World Series 2013: 10 Predictions for St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox
For the fourth time in World Series history—and the second time since 2004—the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals will butt heads for the right to call themselves the best team in baseball when they take the field at Fenway Park on Wednesday night for Game 1.
While the Cardinals hold a 2-1 all-time lead in the Fall Classic, both teams have lineups capable of putting runs on the board in the blink of an eye, starting rotations that can shut those lineups down and quality relievers to bridge the gap from the starters to the closer.
Things might be pretty evenly matched on paper, but if we've learned anything from the 108 editions that preceded this one, it's that anything can—and usually does—happen before a champion is declared.
Let's take a look at what we'll see along the way—and how it's all going to play out in the end.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
David Ortiz Will Make an Impact with His Glove
Is it possible that we've overstated David Ortiz's shortcomings as a first baseman all these years?
While nobody's going to make a case for Big Papi as a Gold Glove-caliber fielder, seeing as how the burly slugger has the lateral range of a brick wall, the slugger has held his own at the position when asked to wear a glove on his right hand.
Owner of a career .990 fielding percentage, Ortiz hasn't committed an error in four years, though to be fair he's spent a total of 130 innings in the field during that time. Advanced defensive metrics (via FanGraphs) aren't kind to him, as expected—but hey, there's a reason that he spends most of his time on the bench as a designated hitter.
That said, Ortiz is confident in his ability to play the field, as he explained to NESN before Boston's interleague series against Philadelphia earlier this season, and he has—somewhat surprisingly—a soft set of hands around the bag, allowing him to scoop balls out of the dirt with relative ease.
With at least two games—and possibly three—of the World Series being played under National League rules at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Ortiz is going to have the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.
Not only will he do just that, but he'll scoop up a ball or two that stuns those watching—and perhaps shifts momentum of the game back into Boston's dugout.
Allen Craig Will Start at First Base in Games 3, 4 and (if Needed) 5
As reported by CBS Sports' Mike Axisa, Allen Craig will be active for St. Louis in the World Series and will serve as the team's designated hitter in Games 1 and 2.
It makes sense for the Cardinals to DH Craig when the opportunity presents itself, considering that he's been out of action since early September with a foot injury. That allows the team to play both he and Matt Adams, who has filled in for Craig at first base, at the same time.
But when the series shifts back to St. Louis, one of the two is going to ride the pine—and it won't be Craig.
While Adams has done an admirable job holding down the fort in Craig's absence, there's no question that Craig is the superior player, both at the plate and in the field. MLB's leader in batting with runners in scoring position during the regular season, Craig—even a rusty Craig—gives St. Louis a better chance to win than Adams does.
Fielding at Fenway Park Will Be a Challenge for Cardinals Outfielders
St. Louis doesn't have what you'd call a defensively superior outfield to begin with. According to FanGraphs, Matt Holliday (minus-7.0), Jon Jay (minus-7.5) and Carlos Beltran (minus-18.7) were three of the 11 worst fielding outfielders in baseball this season, with Beltran ranking next to last.
When you put that trio in one of the most unique outfields in baseball—from the Green Monster in left field to the odd angles in straight-away center field to the almost nonexistent outfield wall in right field—well, the chance for hilarity as they try to field the ball increases substantially.
Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, who made his career fielding balls off of the Monster, gave his take on playing the outfield in Fenway to ESPN back in 2000:
I came to love Fenway. It was a place that rejuvenated me after a road trip; the fans right on top of you, the nutty angles. And the Wall. That was my baby, the left-field wall, the Green Monster.
For players who aren't familiar with the odd quirks of the outfield at Fenway, fielding the ball in the outfield can become a daunting task. When those players aren't very familiar with the surroundings, the challenges that Fenway Park offers can become too much to overcome.
Jacoby Ellsbury Will Not Steal a Base
The only player in baseball to steal at least 50 bases during the regular season, Jacoby Ellsbury is leading all players in that category as well in the playoffs, with six swipes in seven attempts.
With Yadier Molina and his lethal throwing arm behind the plate for the Cardinals, Ellsbury won't find it anywhere near as easy to run free on the basepaths, despite Molina allowing a pair of stolen bases in three attempts thus far in the playoffs.
During the regular season, Molina threw out 43.5 percent of baserunners who dared to try and steal against him, the second-highest percentage in baseball, according to ESPN.
Boston Will Pitch Around Carlos Beltran
Some players wilt under the pressure of the postseason.
Carlos Beltran eats it up like he's Cookie Monster in an Oreo factory.
A career .337 hitter in the playoffs, the 36-year-old outfielder's name dots the career postseason leaderboards in multiple categories.
His .724 slugging percentage and 1.173 OPS rank seventh all-time, his 16 postseason home runs eighth, and 44 runs 10th. His 21 runs scored and eight home runs in the playoffs for the Houston Astros in 2004 remain single-season postseason records.
While he's hit only .256 in the playoffs this year, he's posted a .921 OPS and driven in a playoff-leading 12 runs, and he remains capable of winning games with a single swing, as he did in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.
The man hitting behind him in the Cardinals lineup, Matt Holliday, is no slouch, but he's hitting only .244 with a .705 OPS this postseason, not far off from his career playoff marks of .257 and .765, respectively. He also led baseball by grounding into 31 double plays during the regular season, something that he's done only once thus far in the playoffs.
