When the St. Louis Cardinals square off with the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 World Series, baseball fans will be treated to something they haven’t seen since 1999—a showdown between the teams with the best regular season records in each league.
When powerhouse squads like this collide, stars such as David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina jump off the page, but it is often the unheralded names that decide the Fall Classic. Cardinals fans know this to be true thanks to the efforts of David Freese in 2011 and David Eckstein in 2006.
Look for these unheralded hitters to help determine who will be spraying champagne this year.
In years past, Chris Carpenter was the Carpenter to watch from the St. Louis roster, but it will be Matt Carpenter impacting the 2013 World Series.
This year, Carpenter put up numbers that would make most second basemen this side of Robinson Cano jealous, and he made the all-star team along the way. He posted a .318 average to go along with a .873 OPS and actually led Cardinals position players in hits, on-base percentage and WAR.
As the leadoff hitter in a dangerous lineup that features the likes of Beltran, Molina and Matt Holliday, Carpenter will impact the series by continuing to get on base at such a high clip. Red Sox pitchers will be forced to deliver from the stretch and keep an eye on him on the base paths, which only increases the likelihood one of the Cardinals sluggers will see a mistake to crush.
With his NLDS struggles in the rear-view mirror, Carpenter looks poised to finally become a household name against Boston.
Everyone was ready to hop aboard the Xander Bogaerts hype-train early in the 2013 season, but he didn’t see much Major League action.
However, that didn’t stop the Red Sox third baseman from playing a critical role in games 5 and 6 of the ALCS. After stepping up in such pressure-packed moments, look for Boston to turn to Bogaerts instead of Will Middlebrooks for much of the series.
Bogaerts will find himself near or at the bottom of Boston's lineup. National League pitchers are accustomed to getting a breather against their counterparts before the lineup turns over, so perhaps the Red Sox third baseman can exploit a mental edge in those situations.
Bogaerts will continue his recent upswing and prove why expectations were (and still are) so high for the youngster.
One of the quirks of the World Series is that the National League team gets to insert a designated hitter as the visitors, and Allen Craig will likely be that man for the Cardinals.
It didn’t get better than Craig when it came to production with runners in scoring position during the 2013 season. He led the league with a .454 average in those critical situations, despite the fact he has missed time since early September with a foot injury.
The World Series often features nail-biting pitcher duels that come down to crucial hits in pressure-packed moments. Craig’s RISP numbers are a testament to his ability to come through when needed.
Furthermore, while the injury is a concern, he should be more fresh than most players in this series after the time off. If this series turns into a six or seven game grind, Craig will be ready to continue to deliver with runners on.
Shane Victorino may have sent Red Sox fans into bliss with his grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Tigers, but he struggled throughout the series.
Look for the talented outfielder to use the momentum from that slam as a springboard into the World Series. He struggled down the stretch of the year (partially due to a hamstring issue), but he has the talent necessary to shape the outcome of a critical game.
His grand slam garnered the headlines, but it is his defense that really helps Boston. If he doesn’t get a big hit in this series, he will at least help take away one for the Cardinals. With the top team from each league squaring off, a critical defensive error could swing the outlook of the entire series.
Boston knows Victorino likely won’t be the one to commit such a gaffe.