The World Series, A-Z
A letter-by-letter preview of the Red Sox-Cardinals matchup
The scene from Fenway Park in Game 1 of the ALCS, the Boston Red Sox vs. the Detroit Tigers. (Improper photo by Matt Martinelli)
The 2013 Red Sox continue their improbable run this week with Game 1 of the World Series against a familiar foe, the St. Louis Cardinals. For many Red Sox fans who had turned away from the home team these past two seasons, let this be a comprehensive primer on this year's team and a preview for the World Series. We've covered every angle, and, yes, every letter. We just can't guarantee it finishes with a "W."
A – All-Star advantage: Red Sox fans might not have been watching when the American League beat the N.L. 3-0 in July, but the result of that game gives Boston home-field advantage in the World Series. In a matchup between two teams with an even amount of talent, the home team has a 54 percent chance to win (leaving the road team with a 46 percent chance). So, Max Scherzer and Mariano Rivera, thanks for the extra boost.
B – Beards: You can’t watch coverage of the Sox without hearing about those damn beards, but that’s because you can’t watch coverage of the Sox without seeing them. Some are creepy. (Clay, please shave immediately after the final out of the season. Don’t even think about leaving the clubhouse without doing it.) Some are funny looking. (What’s that white stripe in David Ross’ beard? Will he earn a Just For Men contract out of this?) But one is truly epic. Mike Carp’s beard is perfectly shaped, not scary since it’s a lighter shade and really looks like what a blacksmith’s would look like in the ’90s. You know, the 1890s. The 2003 Sox had “Cowboy Up.” The 2004 Sox were the “Why Not Us” Idiots. (The 2011 Sox had Popeye’s fried chicken.) These Sox have the beards.
C – Cardinals: This St. Louis team is the exact team you didn’t want to face in the World Series. Most Sox fans would’ve preferred the hobbled Dodgers with players who we already know can’t handle the bright lights of Boston (former Sox not-quite-stars Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford). The Cardinals have a deep starting lineup of hitters, two stud pitchers in the rotation (Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha) and a solid bullpen. Both teams went 97-65 this season. St. Louis scored 183 more runs than their opponent. Boston scored 197 more runs than their opponent. It’s fair to say they’re evenly matched. But don’t forget that Tampa Bay was the least desirable wild-card team for the Sox to face. And Detroit was the team you most feared facing in the ALCS. The result was the Sox winning both.
D – Defense: What else would “D” stand for in sports? It has been said that, while pitching and offense get all the attention, defense is the category of a team that best predicts success once you get to the postseason. The Red Sox are among the Top 10 in many team defensive stats for the season, while the Cardinals are in the bottom five in the majors.
E – Ellsbury, Jacoby: The Sox centerfielder began his career with a 2007 season that looked a lot like the one currently being put forth by Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts. He was on the team in August and September, and forced his way into the lineup in the ALCS with good results. He followed up that performance with a World Series in which he got on base in half of his 18 plate appearances. He could’ve made a legitimate claim to being the MVP of that 2007 World Series. What has followed included many injuries, a 2011 season in which he should’ve won the MVP, and three seasons in which he led the league in stolen bases. He is a joy to watch, a true sparkplug at the top of the order and has been the Sox’ most consistent offensive producer this postseason. He’s a free agent at the end of this season, so this could be his final performance in a Sox uniform. Instead of worrying about his departure in the offseason, enjoy what you’re seeing now.
F – Farrell, John: The new Red Sox manager (born on the same day as Roger Clemens, for all you trivia buffs) was always the perfect fit for this organization. The pitching staff’s performance worsened when Farrell left his role as Sox pitching coach after the 2010 season to manage the Blue Jays. The Sox tried to get him back to manage the 2012 season, but they were rebuffed by the Jays’ organization. They tried again after the stink bomb of Bobby Valentine in 2012, and they got him (and David Carpenter, who was a lights-out reliever for Atlanta this season after the Sox waived him) for Mike Aviles. Farrell’s personality was a perfect fit for the clubhouse, and on a roster full of team MVP candidates, you could easily make a case for the man in charge who has run a strict, steady ship all year long.