Rather than pitch to Beltran, who has a substantial track record of success in the playoffs and at Fenway Park, where he's a career .327 hitter, Boston won't give him anything good to hit, putting him on base if he doesn't chase something out of the zone and taking its chances with Holliday.
The Cardinals Bullpen Won't Be Quite as Dominant as It Has Been
In the ALCS against Detroit, 11 of the 19 runs that Boston scored came off of Tigers relievers.
That won't happen in the World Series against a far more talented Cardinals bullpen, one that features five hard-throwing power arms—all of whom have dialed their four-seam fastballs up a notch or two in the playoffs, according to data from BrooksBaseball.net:
|Reliever||Reg.-Season Fastball Vel. (MPH)||Postseason Fastball Vel. (MPH)||Difference|
While some of the increases may not seem quite as significant as others, they all make it much more difficult for a team to get around on the heater.
But...(there's always a but, isn't there?)
According to FanGraphs, no team in baseball came close to putting as many runs on the board against the heater than Boston did (an average team against the fastball would have a wFB of zero):
|Los Angeles (AL)||69.0|
The Dodgers, whom the Cardinals just dispatched over six games in the NLCS, ranked 17th against the fastball with a 9.1 wFB.
As previously stated, the Cardinals relievers are superior to any reliever that the Tigers threw against the Red Sox, and Boston simply isn't going to have the kind of success against this group that it did against Detroit.
That said, Boston will be sitting and waiting on the fastball—so the Cardinals are going to have to pick their spots when they unleash the heater, which happens to be the best pitch that some of their relievers have to offer.
Expect the Red Sox to score a few timely runs against the St. Louis 'pen.
Mike Napoli Will Hit a Pinch-Hit Home Run in St. Louis
With David Ortiz handling first base duties for the Red Sox in Games 3, 4 and, if needed, 5, Mike Napoli will find himself relegated to riding the pine until skipper John Farrell decides that he's either seen enough of Ortiz in the field or needs a pinch hitter for a pitcher.
Napoli, who hit .253 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI for Boston during the regular season and added a pair of home runs against Detroit, has never hit a pinch-hit home run in his career. As a matter of fact, Napoli only has four hits—three singles and a double—in 38 career pinch-hit at-bats.
That's going to change in the World Series, as Napoli, who is a career .444 hitter with three home runs in 18 at-bats at Busch Stadium, will step to the plate for Boston and send one into the Busch Stadium bleachers.
Boston Will Beat Adam Wainwright in Game 1
Game 1 features a meeting of the aces, Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals and Jon Lester for the Red Sox.
No matter how you compare the two, Waino is the superior talent, the perennial Cy Young award contender and the pitcher that should emerge victorious, all things being equal.
But things aren't equal.
Boston has been one of the hardest teams to beat at home this year, posting MLB's second-best home record during the regular season. On top of that, the crowd at Fenway Park is going to be as raucous as they've ever been for Game 1.
That, coupled with the issues that I expect Cardinals outfielders to have as they try and figure out the intricacies of playing the field in Boston, will lead to the Red Sox taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
Michael Wacha Will Shut Down Boston's Offense in Game 2
For those who believe that home-field advantage is overrated, chew on this for a second.
Home teams that have won the first two games of the World Series—something that has happened 53 times in baseball history—have gone on to win the series on 42 occasions, including 15 of the last 16.
Luckily for the Cardinals, rookie sensation and NLCS MVP Michael Wacha will be on the hill in Game 2, while Boston answers with John Lackey, who has had a resurgent season after missing all of 2012 due to injury.
While Lackey was terrific in Game 3 of the ALCS against Detroit, tossing 6.2 scoreless innings, he was mediocre in Game 3 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, allowing four runs over 5.1 innings of work. Wacha hasn't had that kind of up-and-down postseason, and he enters the game riding a 13.2-inning scoreless streak.
That, coupled with the fact that Game 2 will be the first time that Boston has faced the 22-year-old right-hander who has exhibited the poise and maturity of a seasoned veteran on the mound, will lead to a Cardinals victory in Game 2 in which Wacha's scoreless innings streak continues.
Boston Will Win the World Series in 6 Games
As talented a club as St. Louis is bringing to the dance, the one that Boston is sending is just a little bit better.
This is a Red Sox team that faced one of the most dominant starting rotations in playoff history (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister)—and won—despite watching their offense sputter for the better part of six games.
Trevor Rosenthal is a great closer, but Koji Uehara is slightly better.
While the Cardinals might have the edge on the mound, Boston's defense is better and its lineup more dangerous. Maybe there's some magic in those crazy beards that they're sporting, for, as silly as it may sound, more than a few people can't shake the feeling that the Red Sox are a team of destiny this season.
Finally, we can't forget that Boston finished in last place a year ago—and that it now sits a mere four wins away from going worst to first in the biggest possible fashion.
Perhaps equally as important, the Red Sox sit four wins away from silencing Bobby Valentine, who, in classic Bobby V fashion, gave the team a backhanded compliment in comments he made to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe recently, praising his replacement, John Farrell, while stating that, with the roster Farrell had, that he could have guided the Red Sox to the World Series as well.
OK, maybe that last part is a bit much, as you can never silence Bobby V.
But you get the drift.
Boston will win its third World Series title this century and its eighth in team history over a six-game series. It will take Games 1, 3, 4 and 6, dropping one game to Michael Wacha and one to Adam Wainwright along the way.