Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Who Wins World Series and Why?
The random nature of baseball's playoffs often blindsides regular-season juggernauts. Not this year. The 109th World Series, starting Wednesday in Boston, pits the 97-win Red Sox against the 97-win St. Louis Cardinals, the first time since 1999 each league is represented by teams with its best records. And these are two franchises loaded with tradition, smarts, resources and passionate - some might say entitled - fan bases.
WHY THE CARDINALS WIN
They actually have the edge at DH: There's no advantage this time for the Red Sox, because the Cardinals' DH happens to be Allen Craig. Yes, the same Craig that had 97 RBI, and was hitting a major-league leading .454 with runners in scoring position Sept. 4 when he suffered a sprained left foot.
He declared Sunday that he is back, and certainly looked it in the batting cage, spraying the ball to all fields against his teammates, and running fine to first base.
"I'm not a doctor,'' Craig said, "but I feel like I timed it pretty well with the World Series starting this week. I'm starting to feel better.''
While David Ortiz had the key hit in the ALCS - a Game 2 grand slam - he was 1 for 21 in his other at-bats.
The Cardinals haven't formally placed Craig on the World Series roster yet, but it's only a formality.
"He's such a prolific hitter,'' GM John Mozeliak said, "it's definitely worth the chance. We're trying to get him as much live pitching as we can, but to simulate Game 1 of a World Series is virtually impossible.''
They are October regulars: This will be their fourth World Series in 10 years. It has become so routine that the Cardinals might as well include it in their pre-season pocket schedules.
Certainly, they won't be intimidated. If they can beat the Los Angeles Dodgers' tandem of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke three times in four starts, they're certainly not going to be scared of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy.
And, unlike their miserable 2004 World Series experience, they will be staying in a five-star hotel in downtown Boston, unlike 2004, where they found themselves marooned in a Quincy, Mass. hotel without late-night room service. They instead were forced to dine on pizza and chicken, like Little Leaguers.
"That was one of the toughest experiences in my baseball career,'' says Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, a catcher on that team. "You don't forget that.''
This time, they vow to make it a World Series the Red Sox won't want to remember.
While they don't have home advantage, they still get three games in St. Louis: Sure, we know the Red Sox have four home games in the World Series.
Yes, they love to remind us that no National League team has won a World Series game at Fenway Park since Oct. 22, 1986, and won eight of 10 games in interleague player this season at Fenway.
Well, guess what?
The Cardinals are even better at home at Busch Stadium in front of the Clydesdales and a passionate, fanbase.
They've won 24 of their last 29 home games since Aug. 15. And the Red Sox will likely lose the services of Ortiz or power-hitting first baseman Mike Napoli in St. Louis with no DH.
The Cardinals believe they're invincible at home, and instead of fearing the Green Monster, can't wait for their lefty power bats to take aim.
The Cardinals, who have scored 11 runs in their last nine innings this postseason, can't wait to unleash their new offensive attack in Fenway, and they'll let their pitching take care of the rest back in Busch.
Michael Wacha can't be beat: The question isn't will Wacha beat the Red Sox; it's what inning do we start our no-hit pool?
This 22-year-old is that good, going 3-0 with a 0.49 ERA this postseason, yielding eight hits and one run while striking out 22 in 21 innings.
Wacha, with his nasty fastball and devastating changeup, doesn't give teams a chance. The Red Sox can study scouting reports, but when you're facing him for the first time, you've got no chance. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates this month.
Wacha, who visited Fenway Park a few years ago in a college tournament, concedes he'll be nervous when he's expected to pitch Game 2.
Oh, it's got nothing to do with the offensive exploits of Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli or Jonny Gomes.
It's those bushy, unkempt beards - putting Wacha'sstubble to shame.
"I might have to shave mine,'' Wacha said, "so I can't get embarrassed.''
WHY THE RED SOX WIN
Their games are short (really!): The bullpen has become the not-so-secret weapon. Closer Koji Uehara was the ALCS MVP with a win and three saves. He, Junichi Tazawa and lefty Craig Breslow have combined to allow two runs and 13 hits in 19 innings this postseason. Uehara, since July 1, has pitched 58 innings in 45 appearances, allowing two earned runs and 17 hits while striking out 65 and walking two.
Their games sure do feel long: The Red Sox have seen more pitches than any other team this season. They pride themselves on working deep counts and eventually wearing down the opposing pitcher, no matter how good he is. They got Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers out of a no-hitter after six innings because of a pitch count. They won two ALCS games when they had been stifled for six innings by Detroit's Max Scherzer, but turned around those games once they got to the bullpen. The Red Sox are fully confident they can win a battle of the bullpens with anyone and even more confident they'll get the chance to face their opponents' relievers.
The AL won the All-Star Game: Nowhere is home advantage more important than in Fenway Park. No National League team won a World Series game there in 2004 and 2007. Come to think of it, no NL team won a game anywhere in either of those series. This season, NL teams were 2-8 at Fenway. It's quirky and gets in the heads of pitchers as well as outfielders. If it's not the Green Monster making left fielders, center fielders and even shortstops change the way they play, it's the low walls and funky corners in center and right (ask Torii Hunter how easy it is to flip out). There's a reason the Red Sox hit 205 doubles at home, 48 more than any other team.
They fight fire with fire: Word is the Cardinals are bringing the heat, as in some impressive young flamethrowers. Beware: The Red Sox have torched the fastball better than any other team on any type of pitch. According to Fangraphs.com, Boston's offense is a positive 103.9 runs against the fastball (zero is average). That's not only tops in the majors, but 33% better than any other team. Three of their four ALCS victories came in games started by Detroit's hard-throwing Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.