RED SOX VERSUS CARDINALS: PICK YOUR POISON
First, A Little History
Before going on record with my pick of the Boston Red Sox to beat the St. Louis Cardinals during this 2013 World Series, I think it's important to decipher all the mumbo jumbo about these two organizations being the best in the business.
There is no question that a snapshot of this past decade shows these two teams along with the San Francisco Giants atop the leaderboard, as each of the three ballclubs has two World Series victories since the Red Sox exorcised the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 (the Sox's first world championship in 86 years). If you go back another decade and turn this into a 20-year snapshot, the Cards, Red Sox and Giants would still have their two World Series victories, as would the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. But the Yankees, who have five World Series victories since 1996, would be atop that totem pole.
In fact, although it may be chic to say the Red Sox and Cardinals are the best in the business, each of them, like so many, has had to suffer through lengthy World Series droughts. In the case of the Cardinals, who have won 19 National League pennants and 11 World Series, seven of those World Series victories have come in small clusters (1942, '44 and '46; 1964 and '67; and 2006 and '11). The Red Sox, before winning the Series in 2004, had appeared in the World Series just four times after their win in 1918 (1946, '67, '75 and '86).
That brief history lesson wasn't meant to tear down the accomplishments, more to show how difficult the gauntlet is in making either the Sox or Cardinals the sport's only three-time World Series winner since the year 2000.
There is no doubt that this series, should it go according to Hoyle, will be a better series than the one back in 2004, when the Red Sox swept the Cards during a four-game series. You may remember the Sox trailed the Yankees, three games to none, when Boston ran off with the last four games of the 2004 American League Championship Series, becoming the first team in MLB history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series. With the sweep during the World Series, the Sox had eight consecutive victories.
My pick, as stated before, is the Red Sox to win a five- or six-game series. That's my pick, in spite of the uncertain status surrounding right-hander Clay Buchholz. Buchholz lasted five innings and 85 pitches during his last outing, Game 6 of the ALCS against Detroit.
There are strong indications out of Boston that John Lackey will start Game 2, while Buccholz, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront are possible starters for Game 3 and Game 4.
Might the Sox be playing possum and simply have Buchholz sitting as one gigantic bullet during Game 4 versus Lance Lynn and then be able to act as an emergency two-inning guy in Game 7? We won't know until we get there.
Reasons For My Pick
What we do know is the Red Sox now plan to start Jon Lester during Game 1, and Game 5 if necessary, and John Lackey -- who ranked perhaps as low as a No. 4 in the rotation until September -- has reestablished his status as a trusted starter enough to get the start for Game 2, and Game 6 if necessary. That would leave Doubrount as an option for the Game 4 starter, with Peavy set for Game 3 and a potential Game 7 should Buchholz not be able to go to the post.
But do not entirely rule out the Red Sox, if ahead during the series, trying to somehow save Lackey for Game 7 if Buchholz starts Game 4 or 5.
For their part, the Cardinals' rotation has the impressive duo of Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha set for the first two games, and they'd be available for Game 5 and Game 6 should the series go that long. Their Game 3 and Game 4 starters, Joe Kelly and Lynn, don't have the potential big-game equity that Lackey and Peavy possess.
Let's go to the bullpens of both teams. People talk about how dangerous the Cards' bullpen is, and their overall postseason numbers in 2013 show them allowing six earned runs in 30 innings. That's a 1.80 ERA.
Meanwhile, the Boston 'pen has allowed three earned runs in 32 innings pitched during the 2013 postseason. That, my friends, is a 0.84 ERA. Although both clubs have great closers in Koji Uehara for the Red Sox and Trevor Rosenthal for the Cards, this series could come down again to the work of Boston relievers Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman and Junichi Tazawa.
Another big part of this series could be defense, and the Red Sox are the better defending team. In fact, in the all-important outfield breakdown, the Boston foursome of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes in left, Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Shane Victorino in right is head and shoulders above the Cardinals' ordinary trio of Matt Holliday, John Jay and Carlos Beltran. In fact, Jay has been so bad that it wouldn't be a surprise if Shane Robinson started multiple games in center, especially in Boston, where the territory an outfielder covers is all important.
Last, Best Reason Sox Will Win
It's something that annoyed me during the Yankees' halcyon days of the mid-1990s: their ability to work the count. In a key at bat during Game 6 of the ALCS against Max Scherzer, the league's best starter in 2013, the Sox's youngest batter, Xander Bogaerts, coaxed a patient walk during that all-important seventh-inning comeback.
Well, multiply that at bat times every batter this young, impressive array of hard throwers will face during this series. It's one thing to dominate Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, Yasiel Puig and Mark Ellis by striking them out; it's quite another to get past nine consecutive bearded, patient hitters. It may just drive the young Cardinals staff to ruin.
As Alex Hawkins, a former Colts great special teamer, was fond of saying, "The Sox are my pick in five or six, and I am sticking to it."