Xander Bogaerts Could Be X Factor and Other Last-Minute Thoughts Before World Series

Xander BogaertsWho’s ready for baseball?

The Red Sox and Cardinals are set to kick off the 109th edition of the World Series, and things couldn’t be any more difficult to predict. Both teams have an identical win total, and they’re about as evenly-matched as it gets. In fact, the two teams are, in many ways, mirror images of each other.

The Red Sox look like a team of destiny, but the Cardinals have the offense, starting pitching and bullpen to turn Boston’s dream into a nightmare. Likewise, the Sox are fully capable of toppling the Cards to slap a bow on their incredible turnaround.

It’s almost time for baseball, but before the Fall Classic gets underway, here are some last-minute thoughts swirling around in my strange brain.

  • It’s always nice to get off to a good start, but the first two games in Boston are extremely important for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox’ starting lineup will be without either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli in Games 3, 4 and 5, which inherently makes life more difficult for John Farrell and Co.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, have a benefit that National League teams rarely seem to have in the Fall Classic. With Allen Craig returning to the lineup, St. Louis can slide an All-Star into its designated hitter spot for Games 1 and 2.

NL teams in the World Series are usually forced to use their best offensive bench option as the DH, and typically, it ends up being a fourth outfielder or someone unlikely to make a major impact. The Cardinals’ “best option” is their regular-season RBI leader.

Mike Matheny will also be able to get a look at Craig in a DH role in Games 1 and 2 before deciding whether he should replace Matt Adams — who has filled in admirably in Craig’s absence — at first base for Games 3, 4 and 5.

  • Clay Buchholz is still scheduled to pitch either Game 3 or Game 4 in St. Louis despite speculation that he’s suffering from a physical issue that has forced him to break down toward the tail end of his starts this postseason.

Opponents have hit .205 in the first four innings against Buchholz in the right-hander’s three postseason starts. Opponents are hitting .435 in the fifth and sixth innings.

When asked if Buchholz is dealing with a physical issue, Farrell said Wednesday, “Not to the point of keeping him out of starting.”

That seems to suggest that there might be something going on with Buchholz, even if it isn’t keeping him from starting. As a result, I wouldn’t expect Farrell to wait around long in giving Buchholz the hook if and when the righty struggles in Game 3 or 4.

  • Farrell said that he is waiting to see how the Cardinals’ offense handles John Lackey before making a determination regarding his Game 3 starter.

Farrell also noted that Game 7 availability will factor into his decision to go with either Buchholz or Jake Peavy in Game 3.

Reading between the lines, it seems that whoever starts Game 3 would start Game 7, if necessary. As it stands, Jon Lester and John Lackey would likely pitch Games 5 and 6.

Let me throw this at you. I’m not saying the Red Sox would consider it or should consider it, but if Boston has a 3-1 series lead after four games, would you consider starting Felix Doubront in Game 5?

Obviously, there are a number of other factors involved — like whether Doubront appears in the series before then — but that would set up Lester and Lackey for Games 6 and 7, respectively. Also, the Cardinals have been much worse against lefties this season than they’ve been against righties. (Game 6 of the NLCS versus Clayton Kershaw, notwithstanding.)

Have a look.

vs. RH Starter: 4,162 at-bats, .278 average, .340 on-base percentage, .413 slugging percentage
vs. LH Starter: 1,395 at-bats, .242 average, .309 on-base percentage, .366 slugging percentage

Just spitballing before first pitch.

  • Ryan Dempster, like Doubront, could have an even more important role if stuff hits the fan with either Buchholz or Peavy. However, a few Cardinals fixtures have hit Dempster hard in the past.

Dempster is 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA over 169 1/3 innings in 49 games (23 starts) in his career against the Cardinals.

Yadier Molina: .381 (16-for-42), three RBIs, six walks
Matt Holliday: .333 (9-for-27), home run, two RBIs
Carlos Beltran: .467 (7-for-15), home run, four RBIs

  • The Cardinals bring the heat. They’ve got some power arms, and that could be an advantage for St. Louis.

Some interesting Red Sox offensive stats can be found below, courtesy of Baseball Reference.

.213 average, .319 OBP, .688 OPS vs. “power” pitchers
.278 average, .351 OBP, .767 OPS vs. avg p/f pitchers
.299 average, .359 OBP, .852 OPS vs. “finesse” pitchers
*Power- in top third of league in strikeouts and walks
*Finesse- in bottom third of league in strikeouts and walks
*Stats based on three years before & after, when available,and season when split is computed

  • Farrell on Wednesday confirmed what most of us already know: Xander Bogaerts is special.

“Well, what’s not normal is Xander Bogaerts. He’s not a typical 21‑year‑old,” Farrell said. “We’ve talked a lot about the poise, the presence, the composure in which he plays. Even in the tightest moments, the smile never seems to leave his face. He might be flying on the inside, but externally there’s no outward anxious moments. And he certainly performed much the same. But he’s a pretty special young man.”

Don’t be shocked if Xander, who has reached in eight of his 11 postseason plate appearances, is an X factor — no pun intended — in this series.

  • A lot has been made of the Cardinals’ strong bullpen, and understandably so. If the Red Sox’ offense struggles early in games like it did against the Tigers, Boston could be doomed, as late-inning magic will be harder to generate.

However, when the opposing rotation finished third in the majors in ERA during the regular season and is anchored by an ace in Adam Wainwright and a red-hot rookie in Michael Wacha, wouldn’t you rather take your chances with the young, relatively inexperienced St. Louis ‘pen?

Sure, it’s a matter of picking your poison, but I wouldn’t expect the Red Sox to change their offensive approach too much.

  • Wainwright is having his best season yet, which is saying something considering he’s won 19 games three times. He did give up an NL-high 223 hits during the regular season, though, so there’s absolutely­ a chance that the Red Sox could string some knocks together.

Wainwright’s control has been much improved, but he is still a pitcher who will try to get hitters to chase pitches — Wainwright ranked third behind Matt Harvey and Cole Hamels with 36.2 percent of swings on pitches out of zone. The Red Sox rarely give away at-bats, and that could be key.

  • According to Farrell, David Ortiz is still a man on a mission.

“I can tell you he’s no less motivated this year than he was in ’04 or ’07,” Farrell said Wednesday.

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