In many ways the 2013 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox will be a throwback Fall Classic.
They're teams that have played in the World Series three times before with the Cardinals winning in 1946 and 1967 and Boston winning in 2004. But a lot has changed in baseball over the past few years.
For one thing, it's a rare thing in the wild card era to see the best team during the regular season end up with the big trophy after the Fall Classic. When the Cardinals won in 2006 they were the weakest team in the playoffs. When they won in 2011 they were a wildcard team. In 2004 and 2005 they were the best team in MLB during the season but couldn't finish the job. But the team with the best record is going to win this year, one way or the other. The Cardinals and Red Sox tied for the best mark in baseball this season with equal 97-65 finishes.
The World Series used to match two teams that were nearly completely unfamiliar with each other in the days before interleague play and free agency. These days it seems like players change teams as often as they change their shirts.
While the Red Sox have a few players the Cardinals have seen in the National League -- Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster and Stephen Drew, for example -- and then there are guys like David Ortiz and Mike Napoli that they've seen in previous World Series play, the two teams have played each other rarely in interleague match-ups.
Two of Boston's five starting pitchers, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, have never faced St. Louis before. Two of Boston's best players weren't around the last time the Birds met the Red Sox in the World Series. Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia didn't break into the majors until two years after the Redbirds faced the BoSox in the 2004 World Series. Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury didn't break in until 2007.
The Cardinals are certainly an unfamiliar foe for an American League team because not just because of a lack of interleague exposure. They've got two rookies in the starting rotation, a rookie closer and a pair of rookie set-up men. Dempster won't recognize the Cardinals lineup because Matt Carpenter emerged as a starter after Dempster departed the National League. The same can be said for Matt Adams and Pete Kozma.
I'm looking forward to the old style world series. Sometimes it seems like baseball becomes too much about scouting reports and gamesmanship instead of hitting, pitching and defense.
The Red Sox and Cardinals are very similar in that they're not overwhelming power teams. They count on strong pitching and timely gap power to push runners around the bases. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina is one of the best at cutting down base stealers. And Ellsbury is a rare 50-plus basestealer who isn't used to being challenged. He was caught swiping only four times all season. So you know that's a confrontation just waiting to happen.
The Cardinals are a team that hits the ball a lot to right centerfield. So it will be interesting to see how their offense plays in Fenway Park with it's short left field but cavernous right center. That could play against the Birds' home run power. But they're really more of a doubles hitting team. So they might be able to take advantage of the gaps.
In 2004 the Redbirds were without injured ace Chris Carpenter and lost a couple of hotly-contested games in Boston. The boulder started to roll downhill and they couldn't stop it. Hopefully, this time they'll get off to a better start and this series will be a whole lot more competitive.