Right off the bat, the Cardinals get better with Allen Craig back in the lineup after nursing a foot injury since Sept. 4. That allows them to use Craig as the DH in the games at Boston while Matt Adams plays first base.
Both lineups ran into major problems in the League Championship Series, with St. Louis hitting .211 vs. the Dodgers and the Red Sox .202 vs. the Tigers. But the Red Sox came up with big hits — grand slams by David Ortiz and Shane Victorino — that proved to be the difference.
At catcher, the Cardinals have the advantage on offense (and defense, for that matter) as Yadier Molina is generally regarded as the best overall catcher in the game. Let’s see how effective Molina will be slowing down Jacoby Ellsbury: the best base stealer vs. the catcher with the best arm.
The Red Sox probably have the edge at first base, where Mike Napoli was hot during the ALCS and has played a Gold Glove-caliber defense, while Adams hit 17 homers in just 319 plate appearances.
At second base, you have the great defense and intangibles of Dustin Pedroia vs. a tremendous year by Matt Carpenter (199 hits). But Carpenter has hit just .167 in the postseason.
Third base will be the great unknown for the Red Sox, as Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks are likely to split duty. Bogaerts has been a spark, going 3 for 6 with three doubles and five walks. The Cardinals’ David Freese didn’t have a good season and is hitting only .189 in the postseason, but he has the 2011 NLCS and World Series (MVP in both) to feed off.
There are a couple of good glove men at shortstop in Pete Kozma and Stephen Drew, but neither has done much at the plate. Drew is 3 for 35 in this postseason.
You have to give the Cardinals the edge in the outfield, where Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran trump Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, and Shane Victorino, though Victorino hit the big grand slam. Beltran has been red-hot (12 October RBIs) and is the hitter the Red Sox staff must neutralize. Gomes has been Boston’s good-luck charm more than anything (6-0 in his playoff starts).
The Red Sox take the cake in center, where Jacoby Ellsbury has hit .400 with six steals and 10 runs. Jon Jay and Shane Robinson have not combined for a good October so far.
Red Sox starters had a 4.59 ERA against Detroit. Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy weren’t that good, but Jon Lester and John Lackey were very good. Cardinals starters have a 2.57 postseason ERA, led by Adam Wainwright and rookie Michael Wacha, who will pitch Games 1 and 2.
Wainwright, the 19-game winner with a great curveball, is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in the postseason and Wacha has been almost unhittable (3-0 with a 0.43 ERA and a .114 batting average against). But here’s the rub: Wacha, 22, has to pitch at Fenway, and that’s always tough for a young pitcher. ESPN analyst Curt Schilling believes Wacha has the poise and maturity to turn it up a notch.
The Series could be decided by the third and fourth starters. Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn for St. Louis, and Buchholz and Peavy for the Red Sox have to come up big. Or at least one of the two on each team needs to step up.
The big thing for Sox is to keep Carlos Beltran in check. The Sox hope to use a specific strategy against Beltran as they did vs. Miguel Cabrera.
Cardinals pitchers are good at holding runners on base, which is imperative when Ellsbury gets on. Sox starters aren’t quite as good; Lackey is abysmal, with 36 steals against him, most in the majors this season. However, the Cardinals were next-to-last in the majors in stolen bases during the regular season with only 45.
You have one closer who throws the ball through the catcher’s mitt with smoke (Trevor Rosenthal) and one who tricks you (Koji Uehara). Both are extremely effective. Rosenthal has been near-perfect in the postseason, allowing only three hits and no runs in seven innings; Uehara has 13 strikeouts in nine innings.
The Red Sox have relied heavily on the threesome of Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Uehara for their late-inning work, and their bullpen has an 0.84 ERA for the playoffs compared with 1.84 for the Cardinals. Rosenthal throws 100, which should be interesting. He is part of a nice threesome with lefty Randy Choate and righty Carlos Martinez. David Ortiz said the Boston offense is filled with fastball hitters, and that may give the Red Sox an advantage. We’ll see.
The Red Sox win the bench matchup easily, though with Allen Craig back, presumably Matt Adams comes off the bench when the Series goes to St. Louis.
The Red Sox have the luxury of going with David Ross, who went 2 for 3 in Game 5 of the ALCS, and Daniel Nava is a big weapon off the bench if he doesn’t start.
John Farrell seems open to using Nava more, though he still feels Jonny Gomes is a spark for the team.
Either way, having Gomes/Nava and Mike Carp off the bench, as well as Xander Bogaerts/Will Middlebrooks, trumps Shane Robinson, Adams, Kolten Wong, Daniel Descalso, and Adron Chambers. Robinson did hit a big homer in Game 4 of the NLCS.
Both Mike Matheny and John Farrell won 97 games.
Matheny’s moves in the NLCS seemed to raise fewer questions than Farrell’s in the ALCS did. Bringing in Franklin Morales to replace Clay Buchholz in Game 6 vs. Detroit was one of those questionable moves, but even though Morales gave up the lead, the Red Sox came back to win the game. Farrell was right to keep using Stephen Drew at shortstop because of his defense.
Matheny has done an amazing job of replacing Tony La Russa, who left after winning the World Series in 2011. Matheny reached the NLCS in his first year and won it this season.
Farrell didn’t face as much pressure taking over a 69-win team, but he led it to the World Series, albeit with significant personnel enhancements. He has restored order and calm to a very tense situation.