Red Sox, Cards Ready To Battle For Fall Classic Honors
The following analysis was written by Mike Lynch (Red Sox) and Dan Ketterer (Cardinals).
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.273/14/65)—From the left side of the plate Saltalamacchia was fantastic during the regular season, posting a slash line of .294/.350/.523 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs. Unfortunately there’s also a right side of the plate and a behind the plate where Salty hasn’t been nearly as productive, batting .218/.309/.319 and throwing out only 21% of would-be base thieves. He also strikes out far too often for my taste, fanning 139 times in 121 games for a strikeout rate of 29.6%. That trend has carried over into the postseason where he’s whiffed 15 times in 26 at-bats.
He’s had one big game in this year’s postseason, but that was more than two weeks ago in Game 1 of the ALDS when he drove in three runs on two hits. Since then he’s gone 4 for 22. His below average caught stealing rate shouldn’t be a factor against a Cardinals team that stole only 45 bases all year, ranking dead last in the National League, although they’re a perfect 3 for 3 so far in the postseason.
Yadier Molina (.319/12/80)—Simply put, Molina is the best catcher in the National League. Molina has always been regarded as a fantastic defensive catcher, evidenced by his five consecutive gold gloves, but it is Molina’s skills at the dish that make him the force that he is. Molina had a breakout season in 2012, finishing 4th in the National League MVP Voting and he backed that up this year by leading all catchers in WAR. He had a slash line of .319/.361/.477 and was selected to his 5th straight All-Star game appearance. Molina’s batting prowess and command of the pitching staff separate him from the rest of the catchers in the league. Molina has had a somewhat quiet postseason, batting .256 with only two RBIs, but he has walked six times, bolstering his OBP to a respectable .356.
Mike Napoli (.259/23/92)—Mike Napoli was more or less everything Sox fans hoped he’d be, providing a righthanded power bat to complement lefty swinging David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup. Napoli finished second to Ortiz in homers, RBIs and walks, and was only two doubles shy of joining Dustin Pedroia and Saltalamacchia in the 40-doubles club. Like Salty, Napoli strikes out too much—his 32.4 whiff percentage was worst on the team—and he’s as streaky as they come, evidenced by his slugging percentages of .316 in June, .530 in July, .389 in August and .733 in September/October. But he heated up just in time for the pennant stretch and belted six homers in his last 20 regular season games, then added two more against the Tigers in the ALCS, including a mammoth shot to center field in Game 5 that traveled about 450 feet.
He also proved to be a very good defensive first baseman, something I wasn’t expecting. But here’s the rub: World Series rules prohibit the use of the designated hitter in National League parks, which means the Red Sox will be without one of their two best sluggers when the Series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary). It’s hard to imagine Ortiz and his .309/30/103 riding the pine, especially against a rotation that boasts nothing but righties. Ortiz has been a regular DH for most of his career, but he’s played some first base over the years and is steady if unspectacular, and there’s no way he’ll be on the bench when the Fall Classic moves to “The Mound City.”
Matt Adams (.284/17/51)—Allen Craig was the Cardinals first basemen during the regular season, but a foot injury has kept him out of postseason play. He is expected to return at least as a DH in this series, and if he can’t play the field in St. Louis Matt Adams will continue to man the position. Adams hit .283 with 17 jacks in only 108 games during the regular season. He also led the Cardinals in slugging percentage, slugging .503. Adams has hit .268 with a homer and four RBIs in the postseason.
Edge: Red Sox
Dustin Pedroia (.301/9/84)—If David Ortiz is the heart and soul of the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia is the metabolism (or something like that). He makes the team go by playing hard at all times, and does everything well. Granted his power has waned—he slugged a career-low .415—but he hit .300 for the fourth time since becoming a regular in 2007, scored 91 runs, drove in 84, walked 73 times and stole 17 bases at a 77% success rate. He’s also one of the best glove men in the game, committing only five errors in 160 games for a .993 fielding percentage. Not to mention the guy’s always covered in dirt, a testament to his effort and work ethic.
