The Red Sox led all of baseball in almost every major offensive category — runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage. Every category, that is, except home runs. Yet Boston beat Detroit in the ALCS because they not only hit home runs, but timely shots: David Ortiz’s game-tying grand slam in Game 2, Mike Napoli’s solo shot in a 1-0 Game 3 victory, Napoli’s solo blast in Game 5 that sparked a three-run inning, and Shane Victorino’s game-winning grand slam in Game 6. Still, several Sox are struggling: Ortiz went 2 for 22 against Detroit; shortstop Stephen Drew is 1 for 26 in his past eight games; Victorino was 3 for 24 against the Tigers. The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored, on-base percentage and trailed only Colorado in on-base-plus-slugging. They will get a boost from the return of Allen Craig, their regular first baseman who has missed the postseason to this point with a foot injury. But the focal point of their lineup has to be right fielder Carlos Beltran, who enters his first World Series with a .337 average and 1.173 OPS in 45 career postseason games.
Edge: Red Sox
The Cardinals are anchored by postseason go-to guy Adam Wainwright — the closer in the 2006 playoffs, a starter now. In his seven previous playoff starts, he has a 2.54 ERA — which includes the six runs he gave up in 21 / 3 innings in Game 5 of last year’s division series against the Nationals. He’s backed up by wunderkind Michael Wacha, who 18 months ago was pitching for Texas A&M but has actually been St. Louis’s best October pitcher — 0.43 ERA in his three starts, with 22 strikeouts and four walks in 21 innings. After that, where the Cardinals turn could be up in the air, though Joe Kelly is the most likely choice for Game 3. The Red Sox, too, are confronted with some questions beyond Game 1 starter Jon Lester – a 2.33 ERA in his three playoff starts. Clay Buchholz couldn’t get an out in the sixth inning of the Game 6 victory against Detroit, so John Lackey will start Game 2. Lackey had his best outing as a Red Sox in Game 3 against Detroit with 62 / 3 scoreless innings, but had given up at least four earned runs in four of his previous five starts.
Mike Matheny stepped in for the Cardinals with no managerial experience at any level, but with a perfect situation: a World Series champion that needed someone to replace the retiring Tony La Russa. “You’re able to walk in and put a lot of pressure on the players to pick up the slack,” Matheny said. John Farrell stepped in for the Red Sox leaving a major league managing job in Toronto but into a disaster, following a 93-loss season that was Boston’s worst since 1965. And each seems to have pressed precisely the right buttons. Matheny, a catcher on the 2004 Cardinals team that lost to the Red Sox in the World Series, has guided St. Louis into the playoffs in both of his seasons. Farrell, formerly a Boston pitching coach, has been “perfect for this team,” veteran Jonny Gomes said. Only one Red Sox team since 1946 won more games than Farrell’s first.
Numbers say these two groups were mediocre during the season. St. Louis’s 3.45 bullpen ERA ranked 12th in baseball; Boston’s 3.70 was 21st, and each has been through some significant flux in the closer position. But they now feature two of the most dominant closers in the game in Koji Uehara and Trevor Rosenthal. The setup situation is equally difficult. St. Louis’s Carlos Martinez throws 99 mph and has allowed two hits and one walk in 62 / 3 postseason innings. Boston’s Craig Breslow has pitched seven scoreless innings in the playoffs, and right-hander Junichi Tazawa got the two biggest outs in the ALCS — a strikeout of Miguel Cabrera in Game 3 and a double play from Cabrera in Game 5.
Edge: Red Sox
Cardinals in seven.
— Barry Svrluga