A fourth meeting in the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox has the makings of a classic.
Storied franchises. Gritty players. Bright young managers. Fervent fans. Definitely a Red October.
So, who has the edge? Let's break down the teams:
The Cardinals' right-handed quartet of Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA), Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78), Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69) and Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97) is formidable. Wainwright has gone 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in the postseason; Wacha has been nearly unhittable at 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three starts. Kelly was the Cardinals' best starter down the stretch, and Lynn has regrouped since his August meltdown. Boston counters with left-hander Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75) and right-handers John Lackey (10-13, 3.52), Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74) and Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.17). Lester (2-1, 2.33) and Lackey (2-0, 3.00) have been the most effective in the playoffs, but the slow-working Buchholz, despite missing three weeks in June and all of July and August with a neck injury, was a major cog in the rotation. He was 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in September. Lester could get two starts, and the Cardinals were 19-23 against lefties in the regular season.
Trevor Rosenthal replaced Edward Mujica as the Cardinals' closer in late September and posted three saves. Rosenthal can intimidate hitters with his upper-90s fastball, and he has not allowed a run in the postseason. Boston's Koji Uehara, who has impeccable control, had 21 saves after taking over for injured Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. Mujica, Carlos Martinez, Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist, John Axford, Shelby Miller and Seth Maness complete the Cardinals' bullpen. Boston has two exceptional setup men in left-hander Craig Breslow and right-hander Junichi Tazawa, but it tapers off from there with Ryan Dempster, Brandon Workman, Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront. Dempster and Doubront were starters in the regular season.
The Red Sox led baseball in runs scored (853), doubles (363), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.446). They ranked second in walks (581) and fifth in home runs (178). The Cardinals topped the National League with 783 runs, 77 more than their nearest rival. Second baseman Matt Carpenter batted .318 and led the NL with 126 runs. St. Louis hit just 125 homers, ranking 13th of 15 NL teams. But it led all of baseball in average with runners in scoring position (.330) and paced the league in doubles (322) and on-base percentage (.332). The Cardinals hit into 154 double plays. A big part of Boston's offense is speed. Led by Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox had 123 stolen bases while the Cardinals had 45. Catcher Yadier Molina will be tested and St. Louis' pitchers must closely hold Boston runners.
Edge: Red Sox
Neither team wins many games with its defense. The Cardinals tied Arizona for the lowest number of errors in the NL with 75, but only Molina, shortstop Pete Kozma and center fielder Jon Jay are considered plus defenders, and Jay has been shaky in the postseason. The Cardinals did turn a league-best 177 double plays. Boston, which was charged with 80 errors, has above-average defense with Ellsbury in center field, Pedroia at second base and Shane Victorino in right. Victorino and Cardinals fielder Carlos Beltran have the best outfield arms. The teams' low error totals are more a reflection of their lack of range.
With the designated hitter in effect for as many as four games in Boston, the roles of the bench will be minimized. The Cardinals' bench during games in St. Louis will be fortified with the return of Allen Craig. If Matt Adams plays first base in home games, Craig will be a pinch-hitter. If Craig is able to play in the field, Adams' power bat could make an impact off the bench. Shane Robinson, Tony Cruz, Daniel Descalso and Adron Chambers or Kolten Wong round out the bench. Boston's bench includes David Ross, Quintin Berry, Will Middlebrooks and Mike Carp, although it changes frequently depending on who starts in left field, at catcher and at third base. David Ortiz (30 home runs) or Mike Napoli (23 homers) will be on the bench in games in St. Louis.
Edge: Red Sox
Mike Matheny of the Cardinals and John Farrell of the Red Sox closely follow data and regularly apply it in games, but they're not married to it. Neither is afraid to occasionally play hunches. Both have helped their teams overcome injuries. The Cardinals didn't miss a step despite the season-ending losses of pitchers Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte and shortstop Rafael Furcal. Boston carried on without Hanrahan, Bailey and Buchholz.
The Cardinals have a power pitching staff, but the Red Sox hit fastballs better than any team in baseball. ... Both teams are adept at driving up pitch counts. The bullpens are good, but the team that gets the opponent's starter out of the game and avoids the late-inning relievers will have a huge advantage. ... Will Wacha continue to dazzle or is he due for a bad outing? If he struggles in the early innings, will Shelby Miller be effective in long relief? Miller has pitched just once in the postseason, and that was Oct. 4 in the NL Division Series against Pittsburgh. It's something to keep an eye on. ... The Cardinals' postseason average is .210, but their pitchers have been up to the task with a 2.34 ERA in 11 games. St. Louis could ease the burden on its pitchers with an uptick in scoring, and it hopes its nine-run outburst in Game 6 of the NLCS against Los Angeles is a sign of things to come.
David Wilhelm's pick: This is a series that seems destined to last seven games, but I'm going against the grain. Cardinals in six.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.