So far this postseason, Pedroia hasn’t been the “Laser Show” Red Sox Nation has come to love, but he was better in the ALCS, posting a .385 on-base average, than the ALDS and hopefully that trend will continue. On the other hand, he’s much better against southpaws (.937 OPS) than righthanders (.722 OPS), so St. Louis’ staff has a good chance of neutralizing the diminutive keystone man.
Matt Carpenter (.318/11/78)—Carpenter had a breakout season in 2013, arguably performing better than any second basemen in the league. He led the majors in runs scored with 126, and he led all second basemen in batting average, on base percentage, doubles, triples, and hits. Despite his spectacular regular season, Carpenter has struggled mightily in the playoffs. He is hitting .167 with an abysmal .512 OPS. St. Louis will need the Carpenter of the regular season to emerge if they want to beat Boston.
Edge: Red Sox
Will Middlebrooks (.227/17/49)—Middlebrooks’ season has been on a roller coaster to say the least and it’s hard to say how much playing time he’ll get in the World Series considering rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts’ poise and performance so far this postseason. Middlebrooks is batting only .174 with one RBI in nine games; Bogaerts is batting .500 with three doubles and five walks in six games, and looks like a veteran at the plate. Middlebrooks started the season with Boston, but struggled so much he was sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket to work the kinks out of his swing and refine his approach at the plate. Upon his return he was a better hitter before lapsing into old habits toward the end of the season. He’s also no great shakes as a defender, but he’s made some nice plays during the year.
Bogaerts is primarily a shortstop and has better range than Middlebrooks, and he accepted 44 chances at third and short during the regular season without committing an error. But he’s still a wild card with a sample size that’s much too small to get excited about. He looks to be Boston’s future at shortstop and his plate command has been Ted Williams-esque in his 11 postseason plate appearances, but whether manager John Farrell sticks with him against the Cards remains to be seen.
David Freese (.262/9/60)—The Cardinals 2011 Postseason hero battled injuries during the 2013 season, which limited his production. He hit .262 and hit only 9 homers in 138 games. He has performed even worse in the playoffs, hitting .189 with only two extra base hits, although he did hit a big homer to give St. Louis the lead over Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the NLDS. The Cardinals are hoping that the 2011 World Series MVP can rediscover his October magic against Boston.
Stephen Drew (.253/13/67)—Speaking of shortstops of the future, Stephen Drew ain’t it. I appreciate what he brought to the table this year—his 111 OPS+ was his second best over a full season in his career, he tied his career best in RBIs with 67, and he has a nose for the ball and made only eight miscues in 124 games. But he’s a Drew and has been abysmal so far in the postseason, hitting .086 in 35 at-bats. That said, chances of him seeing any bench time are slim. He’s a left-handed stick, who batted .284/.377/.498 against righties this season, and as I mentioned above, St. Louis’ rotation is strictly righthanded.
Pete Kozma (.217/1/35)—The light-hitting shortstop had an underwhelming 2013 campaign. He struggled to stay over the Mendoza line and his OPS was a meager .548. It is no surprise that his struggles at the dish continued into the postseason where he is sporting a .200 average with only one extra base hit. Don’t be surprised to see Daniel Descalso steal some playing time from Kozma at short.
Edge: Red Sox
Jonny Gomes (.247/13/52)—You’d think switch-hitting Daniel Nava, who batted .322/10/53 against righties would get more playing time in left than Gomes, but Farrell has gone with the man I like to call Jonny “Gnomes” instead. Against the Tigers’ tough rotation, Gomes went 3 for 16 with a double and seven strikeouts. Nava, on the other hand, went 2 for 6 with a walk and has reached base at a .429 clip in 14 postseason plate appearances. He’s also a better left fielder than Gomes, which really isn’t saying much. Gomes got hot at the end of the season and batted .340 with a .480 SLG in his last 19 games. But Nava went on a tear in August (.396/.473/.563) and that carried over into September and October when he hit .333/.400/.476. Gomes thrives in high leverage situations, though—he posted a .948 OPS—and can turn games around with one swing of the bat. Plus he’s fun to watch.
