The St. Louis Cardinals are athletic, they have a good starting rotation, their bullpen is full of power, and they’re about to get back one of their best hitters — Allen Craig — for the first time this postseason.
The Red Sox will be seeing a far superior all-around team in the World Series than what they faced with the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, which they won four games to two.
“I’ve faced the Cardinals a lot over the years and that’s one excellent baseball team,” Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said. “We’re going to have to be at the top of our game. That pitching staff is terrific, their bullpen is tough, and their lineup is relentless. Big test for us.”
The Red Sox couldn’t wait to get into the Tigers’ bullpen, for good reason. The Tigers’ pen stunk. The Cardinals shouldn’t have those issues with pitchers who can throw 96-100 miles per hour.
This is going to be a different animal. Is there a pitcher who has it going more than rookie Michael Wacha right now?
The Cardinals also have players who are close to full strength, though Yadier Molina has been playing on fumes.
So to review, the Red Sox will face a Cardinals team that will pitch well out of the bullpen, has a catcher in Molina capable of shutting down a running game (major league-best 44.5 percent success rate throwing out runners), and has a lineup that grinds out at-bats, especially from the seventh inning on.
The Red Sox no longer will have that overwhelming advantage at closer because Trevor Rosenthal, who throws about 10 m.p.h. faster than Koji Uehara, has had similar success foiling teams at the end of the game.
You’re going to have the season’s best base stealer in Jacoby Ellsbury facing the season’s best-throwing catcher in Molina. Will Ellsbury, who stole a major league-best 52 bases and had the highest success rate at almost 93 percent, think twice before taking off? It certainly will slow him down if he gets caught.
Molina may slow down most of Boston’s running game. He isn’t afraid to show off the arm at any base, in any situation. Boston’s secondary runners — Victorino, Dustin Pedroia — also will have to be aware of Molina’s gun.
The Red Sox will face a vastly superior defensive team than Detroit and the Cardinals’ offense is balanced and multifaceted, similar to Boston’s.
While the Cardinals don’t have anyone like Miguel Cabrera (St. Louis hit only .210 in beating the Dodgers, four games to two) they do have a veteran hitter who will kill you — Carlos Beltran — from either side of the plate.
They have people who can get on base such as Matt Carpenter, who led baseball with a .392 on-base percentage from the leadoff position, and they have players who hit home runs such as Beltran, Craig, Molina, Matt Holliday, and Matt Adams.
Craig, who hasn’t played since Sept. 4 because of a foot injury, anticipates being the designated hitter in Game 1 Wednesday night at Fenway Park, while Adams would remain at first base. The Cardinals would be able to evaluate Craig’s mobility to see if he could play first when the series shifts to St. Louis. Craig batted a major league-best .454 during the regular season with runners in scoring position. No doubt the Cardinals missed that at times in their series vs. the Dodgers.
“He’s another force in that lineup,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “So, if we can have him we’ll be excited.”
When the series shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 Saturday, the Red Sox will have to make that big decision, whom to play at first base, David Ortiz or Mike Napoli?
Ortiz played first in six of the 10 road interleague games this season. But Napoli was hot in the ALCS. The Cardinals have a predominantly righthanded starting rotation so the Sox are likely to play Ortiz in two of the three games. That means Napoli, who once offered the catching component to his game, will have to come off the bench at times in Busch Stadium.
Both teams have had to face superb pitching in the championship series with the Cardinals facing Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and Boston going against Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez.
While the Cardinals play in the National League they are considered to have an American League-type lineup that sees a lot of pitches.
The Red Sox haven’t expressed a concern about Clay Buchholz, whose velocity is down a tick, not being able to go deep in his last two games. The Red Sox have been content to turn to their bullpen earlier than usual, especially the Craig Breslow-Junichi Tazawa-Uehara rotation. But will they be going to the well once too often?
And how do the Red Sox match up against the Cardinals’ top two starters — Adam Wainwright and Wacha? The Cardinals have yet to announce their Game 1 starter, but rest assured they will both go in the first two games. Wainwright lost his NLCS start but pitched well, allowing two runs over seven innings. He possesses one of the best curveballs in the game, which could be problematic for the Red Sox. Wacha did not allow a run in two starts (13⅔ innings) vs. the Dodgers.
These are two similar teams. They are two iconic franchises that depend on their farm systems for a lot of their talent. For the first time since 1999, the teams with the two best records in each league will compete in the World Series
The Red Sox swept the Cardinals in 2004, but the only familiar faces remaining from that series are Matheny, who was the Cardinals’ starting catcher, Molina, and Ortiz.
While we thought the Tigers would give the Red Sox more of a fight, on paper, anyway, it appears the Red Sox may have met their match with the Cardinals.
It appears the Cardinals don’t have the warts that cost the Tigers dearly.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: This story mistakenly included John Farrell as a member of the 2004 Red Sox staff in an earlier version. He was not with the team that year.