World Series 2013: Boston holds the defensive edge over St. Louis

Much was written about “the Cardinals Way” ahead of Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night. The Cardinals last reached the World Series in 2011 but they have managed to return with a different cast of players, something made possible by the front office’s uncanny ability to find talent, their coaches’ ability to develop them and the players’ drive to uphold the rich St. Louis baseball tradition. The Cardinals Way, however, surely doesn’t include shoddy defense.

The Cardinals unraveled quickly in Game 1, allowing five runs in the first two innings in large part because of errors. They committed three errors on Wednesday, two by normally sure-handed shortstop Pete Kozma and another by third baseman David Freese. The defensive mistakes weren’t limited just to that. Perhaps just as bad as Kozma’s botched double play in the first inning was a pop-up that dropped uncaught in between Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, a blooper that may haunt the Cardinals if they are swept by the Red Sox.

If the first two innings of Game 1 was all you saw of the Cardinals this season, you would be right to question how they got here. The Cardinals did not win 97 games, the most in the National League, by playing defense like they did on Wednesday. But looking back at the regular season, the Cardinals’ defense may be their most glaring defense and could have foretold what happened in Game 1.

As a whole, the Cardinals defense ranked fourth-to-last in the major leagues with an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of -49.4, according to FanGraphs.com, better than only Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners. Their outfield defense — Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay — rank among the worst at their positions. Their infield defense, which made the brunt of the mistakes on Wednesday, isn’t particularly exceptional either.

Matt Carpenter, who had a breakout season at the plate, posted a -1.6 UZR at second base. Freese posted a -16.5 UZR at third base, only slightly better than the defensively-limited Miguel Cabrera (-16.8). Kozma has played often this postseason for his glove (6.7 UZR at shortstop, fifth best in the majors) not for his bat (a .548 OPS in the regular season). Even he and Molina, perhaps the best defensive catcher in the majors, made mistakes on Wednesday. In a World Series, that simply can’t happen.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, combined to post a 21.6 UZR during the regular season, good for 10th best in the majors. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino are strong defenders in center and right field, respectively, and are familiar with the quirks of playing in the Fenway Park outfield. Mike Napoli has been the best first baseman in baseball this season, according to advanced metrics, and Dustin Pedroia and Stephen Drew are a good combination up the middle of the infield.

So in a matchup of two teams both with strong pitching staffs and good offenses, defense could be a determining factor. And if Wednesday was an indication of what may come, it will be a long series for the Cardinals.

TODAY’S GAME

Game 2, St. Louis at Boston, 8:07 p.m., Fox, WTEM (980 AM).

Probables: RHP John Lackey vs. RHP Michael Wacha.

MORE BASEBALL COVERAGE FROM THE POST

The Cardinals come unglued in two innings and the Red Sox punish them in an 8-1 win, writes Barry Svrluga.

The Cardinals lose their composure after the reversed call by the umpires, writes Thomas Boswell.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.

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Cindy Boren · October 24, 2013