Matt Holliday (.300/22/94)—As the biggest name in this Cardinals lineup, Holliday put up yet another great season in 2013. The six-time All-Star hit .300/.389/.490, scored 102 runs and drove in 94 more. Holliday, like most of the Cardinal’s lineup, hasn’t been himself in the postseason. He has managed only a .244 average but he has hit two big home runs to help propel St. Louis over the Pirates and Dodgers. He has logged 53 playoff games and this is his 3rd trip to the World Series.
Jacoby Ellsbury (.298/9/53)—Ellsbury followed up his epic 2011 season with another injury-plagued campaign, then rebounded to have a good 2013 season. After belting 32 homers in 2011, he’s back to being a single-digit homer guy who runs like the wind and steals a ton of bases. Not only did he win his third stolen base crown with 52 thefts, but he was gunned down only four times all year for a staggering 92.8% success rate. Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon, Ellsbury has one of the weaker outfield arms in baseball, but he’s an excellent defensive center fielder, who can track down flies with the best of them.
He’s also been on fire since the playoffs started, batting .400 with 10 runs and six steals in 10 games. It’s as if he’s playing for a new contract or something. As of this writing, Ellsbury is a career .312 hitter in the postseason and the last time he was in a World Series he batted .438/.500/.638 against the Rockies in 2007. If he continues to get on base it’s going to be a blast to watch the competition between him and Cards catcher Yadier Molina, he of the 45% career caught stealing percentage.
Jon Jay (.276/7/67)—The Cardinals starting center-fielder had some playing time taken away from him by Shane Robinson in the NLCS, but Jay is still expected to start in center in Game 1. He hit a respectable .276 in the regular season but has struggled in the postseason, hitting .206 with zero extra base hits. Watch for Shane Robinson to take some at bats or even starts away from Jay if he continues to struggle.
Edge: Red Sox
Shane Victorino (.294/15/61)—The “Flyin’ Hawaiian” has had an interesting season in his first year with the Red Sox. The switch hitter suffered a hamstring injury that forced him to bat righthanded regardless of the handedness of the pitcher, and it actually worked out well as Victorino batted .300/.386/.510 in 115 plate appearances as a righthanded batter against righthanded pitching. He’s also a center fielder who excels in right and gives the Sox excellent outfield coverage playing next to Ellsbury. Victorino was outstanding against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, batting .429/.556/.429, and drew some criticism from pitchers for purposely getting hit by pitches. He went only 3 for 24 against the Tigers, but clinched Game 6 and the AL pennant with a seventh inning grand slam that erased a 2-1 Detroit lead and sent Boston to the World Series.
Carlos Beltran (.296/24/84)—Beltran had his usual under-the-radar season in 2013. He hit .296 and his 24 homers led all Cardinals during the regular season, but postseason play is where Beltran really shines. He hit two homers with six RBIs in the NLDS against the Pirates, and posted a .286/.423/.476 line with six more RBIs against the Dodgers. Beltran is one of the best postseason hitters of all time, hitting .337 and slugging .724 for his career. He is in the top 10 in runs scored and home runs all-time in the postseason, despite having played significantly fewer playoff games than many of the players accompanying him on the list. This is his first trip to the World Series and could cement his legacy as one of the most clutch players ever.
David Ortiz (.309/30/103)—What can I say about “Big Papi” that hasn’t already been said? As usual he was the Red Sox’s best hitter this season, leading the team with a .959 OPS. He destroyed righties to the tune of a .339/.440/.652 slash line, and wasn’t too shabby against lefthanded starters, either, posting a .280/.339/.506 slash. He thrives with men on base (1.013 OPS) and with runners in scoring position (1.008) and has a flair for the dramatic. Whether or not you believe a player’s ability to hit in the clutch is an actual ability or a myth, Ortiz always seems to be the guy who gives the team a jolt when it’s needed most.
With the Red Sox facing a two games to none deficit to the Tigers, Papi hammered a two-out grand slam off Joaquin Benoit in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2 to knot the score at 5-5. The homer was Ortiz’s 15th career postseason four-bagger, tying him with Babe Ruth for ninth on the all-time list, and the Sox scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game and turn the momentum in their favor.
