The 109th edition of the World Series should be a doozy.
The Red Sox and Cardinals enter the Fall Classic equal in the wins column, as both Boston and St. Louis racked up 97 victories during the regular season. The two squads are also very similar in nature, which only adds to the difficulty of predicting the series.
One thing that’s obvious, however, is that this will be the Red Sox’ toughest test yet. Not to take anything away from the Tigers and Rays, who were both worthy adversaries, but the Cardinals — simply put — are really, really good. St. Louis also poses some matchup problems for Boston, mostly because the Cardinals are so similar to the Sox.
On paper, it’s easy to see that the Cardinals are fully capable of attaching a nightmare ending to a dream season for the Red Sox. Boston can certainly do some things to turn the tide in its favor, though, and it starts with not straying too far from what has made the Red Sox so successful all season.
Let’s take a look at the three biggest keys to a Red Sox World Series win.
Keep the wheels turning
Yadier Molina, who is considered the best defensive catcher in baseball, threw out 43.5 percent (20 of 46) of baserunners during the regular season. It has gotten to a point where teams rarely run on Molina — evidenced by the 46 stolen-base attempts. By comparison, 113 baserunners tried to steal against Jarrod Saltalamacchia this season, and Salty threw out 21.2 percent (24 of 113).
Given that information, it probably wouldn’t be wise for the Red Sox to attempt stolen bases at will, despite all of the success they’ve had swiping bags this season. The Red Sox were successful on an American League record 87 percent of their stolen-base attempts this season, but Molina’s presence significantly decreases the odds of such success replicating itself in the World Series. And in what is expected to be a grind for runs, the Red Sox can’t afford to run into outs.
However, the Red Sox shouldn’t abandon aggressive baserunning altogether. Boston could increase its amount of hit-and-run attempts, while also continuing its full-throttle approach in going from first to third on base hits to the outfield.
One area of weakness in the Cardinals is their defense — both in the outfield and at the corner infield positions — and the Red Sox should try to exploit that whenever possible. In other words, just because the Red Sox aren’t swiping bags left and right doesn’t mean they can’t continue to pick their spots and stay aggressive on the base paths.
Don’t feed the monster
One of this season’s most staggering statistics is the Cardinals’ .330 average with runners in scoring position. Not only is it the best such mark in the history of baseball, but it shattered the previous record of .311, held by the 2007 Tigers.
The next-best mark in baseball this season belonged to the Tigers, who hit .282 with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox ranked third with a .278 average. St. Louis will also be getting back its best hitter with runners in scoring position, Allen Craig, who hit a whopping .454 in such spots.
Conversely, the Cardinals ranked just 24th in batting average (.248) with the bases empty. The Braves (.242) were the only playoff team with a lower average with no one on base.
Obviously, it’s easier said than done, but the Red Sox must keep the Cardinals off the bases. The Cards ranked 27th in homers (125), but third in on-base percentage (.332), so their ability to produce runs — like the Red Sox — is contingent upon getting on base and building threats. The Red Sox can counteract that offensive approach by pounding the strike zone and limiting the number of free opportunities.
Halloween could come early to the Cardinals. As friendly as Fenway Park can be to the Red Sox, it can be equally as frightful for opposing teams; not only because of the raucous crowd, but also because of the ballpark’s unique dimensions.
The Cardinals’ outfield defense is below-average, and the Red Sox, who were an MLB-best 54-27 at home during the regular season, could really seize control with some strategically-placed balls to the outfield. John Farrell has noted Boston’s ability to use the big left field wall, and that could cause problems for Matt Holliday, just as Fenway’s spacious right field could cause problems for 36-year-old Carlos Beltran.
The Red Sox will be at a disadvantage when playing in St. Louis, as either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz will need to come out of the lineup each game. Therefore, taking advantage of the games in Boston will be vital to the Red Sox’ World Series success.