G – Gomes, Jonny: The ringleader of this band of bearded brothers, Jonny Gomes’ two-year $10 million contract was the first one that general manager Ben Cherington gave out in an offseason full of free-agent pickups. Most of the moves were criticized as costing too much money for over-the-hill players, but most have worked brilliantly. Gomes is one of the brilliant ones. On a contending team, paying $5 million a year to a dependable player, who won’t complain about playing time and keeps things loose in the dugout is worth it. Especially if he can mash lefties like Gomes’ track record shows he can. He posted a .188 on-base percentage in the ALCS and struck out in 7 of his 18 at-bats, but the Sox won all 4 games he started. It might be a coincidence, but Farrell has said he’ll stick with Gomes for his defense and base-running over Daniel Nava, who has performed better offensively. So far, despite the better judgment of most stat-heads, it’s hard to argue with the results. He is the Kevin Millar of this year’s team.
H – Henry, John: The Sox owner was lampooned a lot these past couple of years, from his handling of Terry Francona’s departure to his hands-off approach and his ownership of the Liverpool soccer team in England. But his team is in the World Series for the third time in the 12 seasons he has been owner and he’s about to finalize his purchase of one of Boston’s other iconic properties, The Boston Globe. Could he set up the timing so the first paper he publishes trumpets his third World Series title? Needless to say, it’s a good time to be Mr. Henry.
I – There is no “I” in this Red Sox team. Move along.
J – Jon & John: Jon Lester and John Lackey were two of the fall guys for the 2011 collapse. Both starters were supposedly part of the chicken-and-beer crew, and Lackey, who was pitching hurt, was by some accounts the worst pitcher in the American League that season (his 114 earned runs allowed were the most in the majors). Lester wasn’t much better in September, posting a 5.40 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP. They stunk. This year, the two were the most reliable Sox starters all season long. In the postseason, they’ve combined to win 4 of their 5 starts, giving up a total of 9 runs. As much as Cherington’s free-agent pickups have paid off, a lot of the Sox success can be tied to returning players improving. The redemption of Lackey and Lester has been at the forefront of that.
K – Koji! There’s nothing to be said about Uehara that hasn’t already been pointed out. He just won the ALCS MVP after closing out all 4 Sox victories. He pitched six innings in 5 games and struck out 9 batters without walking anyone and giving up just 4 hits. In his first 33 1/3 innings as Sox closer, he struck out 46, walked two, gave up 8 hits and allowed no earned runs. He retired 37 batters in a row at one point. He posted the lowest season WHIP in the history of the major leagues. He has been historically great. And his high-fives and fun demeanor make him a true delight to watch. In a game with so many fake tough guys, he stands out not just for his lights-out performances, but his joyous celebrations. Every time he pitches, it’s the highlight of the game.
L – Losses in the World Series: The Sox have not lost a World Series game since 1986 (when they lost Games 6 and 7 to the Mets, no need to rehash this). They swept the Cardinals in 2004 in a World Series that would’ve been ho-hum if the Sox weren’t ending an 86-year drought, or if they hadn’t just won 4 games in a row in the ALCS against the Yankees to climb out of a 3-0 series deficit for the first time in postseason history. They swept the Rockies in 2007 in a World Series that most baseball fans likely do consider ho-hum. That series came on the heels of overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against Cleveland in the ALCS. It’s as if the baseball gods came together both years and decided that Red Sox fans could use a little bit less drama in the World Series. That’s 8 straight World Series wins for the Sox. A dozen might be asking too much, right?
M – MVP: There is only one player in this series who has a regular season MVP and it’s Dustin Pedroia. The man who battled a thumb injury all season, and saw a power outage in his usual “Laser Show” as a result, is one of the most accomplished stars in this series. Although his slugging percentage is way down, he still posted a .372 on-base percentage this season and a .385 OBP in the ALCS.