Allen Craig (.315/13/97)—Craig had an outstanding 2013 campaign, leading the majors with a remarkable .454 batting average with RISP. He hit .315 with 97 RBIs overall, but he has missed time because of an injured foot and has yet to play a postseason game this season. The Cardinals need Craig’s bat in the lineup if they want to beat Boston, and he is expected to be good to go for Game 1. It remains to be seen if he will be able to play the field when the series goes to St. Louis.
Edge: Red Sox
Assuming Boston’s roster remains the same and Gomes and Bogaerts start, the Red Sox’s bench is a strong one. Catcher David Ross (.216/4/10) suffered two different concussions and played only 36 games behind the plate, but once he got healthy he proved to be a valuable asset, batting .259/.322/.481 against southpaws, and throwing out 41% of would-be base stealers. He was also behind the plate for both of Jon Lester’s ALCS starts and the lefty responded with a 2.31 ERA in 11 2/3 innings.
Like Nava, Mike Carp has been a somewhat forgotten man after hitting .296/9/43 in only 216 regular season at-bats. The lefthanded hitting outfielder/first baseman did most of his damage against righties, but is 0 for 6 with three strikeouts so far in the postseason. That said, he posted a 1.048 regular season OPS as a pinch hitter and provides an excellent lefthanded option off the bench. Daniel Nava (.303/12/66) finished fifth in the AL in on-base percentage at .385 and was almost as good against southpaw starters (.330/.394/.468) as he was batting lefthanded against righties (see left field comments). He only pinch hit four times all year, so it’s hard to say how he’ll do off the bench, but he’s a valuable commodity nonetheless.
When/if Nava starts in left, Gomes will be the first righthanded option off the bench, which is another Boston strength. Five of Gomes’ six safeties as a pinch hitter went for extra bases, including four homers, and he posted a 1.405 OPS as a pinch hitter. Needless to say, he’s dangerous. Middlebrooks batted only once as a pinch hitter in 2013 and only three times in his career, but his one hit was a grand slam in 2012. Of Bogaerts’ 44 career regular season at-bats, two have come as a pinch hitter and he’s 1 for 2. The other bench spot will most likely go to 28-year-old speedster Quintin Berry, who is 24 for 24 in stolen base attempts in his brief career. He also has 291 minor league steals in eight seasons and is 4 for 4 in 13 career postseason games.
Shane Robinson (.250/2/16)—Robinson emerged as a clutch bench player for the Cardinals in the NLCS, going 3 for 7 and hitting a crucial home run in Game 4. Robinson is turning 29 years old though, and he is a .246 career hitter with five home runs, so production at this level is not to be expected from him. Daniel Descalso (.238/5/43) is a utility player who can play all infield positions, but he doesn’t provide much offensively. He is a career .243 hitter and has only 10 home runs in 425 games, but he has hit better than Kozma in the playoffs, so he may see some time at short against Boston.
Adron Chambers (.154/0/1)—The cardinals 5th outfielder, Chambers will likely appear only has a pinch hitter for the pitcher in this series, which he did four times in the NLCS but went hitless. Tony Cruz (.203/1/13)—Molina’s back-up, don’t expect to see Cruz on the field in the World Series. He is a career .236 hitter with two home runs in 140 games. Kolten Wong (.153/0/0) hit .153 in his rookie year, so it would be surprising to see him get any playing time except for the occasional pinch hit appearance for the pitcher.
Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75), Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74), John Lackey (10-13, 3.52), Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.17)—As of this writing all we know is Lester is getting the ball in the series opener on Wednesday. Whether or not the Game 2 starter will be Buchholz or Lackey is anyone’s guess. Lackey started Game 2 of the ALDS, which made sense considering he went 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA at Fenway while going only 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA on the road. But Buchholz started Game 2 of the ALCS, bumping Lackey to Game 3 because the latter has a good history at Detroit’s Comerica Park (4-1, 3.83 in six career starts) and didn’t need The Fens to make him feel comfortable.
Historically, Buchholz is better at Fenway (3.39 ERA in 58 games) than on the road (3.81 ERA in 65 games), but this year the opposite is true. He was so dominant during the regular season he could pitch in Yellowstone Park and toss a shutout. But he’s struggled in the postseason so far, pitching to a 5.40 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. And that brings me to Jake Peavy, who might or might not be a factor in the World Series. The Red Sox picked up the oft-injured former NL Cy Young Award winner on July 30 in a three-team trade that sent Peavy from the White Sox to Boston, shortstop Jose Iglesias from Boston to Detroit and a handful of other dudes between Boston, Chicago and Detroit.
