NLCS MVP as a rookie, have combined to allow all of five runs on only 25 hits and five walks over 44 innings while whiffing 42.
Where Boston will have to try to make up the difference is on the back end, as the battle-tested Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy match up well enough against the lesser-known Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn.
The key for the Red Sox will be to beat either Wainwright or Wacha in one of the first two games to avoid relying on Buchholz and Peavy, who’s had more than a few playoff disasters in his career, for wins in Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis.
Zach Rymer's Bullpen Analysis
Koji Uehara is the best reliever on either team and has been about as brilliant in October as he was in the regular season. Craig Breslow has also been outstanding with seven scoreless appearances.
But outside of these two, things are dicey. It’s not ideal that Junichi Tazawa has faced 17 batters and struck out only three of them. And outside of him, Breslow and Uehara, there’s not much in Boston’s bullpen to get excited about.
Meanwhile in St. Louis’ bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal fits the mold of an overpowering closer with his triple-digit heat and pocketful of secondaries. And outside of him, the Cardinals bullpen features a little bit of everything. A power righty setup man in Carlos Martinez. A power lefty setup man in Kevin Siegrist. An excellent LOOGY in Randy Choate. A ground-ball specialist in Seth Maness. A recently outstanding starter in Shelby Miller. Et cetera, et cetera.
It’s like somebody custom-designed Mike Matheny’s bullpen for October.
Adam Wells' Managing/Coaching Analysis
Trying to quantify the overall effect a manager has on a team is difficult because we only get to see a small part of the job. That being the lineup he runs out there every day and the pitching changes/substitutions he makes in a game.
Being able to relate to 25 different personalities in a locker room is also a vital, possibly even more important part of the job.
In that regard, it certainly seems that Red Sox manager John Farrell and Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny are top notch. They came into situations where a lot of talent was in place and have put their stamp on the jobs right out of the gate.
The one thing that gives Matheny the slightest bit of separation is bullpen management. I never expected to praise him as a manager, mainly based on what he did last year in the playoffs with so much unnecessary bunting.
However, Matheny has cooled off on the "small-ball style" that really hurt the Cardinals last year and allowed his team to play loose and free.
Farrell has not had a great postseason. He hasn't had to do all that much, but in some of the key moments where a decision was heaped upon him, he didn't shine bright.
Specifically, the one moment I come back to is Game 6 when he pulled Clay Buchholz and decided to use Franklin Morales to face Prince Fielder in the sixth inning of a one-run game.
Morales had thrown a total of 1.1 innings in the postseason before that appearance, including one inning of mop-up duty in the seventh inning of a 7-3 Game 4 Detroit win. Yet here he was, thrust into a high-leverage spot in a 1-0 game against the heart of the Tigers lineup.
I understand you want a lefty to face Fielder, but you have Craig Breslow out there who has been arguably your second-best reliever and capable of getting hitters from both sides of the plate out.
Predictably, Morales imploded, walking Fielder on four pitches to load the bases before giving up a two-run single to Victor Martinez.
Farrell was bailed out by Victorino's slam in the seventh, but this was poor managing that may not end well next time. Perhaps I am holding onto this one misstep too much, though I will say in the postseason all it takes is one wrong decision to undo everything.
The Red Sox are the best offensive team in baseball, but the Cardinals were easily the top offense in the National League and figure to get a boost from Allen Craig's return. That also allows them to slide Matt Adams further down in the lineup, giving them the kind of depth usually reserved only for AL teams.
St. Louis has the better starting rotation at the top with Wainwright and Wacha, but when you get into the Games 3 and 4 starters, the gap closes—you could easily argue that the Red Sox duo of Buchholz and Peavy is better than Lynn and Kelly.
After all this, the only thing we can say with some semblance of certainty is that this series is going to last a lot longer than Boston's last two trips to the World Series.
If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.