N – Napoli, Mike: The Sox were about to sign the first baseman in the offseason to a 3-year, $39 million contract when they found he had a hip problem. Instead, they inked him to a 1-year deal for $5 million and incentives. Napoli hit all those incentives and he’s been a solid player in the field while being streaky at the plate. He only got two hits in the ALDS and started the ALCS going 0-6 with 6 strikeouts. And then he struck: He hit the game-winning homer off Justin Verlander in Game 3, followed by two hits in Game 4, and three hits and a homer in Game 5. Napoli was with the Texas Rangers when they made the World Series in 2011. He posted a .464 on-base percentage and hit two homers. He also saw his team blow a 2-run ninth-inning lead (with two outs) and a 2-run 10th inning lead in Game 6, throwing away a championship in excruciating fashion against the St. Louis Cardinals. He owes the Cardinals payback, and his birthday is the same day as a possible Game 7. This series could be pointing to the guy whose initials spell out: M.A.N.
O – Ortiz, David: The Sox designated hitter has come through with big hits almost on-demand in his postseason history. Most Sox fans felt mighty confident when he strode to the plate with the Sox down 5-1 in Game 2 of the ALCS. Big Papi delivered as expected with a grand slam, one of his two hits in an otherwise subpar series. With a great history of big hits in the ALDS and ALCS, it’s easy to forget how sensational he’s been in the World Series. In 2004 and 2007, he combined for a .441 on-base percentage and a .571 slugging percentage. He’s the only current member of the Sox to have won both World Series this century. And another World Series win would leave him behind only Harry Hooper (four World Series titles) and the immortal Heinie Wagner (who was on the Sox in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918, but only played in the World Series in 1912) for the most championships with the Red Sox.
P – Pujols, Albert: The Cardinals are back in the World Series for the fourth time in the last 10 seasons. But this will be their first appearance without Albert Pujols during that time. The three-time MVP hasn’t been missed since he left St. Louis after 2011. The team’s lineup has traded the power of Pujols for the performances of unheralded players such as Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig (who will return from injury to play in the World Series). Meanwhile, Pujols has been disappointing during his two seasons with the L.A. Angels.
Q – Quintin Berry: Thank goodness Cherington traded for the speedy outfielder from Kansas City on Aug. 27, otherwise we’d have nothing for the “Q” section (maybe QI or QAT for all you Scrabble fans?). Quintin has been as advertised, filling the pinch-runner role Dave Roberts made famous for the Sox in 2004. He stole a base in the ALDS and the ALCS, but neither led to runs. In his two-year career for the postseason and regular season, he still has never been caught stealing. He’s 28-28.
R – Relievers: If there’s been anything to quibble with John Farrell’s performance as manager, it’s been with his usage of relievers in the postseason. His three excellent relievers — Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Uehara — have combined to give up 1 run in 18 innings. Despite the lofty numbers, he’s gone to Franklin Morales and Brandon Workman at times to get out of jams. In Game 6 of the ALCS, he turned to Morales and Workman, allowing the Sox to lose their lead, before going to Breslow and Tazawa. Someone should tell Farrell, who has correctly used Uehara for more than 1 inning at times, that he can use Breslow in a tight situation before the 7th or 8th inning. He did it in Game 4 of the ALDS and it worked. He hasn’t done it since.
S – Speed: If speed were a true difference-maker, the Cardinals wouldn’t get very far. They were last in the N.L. with 45 steals this season, getting caught 22 times for a 67 percent success rate. The Sox were third in the A.L. with 123 steals, getting caught only 19 times for an 87 percent success rate. The Cardinals make sure their opponents can’t steal, either. Their catchers combined to throw out 40 percent of runners and gave up only 39 stolen bases all season. The Sox gave up the most stolen bases in the majors (133) and threw out only 24 percent of runners.
T – Team history: These two franchises have a history. This will be the fourth meeting between the two in the World Series, with St. Louis winning in seven games in 1946 and 1967, and the Sox winning in 2004. The four meetings between the franchises will tie the Giants vs. A’s and Cubs vs. Tigers as the most common World Series matchups that don’t include the Yankees.
