Boston, MA (Boston University) -- After seven and a half months of nightly baseball, cross-country flights, and memorable moments, the 109th World Series kicks off Wednesday night at Fenway Park, when the Boston Red Sox host the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the annual Fall Classic.
It has been quite a road for each team to get here, especially the Red Sox. Just over a year ago, Boston ended a forgettable season that saw them finish dead last in the American League East, a whopping 26 games out of first place, en route to a 69-93 record.
The team hired former pitching coach John Farrell as their new manager, and made some nice moves via free agency. Boston brought in Shane Victorino, who has solidified the right field position, and Stephen Drew, a bargain infielder who has given the Red Sox tremendous value. Boston finished this year with a 97-65 record, the same as St. Louis, capping a remarkable worst-to-first regular season. In the postseason, Boston dispatched Tampa Bay in the ALDS in four games, and then eliminated the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers in the ALCS in six games.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are no strangers to the World Series. They are now playing in their fourth World Series in the past decade, which is remarkable considering their various free agent departures and having a new manager. St. Louis won in their most recent World Series appearance in 2011 over Texas, and is gunning for their second title in three years. The Cardinals won the National League Central, which many consider to be the most competitive division in baseball, and took out Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games and six games, respectively.
Game 1: Wednesday, October 23 at Boston
Game 2: Thursday, October 24 at Boston
Game 3: Saturday, October 26 at St. Louis
Game 4: Sunday, October 27 at St. Louis
*Game 5: Monday, October 28 at St. Louis
*Game 6: Wednesday, October 30 at Boston
*Game 7: Thursday, October 31 at Boston
* = If Necessary
All games can be seen on FOX and first pitch is at 7:07 p.m., except Game 4, when the first pitch will be at 7:15 p.m.
These teams appear to be so evenly matched that a long series seems likely. These are, record-wise, the best two teams in baseball and it should be a tremendous series. Boston gets home field advantage by virtue of the American League winning the All-Star Game, and the Sox were 53-28 at Fenway, while St. Louis went 43-38 on the road. On the flipside, St. Louis went 54-27 at home and Boston was 44-37 away from Fenway, so defending home field will be crucial. American League teams have struggled in recent World Series appearances when in National League ballparks, when the DH position is eliminated in favor of the pitcher batting. Let's take a look at how these teams stack up on paper.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a fine backstop for the Sox. He hit 40 doubles 14 homeruns for Boston in the regular season, and had the walk-off hit in Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit. St. Louis counters with Yadier Molina, who put up MVP caliber numbers this season and batted .319 with 12 homeruns. Both are terrific defensively, but you can't argue against the numbers Molina has put up this year.
--Advantage: St. Louis
Mike Napoli of the Red Sox comes in after a hot ALCS, where he elevated himself to be the most feared hitter in the lineup over the course of the last 4 games. Napoli has developed a nice track record in his postseason career and that should continue into the World Series. Matt Adams of the Cardinals is also a fine young hitter and has a nice glove, but Napoli is too good right now.
Matt Carpenter vs. Dustin Pedroia. It doesn't get much more exciting than this. Both are legit MVP and Gold Glove candidates. Pedroia is phenomenal with the glove, and you know he will be out giving 110%. Carpenter has the better bat and terrific speed on the bases, and it's hard to pick one of these guys over the other.
Stephen Drew has proven to be a nice pickup for the Red Sox this year, providing adequate defense and good on-base ability. For St. Louis, Pete Kozma is great defensively, but is one of the worst shortstop hitters in baseball. Any hits the Cardinals can get out of him this series will be a bonus.
It will be interesting to see how Farrell decides to manage the duo of Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts this series. Bogaerts will likely get most of the starts after his strong Game 6 performance in the ALCS, but he has been inconsistent and Middlebrooks' bat has been mostly cold throughout the postseason. David Freese, who has a reputation of being a postseason hero, has struggled so far and has been hampered with a calf injury. It's tough to tell just how much either team will get out of this position.
Much like with the third base situation, Farrell will have to decide between Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes at this spot. Nava had a fine regular season, but Gomes has done well in the postseason and he will likely get the start. Boston is also 6-0 in games Gomes is in the starting lineup. However, St. Louis counters with a terrific hitter in Matt Holliday, who batted .300 in the regular season and was almost perfect in the field.
--Advantage: St. Louis
Jon Jay, the normal center fielder for St. Louis, has been so bad in the postseason that he was benched in Game 6 of the NLCS. Ellsbury is one of the best in the business with the glove, at the plate, and on the bases. He led the majors with 52 stolen bases this year, and look for him to do a lot more stealing in pressure situations.
Shane Victorino has been one of the most underrated performers in baseball this year, and his grand slam in Game 6 against the Tigers secured Boston's trip to the World Series. But you can't underestimate Carlos Beltran. He has a tremendous arm, a strong postseason track record, and he is finally getting a chance at a ring. Two very good players here who are fun to watch.
--Advantage: St. Louis
Perhaps this section is irrelevant to Boston, because Detroit arguably had one of the best pitching rotations in postseason history, and the Sox were still able to last long enough to get the bullpen. It's hard to argue with St. Louis' pitching staff, who were second best in the majors this year in terms of ERA. Michael Wacha, who spent most of the year in the minor leagues, has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the National League, while Adam Wainwright went 19-9 in the regular season. Boston counters with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the top of the rotation, two strong pitchers who can go deep into games. John Lackey has rebounded nicely this year, but Jake Peavy has been roughed up a bit as of late. In regards to the bullpen, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow have been a force at the end of the games for Boston, and they shut down a terrific Detroit lineup during the ALCS. Both bullpens appear to be very good and it doesn't seem like they will give up many runs, but the Cardinals have a slight edge with starting pitching.
--Advantage: St. Louis
The Red Sox were able to get past dominant starting pitching in the ALCS, and they will need to do it again here to have a chance. The rotation for the Cardinals is not as good as Detroit's, but the bullpen is definitely better. Boston's bullpen will have to continue playing well, as many games can expect to be of the low scoring variety. It is also important to note that when the series shifts to St. Louis, either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli won't be in the lineup. The first two games in Boston mean that much more to the Red Sox than they will the Cardinals. Boston will need to score in the early innings more than they did against Detroit if they want to win.
Prediction: St. Louis in seven games.