Tale Of The Tape: St. Louis Cardinals Vs. Boston Red Sox
- OffenseThe Cardinals outscored every National League team this year, plating almost a half-run more per game than the next best offense. Overall, St. Louis was the third-highest scoring team in the majors (4.83 runs per game). The Cards have cooled off a bit in the postseason, but that was against the second and third-best pitching staffs in the majors this year (Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, respectively). The Cardinals were the best clutch-hitting team in the history of baseball this year, and it's hard to imagine that suddenly coming to a halt.The Red Sox led the majors in scoring in 2013 at 5.27 runs per game, and in the postseason, they're still posting 4.5 runs per contest (against Top Five American League staffs from Detroit and Tampa Bay). Even when they are not hitting, per se, the Red Sox are walking and driving up pitch counts on the opposition's best arms. They simply wear out most staffs. And then Fenway (where there could be 4 games) always seems to have crazy postseason at-bats with everything on the line. From Carlton Fisk to David Ortiz, the Boston teams know how to make Fenway magic work for them.
- PitchingThe Cardinals finished fifth in the majors in ERA with a 3.42 mark, and they've been even better in the postseason (2.34). The Cards led majors in wins by starters (77), and the revamped bullpen held the Pirates and the Dodgers to a combined .177 average over 30 innings. They have a stable of great starting options, and the St. Louis manager has many fireballers in the bullpen to choose from with the game on the line. At the top of the rotation is a two-time World Series champion (Adam Wainwright), and that staff has a perennial MVP calling the shots from behind the plate (Yadier Molina).The Red Sox staff has the potential to be dominant, but they haven't been consistent this year, despite the postseason efforts so far (3.05 ERA). Boston starters had a 3.84 ERA in the regular season, and that number has risen in the postseason (4.29). It's been the Red Sox bullpen with its 0.84 ERA this October that has gotten Boston to the Series again. This same unit posted a 3.70 mark in the regular season to finish in the bottom third of the majors. Despite the momentum, the bullpen has issued 11 walks, which can come back to haunt you against strong-hitting teams.
- DefenseThe Cardinals were the second-best defensive team in the National League this year, making only 75 errors. If they have a weakness, it's the infield. The Cards have made three errors in October, allowing two unearned runs to score. All three errors have been made by infielders — one each at second, third and shortstop. But St. Louis does have the best defensive catcher in baseball (Molina), and that keeps a lot in order around the diamond. The St. Louis defense has handled the most chances per game of any playoff team, so the pitching staff trusts the defenders behind it to make the plays.Defense is not something baseball fans normally associate with the Red Sox, but the team did field a top-five American League defensive unit in 2013. Boston made only 80 errors in the regular season, and they've been a little better in the playoffs, committing just three miscues in 10 games. The errors were somewhat random, too, by a pitcher, the shortstop and the right fielder. Boston could be tempted to start David Ortiz in St. Louis to get his bat into the DH-free lineup. That could be a little scary, though regular first baseman Mike Napoli isn't golden with the glove either.
- ManagerManager Mike Matheny has the respect of his team, and as a former Cardinals catcher who "tutored" the current MVP-caliber Molina, he knows the game pretty well. He was St. Louis' starting catcher in the 2004 World Series, and Matheny was always known for his defense and ability to manage the game effectively. Like many former catchers, he has transitioned well into a managerial role, although he has to take some blame for the 2012 playoff meltdown in the NLCS against San Francisco. The Cards have played very focused baseball in 2013, demonstrating an ability to recover from that collapse, under Matheny's guidance and leadership.Manager John Farrell previously led the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012, and Boston really targeted him as their man to take over in 2013. It was an interesting choice, as Farrell — a former MLB pitcher — could be best remembered in Toronto for finishing .500 in his first year there before dipping back below that benchmark in 2012. But clearly, the Red Sox knew what they were doing. The team didn't have a losing month in 2013 en route to its first AL East title in six years, just one year after finishing last in its division. Farrell has no MLB postseason managerial experience prior to this October, and that may come into play when the Series is on the line.
St. Louis has a slight edge over Boston, but overall, the two teams are evenly matched. The Series should go seven games, and the Cardinals are unlikely to win it in five games like they did in 2006. The Red Sox are too good for that. Neither team has a "rust" edge, like St. Louis had in 2006 or Boston had in 2007, when their opponents had been sitting around for a week getting stale after sweeping their respective LCS match-ups. But picking the visiting team to win a Game Seven in Fenway Park just doesn't feel right at all. So the call here is that the superior starting pitching of the Cardinals — combined with the clutch hitting demonstrated all season by the lineup top to bottom — will prevail in six games (WLWLWW). And because he was robbed of the 2012 regular-season NL MVP Award, St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina will win the 2013 World Series MVP Award.