Monday, October 21, 2013

World Series 2013: The Best in Baseball

If over the next 2-3 days someone tries to tell you that they have some kind of special insight into who is going to win the 2013 World Series, then they are simply lying. These are clearly the two best teams in baseball, and you'd do well to simply toss a coin to pick a winner.

Most pundits and talking heads, as well as tons of amateurs and partisans, will indeed try to pick a winner. Some will inevitably end up correct. But going into it, these two teams are so evenly matched that legitimate arguments can be made for either.

The 109th MLB World Series will feature the best team, based on regular season record, from both the National League and the American League for the first time since 1999. Both the Boston Red Sox and the Saint Louis Cardinals won 97 games to pace their respective leagues.

Also, each of the two teams will have reached the Fall Classic after having battled through similar paths, first vanquishing divisional rivals, and then arguably the 2nd best teams in their respective leagues. Saint Louis beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and then the LA Dodgers, while Boston beat the Tampa Bay Rays and then the Detroit Tigers.

This will also mark not only the 2nd World Series meeting between the NL's Cardinals and the AL's Red Sox in the last decade, but will be a matchup between a pair of franchise's that have each won two World Series titles within this past decade.

The Red Sox finally vanquished "The Ghost of the Bambino" by sweeping past the Cards in the 2004 World Series, then won again in 2007 when they also swept the Colorado Rockies. The Cardinals blitzed the Detroit Tigers in five games in the 2006 Series, then won a dramatic 7-gamer over the Texas Rangers in 2011.

I am personally rooting for a long, dramatic series featuring the kinds of moments that live on in baseball lore: Don Larsen's 1956 'Perfect Game', Bill Mazeroski's 1960 Series-winning homer, Carlton Fisk's Game #6 homerun in 1975, Kirk Gibson's Game #1 walkoff in 1988, the Clemens-Piazza bat-throwing showdown of 2000, Chase Utley's fake-and-throw-home in 2008.

This 2013 version of the Fall Classic features the "Fear the Beard" Bosox coming at you with a multi-dimensional offense and a worst-to-first, something-to-prove chip on their shoulders against the Redbirds, the most consistently excellent organization in the NL. I'm picking Boston, and call it in 6 or 7 games.

Much is made, and rightfully so, of the Cardinals vaunted 1-2 postseason pitching tandem of Adam Wainwright and rookie sensation Michael Wacha. Both of these arms can shut down any offense in the game. If they do it early at Fenway Park, and take each of the first two games in Boston, the Cards could steamroll to victory in the series. But I don't believe it will happen.

The Red Sox lineup is the difference for me between the two teams. Each have excellent hitters, with grizzled, proven veterans and talented youngsters. Each has outstanding starting pitching. Boston will throw Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in those first two games, and those two are just as capable of shutting down the Cards as vice versa. And the two bullpens seem evenly matched to me as well.

It's that multi-faceted Red Sox offense that I will give the slight edge to, enough of an edge to win the World Series. Boston can bash you with Big Papi, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes, and they can run you ragged with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Shane Victorino. And those last two are not one-dimensional, as "The Flyin' Hawaiian" showed once again with his ALCS-clinching grand slam vs. Detroit.

The Cardinals have tremendous run-producing clutch hitters of their own in Matt Holliday, David Freese, and perhaps the best postseason hitter of recent years in Carlos Beltran. But Jon Jay led the club in steals with 10 this season. Running is simply not a part of their game. Meanwhile, Ellsbury swiped 52 bags, Pedroia stole 17, and Victorino took another 21 for Boston. These guys run, and they will challenge the great Saint Louis catcher Yadier Molina at pivotal points of games. His ability to shut them down could be the difference.

An 'X-factor' for the Cardinals will be Allen Craig. The 1st baseman who has been out of the Saint Louis lineup nursing a sprained foot is listed as probable, and is expected to DH in the first two games at Fenway. With his bat in the lineup, the Cards have 5 players who each hit at least .296 during the season. They can wear down a pitching staff. But the Red Sox also have 5 such players, at least when Daniel Nava is in left field rather than Gomes.

The pitching matchups have not been announced for every game, but logic and prior use would seem to point to Lester vs. Wainwright in the Opener, followed by Buchholz vs. Wacha in Game #2, both at Fenway Park. Back at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis it should then be John Lackey for Boston vs. Joe Kelly for the Cards in Game #3, Jake Peavy vs. Lance Lynn in Game #4, and then a return to the top of the respective rotations for the balance of the series.

There is not likely to be any edge in the dugout that will decide this matchup. John Farrell in his first year as Bosox skipper has been exactly what his team needed, and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals played in that 2004 Series between the two clubs. Both are talented skippers who have the respect of their teams, and have strong coaching staffs supporting them.

Two storied franchise's battling it out on the diamond in front of two of the best and most knowledgeable and passionate fan bases in the game. It's hard to ask for anything more from a baseball purist standpoint. The Boston Red Sox should come out of this with a hard-fought, beard-pulling title. But the real winners should be fans of the game everywhere. Sit back and enjoy the 2013 World Series between two talented teams, the best in baseball.

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