7 Reasons Cardinals Will Take Command of World Series in St. Louis
We came into the 2013 World Series expecting a dramatic, drawn-out battle between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. With the teams tied at a game apiece and the action shifting to Busch Stadium, that's exactly what it's shaping up to be.
The Cards probably won't win three straight and bring the Fall Classic to a premature conclusion, but they should at least take command with two victories at home.
Let's review their greatest advantages going forward.
Home Sweet Home
The St. Louis Cardinals went 54-27 at Busch Stadium in the regular season, which was the second-best home record in all of baseball.
New month, same story. They're 5-1 in front of their fans this October, and dating back to Aug. 15, it's been a torrid stretch of 24 victories in the past 29 St. Louis-based matchups.
This advantage is attributable to numerous factors, including crowd noise, ballpark dimensions that suit the Cardinals offense and players sleeping in their own beds. The team simply performs better at Busch, and we should expect that to continue.
National League Rules Create 1st Base Dilemma for Boston
The designated hitter spot won't be available for either team during Games 3-5. For Saturday's contest, that means that the Boston Red Sox will put David Ortiz at first base and relegate Mike Napoli to the bench.
The problem with that? Napoli doesn't know how to pinch hit!
The bushy-bearded slugger had only three plate appearances in such situations this season. In 46 career pinch-hitting opportunities, he owns a hideous .105/.261/.132 batting line with 20 strikeouts.
More importantly, though, the Red Sox lose a lot of defense with Napoli in the dugout. The 31-year-old could connect for a monster home run in the later innings, but it wouldn't matter if the immobile Big Papi gives the St. Louis Cardinals extra outs, allowing them to crack open a big inning.
Clay Buchholz Isn't at Full Strength
Just looking at the back of their baseball cards, we would believe the Boston Red Sox have the starting pitching edge in both Games 3 and 4. The latter looks like a particularly big mismatch, with Clay Buchholz and his 1.74 regular-season earned run average facing Lance Lynn.
However, we're not likely to see the All-Star-caliber version of Buchholz. Due to shoulder fatigue, he has only averaged about 90 pitches per start in the playoffs.
Red Sox manager John Farrell deflected questions about Buchholz's condition, telling Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe that he can pitch through the pain. That doesn't mean he can be successful while doing so.
Nearly six months have passed since the right-hander last posted a Game Score of at least 70. Lynn, by comparison, has topped that number three times in that span, even against elite opponents like the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Red Sox Lacking Lineup Depth
Bleacher Report's Zachary Rymer dug up this brutal stat about the Boston Red Sox: Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew are batting only .146 (15-for-103) in the postseason.
Drew has been the least productive of them all with a .095/.116/.143 batting line, but John Farrell hasn't hinted about any reduction in playing time. Just last week, he raved about Drew's irreplaceable defense at shortstop, according to ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald.
Although Daniel Nava is expected to spell Gomes in the coming games, it's unclear how effective he'll be after a week-and-a-half as a pinch hitter/cheerleader.
Poor production from the bottom of Boston's batting order obviously helps the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff. It means that scheduled starters Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright can carefully approach the biggest threats, then wiggle out of trouble by attacking the weak links.
Yadier Molina Shuts Down the Running Game
The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals led their respective leagues in runs scored this summer.
As Zachary Rymer pointed out, however, stolen-base threats like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino gave the Red Sox the "best and most balanced offense in baseball."
Well, that was generally speaking. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina single-handedly neutralizes the speed component to their game plan.
As usual, Molina's presence deterred most opponents from attempting thefts against him in 2013, and the few exceptions were gunned down nearly half the time. Thus far, Boston has no steals through two games.
Without Red Sox baserunners advancing themselves into scoring position, they'll be especially reliant on home runs. That's a cause for concern with Games 3-5 taking place at a venue that Park Factors considers extremely pitcher-friendly.
Carlos Beltran Showing No Ill Effects from Collision
Game 1 was a laugher, as the Boston Red Sox cruised to an 8-1 victory, but it could've been significantly worse if not for this grand-slam-stealing catch by Carlos Beltran (courtesy of MLB.com).
St. Louis Cardinals fans held their breath when it was announced that he had hurt a rib during the robbery.
Not only is Beltran a veteran clubhouse leader coming off a productive season, he's one of the best postseason players ever. Just ask ESPN's Dan Szymborski, who says Beltran has the third-highest WPA (win probability added) in MLB postseason history, behind only Albert Pujols and David Ortiz.
The 36-year-old switch-hitter owns an extraordinary 1.163 OPS in 47 career playoff games. With an MLB-best 13 runs batted in this October, he's a huge reason why the Cardinals advanced to the World Series.
Despite the injury scare, Beltran was back in the starting lineup for Game 2. He contributed two hits, one of which brought home an important insurance run in the seventh inning.
Behind closed doors, the Red Sox were certainly hoping that he'd be unavailable for a few days. Beltran has a .400/.480/.800 batting line in 25 career plate appearances against Saturday's starter, Jake Peavy.
Boston Is Vulnerable to Young Power Arms
As we mentioned prior to the World Series, the often-dominant Boston Red Sox lineup was dramatically affected by power pitching this past summer. In terms of OPS, the club only produced at about three-quarters of its usual rate against arms with true swing-and-miss stuff.
Boston's helplessness was evident toward the end of Game 2 when Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal took the mound. They combined to strike out six Red Sox in three innings, surrendering only one ground-ball single to David Ortiz.
Martinez and Rosenthal now get a day off before the series resumes, while the other flamethrowers in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen ought to be even more well-rested.
The Red Sox have enjoyed several outstanding late-inning comebacks so far this postseason, but those don't seem realistic against St. Louis.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He’s hoping to deepen relationships with his fantastic online audience (that means you) via Twitter.