Cardinals vs. Red Sox: Who’s going home with the hardware?

Andrew Martinez

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ALCS Game 6: Detroit at Boston

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox looks to win his third World Series championship against the St. Louis Cardinals who are currently playing their best baseball of the season. Photo courtesy of MCT

After an exciting month of playoff baseball, the best records in the major leagues will battle for the championship as the American League champion Boston Red Sox will host the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

The Cardinals are playing their best baseball of the season at the perfect time, coming off a convincing National League Championship Series (NLCS) win versus the Dodgers in six games. St. Louis rookie starting pitcher Michael Wacha has emerged as the star of the playoffs, baffling hitters in October with a 0.43 ERA and earning NLCS MVP honors with two shutout victories in head-to-head match-ups with Dodgers’ likely Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Staff ace Adam Wainwright is a playoff-tested veteran with two championships under his belt and a career 2.10 ERA in the postseason. Although back-of-the rotation starters Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly have been inconsistent, they have been supported by a strong bullpen full of homegrown talent highlighted by closer Trevor Rosenthal, who has not allowed a run in the playoffs.

Boston’s lineup should have their hands full with Cardinal pitching, as the number one offense in the AL during the regular season struggled to score at times against Detroit’s starting pitchers.  The Sox pulled through with clutch hitting, as three of their victories in the ALCS came by one run, the clincher being decided by a dramatic 7th-inning grand slam to take the lead.  Designated hitter David Ortiz remains the biggest threat in the lineup, but the batting order is balanced out with pesky .300 hitters like second baseman Dustin Pedroia and home run threats including infielders Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks.  Speedster center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury would normally run wild on the base paths, but he should be held in check by five-time gold glove catcher Yadier Molina, who threw out 43 percent of would-be base stealers this season.

The Red Sox starting rotation is their biggest weakness, as starters Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz have been wildly inconsistent with ERAs over 5.  Jon Lester and John Lackey have proven to be Boston’s most reliable starters, as they have been able to hold leads long enough for the lights-out bullpen to take over.  Setup men Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa have allowed a combined one run in 12 postseason innings, and closer Koji Uehara’s dominance has carried over from the regular season, as he picked up ALCS MVP honors with three saves and a victory, closing out every Red Sox win in the series.

St. Louis’ lineup will have to score runs early, and should be able to do some damage with a lineup that tagged Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw for an unlikely seven runs in the clinching game of the NLCS.  Molina and outfielders Carlos Beltran and Matt Holiday are all .300 hitters and occasional power threats, while breakout star second baseman Matt Carpenter and 2011 playoff hero third baseman David Freese provide solid protection in the lineup. The offense will also be bolstered by the platoon of slugging first basemen Matt Adams and Allen Craig, who has returned from injury in time for the World Series.

The Red Sox and Cardinals are too evenly matched to predict a sweep, but a clutch Sox hitting and a stronger bullpen should prove the difference in what should shape up to be an exciting series that goes the distance.

Prediction: Boston in 7