With their mixture of veterans and young stars, the St. Louis Cardinals are back in the Fall Classic and only four games away from their third world championship since 2006.
However, it will be a dogfight for St. Louis to take home the crown this time. The Cardinals are facing a Boston Red Sox squad that has a stacked lineup and a pitching staff that features four quality starters and a deep bullpen.
What do the Cardinals need to do to get past the Red Sox?
The biggest key for St. Louis will be for its young players to produce in key situations, representing the X-factors for the Cardinals.
Veteran players like Carlos Beltran, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina are expected to step up when the Cardinals need them to make key plays. They are the leaders of this club and playing in the postseason is nothing new to them.
The X-factors for St. Louis are the guys who can take the Cardinals from being a great team and make them into a championship team over the final week of the 2013 season.
Here is a look at three of the biggest X-factors for the Cardinals.
This is not Craig's first time in the national spotlight, nor will it be his last. The reason that Craig is on this list is because he has yet to play this postseason due to a sprained left foot.
The Cardinals have decided, though, that Craig is too valuable so have put him on the 25-man roster for the World Series.
Craig is the best all-around hitter on this St. Louis team and that is what makes him so important. Without him, the Cardinals have struggled through much of the postseason to hit with runners in scoring position.
That's where Craig is such a special player.
Craig batted .454 with runners in scoring position to lead led MLB this season. He was second in batting with runners in scoring position and two outs at .448, behind only Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers.
In the 2011 World Series, Craig was outstanding in clutch situations for the Cardinals. In the first two games, he delivered against Texas Rangers relief pitcher Alexi Ogando. Craig's RBI single in Game 1 scored the winning run for St. Louis. In Game 2, his base hit broke up a scoreless game in the seventh inning and drove in would have again been the winning run had the Rangers not rallied to score twice in the ninth to win.
Many people may forget, but Craig also delivered a solo home run in the eighth inning of the Cardinals' memorable 11-inning win over the Rangers in Game 6.
If Craig can stay healthy in this World Series and prove that he can play through his foot injury, then the Cardinals will have a better team than the one that won the National League pennant. That has to be a scary thought for the Red Sox.
Michael Wacha has been as close to perfect as a pitcher can get this postseason. If he can continue his performance in the World Series, it is hard to imagine the Red Sox being able to beat the Cardinals.
Imagine this scenario: Adam Wainwright goes out and wins Game 1 with a dominant pitching performance over Jon Lester. The Cardinals follow up Wainwright's performance with Wacha, who has arguably been even more impressive this postseason then Wainwright.
In fact, there really is no arguing that Wainwright has been better. Wacha was named the NLCS MVP for a reason.
The Red Sox have never seen Wacha throw, and in baseball, that usually spells disaster for a lineup. If Wacha comes in and shuts down the Red Sox in Game 2 of this World Series like he has done to every team he has faced over the past month, the Cardinals will be in prime position to capture another World Series title.
Good starting pitching, good hitting and good middle relief is essential for any team to win the World Series, but none of that matters unless a team has a closer who can come in and get the final three outs of the season.
The Cardinals believe that guy can be 23-year-old Trevor Rosenthal.
Rosenthal has been outstanding all season for St. Louis, especially down the stretch when he showed that he could take over at closer for Edward Mujica, who has come apart as of late for St. Louis.
The situation of having a young and inexperienced closer in the postseason is nothing new for the Cardinals. When St. Louis won the World Series against the Detroit Tigers in 2006, Wainwright was a young rookie who had only three career saves before that postseason. Wainwright was lights out in the playoffs, though and helped lead the Cardinals to an improbable World Series win over the Tigers.
In 2011, Jason Motte took over the closing responsibilities late in the season for the Cardinals, but just like Wainwright, was lights out to help the Cardinals secure their 11th world championship.
Cardinals fans can clearly remember Yadier Molina running out to jump into the arms of both Wainwright and Motte when the Cardinals won their last two championships. The hope this time is that Molina will be running towards Rosenthal to celebrate a 12th title.
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