U – Uber-offenses: The Red Sox scored 853 runs this season. The Cardinals scored 783 runs. Each led their respective leagues in runs scored (scoring is less in the N.L. because they don’t have the designated hitter). Critics have pointed to the Cardinals’ .865 OPS with runners in scoring position as proof their scoring prowess is a fluke (the Sox had a .794 OPS), but regardless of that statistic, the Cards were still quite good at the plate. They led the National League in on-base percentage (.332) and had seven of their eight position players post an OBP of .339 or higher (league average is .318). The Sox had 12 players get more than 200 plate appearances and 11 of them had an on-base percentage of .333 or higher. Will Middlebrooks, who was benched in the ALCS in favor of Bogaerts, is the only player who didn’t reach that threshold.
V – Victorino-ing: Is that not a thing? I just assume that Shane Victorino’s enthusiasm-fueled, fistpump-filled home-run trot after his game-winning grand slam in Game 6 has become an Internet sensation, in the same vein of Boston cop Steve Horgan’s arms-up celebration after Ortiz’s slam. Yes, Victorino was slumping terribly for the entire ALCS. He was 2-23 before his big hit and Farrell had considered dropping him from the second spot in the lineup. He also had gotten hurt in August, causing him to stop hitting from the left side against right-handed pitchers. But in Game 6, against a right-hander, he delivered with a homer run over the Green Monster that comes second only to Carlton Fisk’s 1975 classic in Game 6 of the World Series. Is it a slump-buster in addition to being an iconic shot? We’ll know in a few days.
W – Wacha & Wainwright: The Sox have a formidable rotation, but the Cardinals have an otherworldly 1-2 punch in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. Wainwright was the second-best pitcher in the N.L. this season, and has a career postseason ERA of 2.10 and a WHIP of 0.91. In the NLDS, he gave up just two runs in 16 innings. In the NLCS, he gave up 2 runs in 7 innings in a Game 3 loss. Wacha, 22, has outshone the 31-year-old veteran in his first postseason. The 2012 first-round pick (signed with the compensation pick the Cardinals got for losing Pujols to the Angels) was called up at the end of May for a few starts. He returned for good in August. He started 5 games in September and only gave up runs in two of them. In his final start of the regular season, he went 8 2/3 innings before giving up a hit. In his first postseason start, he didn’t give up a hit until the 8th inning. In both of his two NLCS starts he did not give up a run. He appears right now to be the best pitcher in baseball.
X – Xander Bogaerts: The Sox infielder has been dubbed one of the best prospects in baseball. He is 21 years old and he forced his way into starting Games 5 and 6 of the ALCS. How did the inexperienced rookie play when called upon? He has 11 plate appearances in the postseason and has gotten on base 8 times. Most Red Sox fans having been waiting a long time for the most-hyped prospect since at least Clemens. Xander has delivered. Now, the unflinching rookie (he’ll actually be a rookie next season) will get a chance in the World Series.
Y – Yadier Molina: Ortiz and the Cardinals’ catcher are the only remaining players from the 2004 World Series rosters. While Ortiz has stayed in the limelight for 10 seasons, Molina has had a slow rise in productivity and popularity. He finished fourth last season in MVP voting and is considered the best defensive catcher in baseball. At the plate, he has posted three straight seasons with an OPS above .800. If the Sox are silent on the base paths, you know who to blame.
Z – Zombie Cardinals: These Cardinals are hard to kill. In Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, they were down 7-5 with two outs in the 9th inning and came back to win 9-7. In 2011, they were down 2 games to 1 in the NLDS and NLCS and won both series. In the World Series that year, they were down to their final out on multiple occasions in Game 6, and yet they won the game and Game 7 to win the championship. This team, much like a zombie, simply won’t die. Game 7 this year is currently scheduled for Halloween. You connect the dots. What’s the best way to kill a zombie again?