The 109th World Series, starting tonight in Boston, pits the 97-win Red Sox against the 97-win St. Louis Cardinals, the first time since 1999 each league is represented by teams with its best records.
It should be one for the books.
The oddsmakers favor the Red Sox, but not by much.
Each team has its strengths and weaknesses. Boston steals bases (fourth in the majors); St. Louis does not (29th). Boston hits home runs (sixth); St. Louis does not (27th). Boston strikes out (8th); St. Louis does not (26th).
The Cardinals have young pitchers (2nd youngest) and the Red Sox have old pitchers (third oldest). The Cardinals' pitchers throw ground balls (2nd in ground ball-to-flyball rate) and the Red Sox' pitchers do not (23rd). The Cardinals play in a pitchers' park (Busch Stadium saw the third fewest total bases) and the Red Sox play in a hitters' park (Fenway Park saw the fifth most total bases), and the Red Sox have home field advantage.
The ethos of the Red Sox is their tenacity and scruffiness, exemplied by their beards which make them look like extras in the opening scene of Les Miserables. They started the season with the catch phrase "relentless", and they have lived up to it.
The ethos of the Cardinals is in their youth, particularly their pitchers. Their team has been led by pitchers who are 22 and 23 years old. This is a team that will be a force for the next several years — something that can't be said about the Sox.
And that's where the game will come down to. Pitch counts. In the postseason, Boston batters have forced 157.1 pitches and Cardinals pitchers have thrown only 130.6 pitches. Who wins and who loses, I believe, will come down to whether or not Boston players can grind down the Cards' pitchers, or whether the Cards' pitchers keep throwing premium stuff, forcing the Red Sox to swing and miss.
Sadly, the Red Sox will lose their DH — either Napoli or Ortiz — when playing in the NL park. But I don't think that will have as big an impact as the pitch counts. If the Red Sox can wear down the Card pitchers — not over each game so much as over the course of the series — then you get a tired Cards team going into Game 6 and Game 7, at Fenway, with the DH, and with the tiny foul ball territory (forcing more pitches). And that's when the Red Sox take it. Most likely, in a memorable Game 7 at Fenway, the site of so much incredible baseball legendary games.
The players to watch are (1) Ortiz for the Red Sox — if he's hitting deep and has the good eye against the Cards' fastballs, it's over (on the other hand, if he walks a lot, he's less of a threat); and (2) Allen Craig for the Cards — coming off of a month-long injury, he can't ease back into peak condition; he has to be there.
And me? I'm rooting for Red Sox rookie Xander Boegarts to deliver. Just 21 years old, I saw him play in Winston-Salem last year (he was on the opposing team – a Red Sox minor league team). And I remember him being a standout.