Peavy had his moments in carmine hose, tossing a complete game three-hitter against the Dodgers on August 25 and winning four of five decisions, but except for 5 2/3 excellent innings against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, Peavy’s postseason history has been terrible so far. In four career playoff starts with the Padres and Red Sox, Peavy is 0-3 with a 10.31 ERA and despite his competitive nature that makes Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky look like he was created by Walt Disney, his postseason history leaves much to be desired. If the Sox are up three games to none, I’d have no problem if Farrell tabbed Peavy for Game 4. Otherwise I’d rather see Lester, Buchholz and Lackey on short rest, or even lefty Felix Doubront (11-6, 4.32), who could be effective against a squad that hit only .242/.309/.366 against portsiders all season.
Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA, 1.07 whip, 8.16 k/9)—The Cardinals Game 1 starter, Wainwright is an established star who can be trusted in the playoffs. He won 19 games and had a fantastic 2.94 ERA during the regular season as he was selected to his second All-Star game. His success has carried into the postseason as well where he has posted a lights out 1.57 ERA in five starts. His career 2.10 postseason ERA establishes his status as a big game pitcher, so it’s no surprise that the Cardinals are going to Wainwright in Game 1. Michael Wacha (4-1. 2.78 ERA, 1.10 whip, 9.05 k/9) is the story of the Cardinals postseason. Wacha quietly put together a good regular season, posting a 2.78 ERA in 15 games. In the playoffs, Wacha has brought his game to a whole new level, transforming into a dominant starting pitcher. The 22-year-old has given up one earned run in 21 innings, which translates to an unfathomable 0.43 ERA. He has struck out 22 batters and walked only four, and he has his toughest challenge yet in line against this Red Sox team.
Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA, 1.35 whip, 5.73 k/9), Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97 ERA, 1.31 whip, 8.84 k/9)—Somewhat curiously deciding against starting Shelby Miller in the playoffs, Mike Matheny has decided to use Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn as his 3rd and 4th starters. It remains to be seen who will start Game 3, but both Kelly and Lynn have been underwhelming in the postseason, with Kelly posting a 4.41 ERA and Lynn a 5.41 ERA. Kelly was the better starter in the regular season, with a 9-3 record and an excellent 2.28 ERA in his 15 starts.
Edge: Red Sox
Koji Uehara (1.09, 21 saves), Junichi Tazawa (3.16), Craig Breslow (1.81), Brandon Workman (4.97), Franklin Morales (4.62), Felix Doubront (11-6, 4.32), Ryan Dempster (8-9, 4.57)—Boston’s postseason bullpen has been all about two pitchers—Uehara and Breslow—who have combined for a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings and an ALCS Most Valuable Player Award for Uehara after he went 1-0 with three saves against the Tigers. Tazawa has also been excellent, posting a 1.80 ERA in the postseason and recording a key strikeout of Miguel Cabrera in Game 3 of the ALCS.
Rookie righthander Workman has been a Godsend in the playoffs, tossing 5 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, but veteran southpaw Franklin Morales has been a train wreck, throwing pitches that couldn’t find home plate with a GPS, and posting a 6.77 ERA. Farrell might want to turn to 37-year-old veteran Lefty Matt Thornton instead, who pitched to a 3.52 ERA with Boston after being acquired from the White Sox on July 12.
The Cardinals bullpen had the 8th best ERA among National League teams and it has been lights out in the playoffs. Their bullpen’s 1.80 postseason ERA is first among all the NL teams to make the playoffs. 23-year-old Trevor Rosenthal (2.63, 3 saves) anchors the bullpen as he has stolen the closer job away from Edward Mujica (2.78, 37 saves). Rosenthal, Randy Choate (2.29), and Seth Maness (2.32) have combined to throw 12.1 scoreless innings. 22-year-old rookie Carlos Martinez (5.08) possesses an electrifying fastball, and John Axford (1.74) and Kevin Siegrist (0.45) will also likely play a role out of the pen.