Yadier Molina’s ‘Shutdown’ Ability Among Cardinals’ Three Keys to Winning World Series

Yadier MolinaThe Red Sox made quick work of the Cardinals in 2004. Unfortunately for Boston, this is 2013.

The Cardinals enter this year’s World Series looking extremely dangerous, so while the Red Sox have a “team of destiny” thing going on, it’s entirely possible that St. Louis could stop Boston dead in its tracks. Both teams won 97 games during the regular season, and although the Rays and Tigers were tough to overcome, the Red Sox have yet to face a task this tough.

It’s been a while since there’s been a World Series this evenly matched. Thus, predicting the exact outcome is almost fruitless, as it requires playing a hunch more than anything. One thing that seems like a safe bet, however, is that these two teams — which also met in the World Series in 1946 and 1967, in addition to 2004 — should create great theatre. St. Louis has become a model organization for player development, while Boston has shown tremendous resilience in shocking the baseball world with a rare worst-to-first turnaround.

It’ll be surprising if this series doesn’t last six or seven games and isn’t decided by a couple of key at-bats, but there are certain things that each team could do in order to swing the pendulum in its favor.

Let’s take a look at the three biggest keys to a Cardinals World Series win.

Mo’ lina Mo’ problems (for Boston)

The Red Sox aren’t the fastest team around, but baserunning is about more than pure footspeed, and Boston’s aggressiveness on the base paths this season has been an intrical — and very underrated — part of its success.

The Red Sox finished fourth in the majors in stolen bases this season with 123, and had an incredible, MLB-best 87 percent success rate. In fact, Boston was successful on 45 straight stolen-base attempts before Daniel Nava was cut down on a failed hit-and-run attempt in Game 4 of the ALDS. At the heart of it all has been Jacoby Ellsbury, whose six postseason steals are a club record and double the amount of any other team in the playoffs. The Red Sox have 11 playoff stolen bases overall.

Such thievery has allowed the Red Sox to gain an edge offensively. Not only does aggressive baserunning allow the Red Sox to create higher quality scoring chances, but it adds even more pressure to opposing pitchers who are already tasked with facing the league’s most disciplined offense. It’s been a successful formula for Boston all season.

Yadier Molina — with help from the Cardinals’ pitching staff, of course — has the ability to neutralize the Red Sox’ steal-happy ways.

Molina, who is universally considered the best defensive catcher in baseball and one of the best all-around leaders in the game, has an absolute cannon, and isn’t afraid to use it. He threw out 43.5 percent (20 of 46) of would-be base stealers during the regular season, which is in line with his usual success and well above the 28 percent league average. John Farrell on Tuesday labeled Molina a “shutdown thrower.”

Molina has been so successful in gunning down baserunners that many teams have abandoned the running game altogether when facing the Cardinals. If the Cardinals catcher has similar success in neutralizing the Red Sox’ running game in the World Series, it’s going to be even more difficult for Boston to scratch across runs.

Wain’s World & Wacha Flocka Flamethrower

For the third time this postseason, the Red Sox will face a team that seemingly has a better rotation. This isn’t to take anything away from the four hurlers that Boston has been rolling out. It just speaks to how talented the teams are that the Red Sox have faced.

The Cardinals will be throwing the quartet of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn in the World Series.

Wainwright is hands-down one of the best pitchers in baseball, and his regular-season success has carried into the postseason, where the Cardinals ace is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three starts. Wainwright has gone at least seven innings in each of those starts, including the full nine in an Oct. 9 victory over the Pirates.

Wacha, meanwhile, has put together a postseason that’s the stuff of fairytales. The 22-year-old rookie is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three starts, and was named the NLCS MVP for his lights-out effort against the Dodgers.

Kelly and Lynn haven’t been quite as dominant, but it might not matter. Wainwright and Wacha will likely be available for five games this series, which is a scary situation for the Red Sox.

Boston managed to defeat Justin Verlander and win the two games in which Max Scherzer pitched during the ALCS, but the Red Sox had the benefit of facing a Tigers team whose bullpen was shaky. The Cardinals’ bullpen, on the other hand, has been solid, which means that the Red Sox will likely need to do damage against St. Louis’ starters at some point. (And that includes getting to Wainwright and/or Wacha.)

Craig’s List

Allen Craig is back from a foot injury. It should give the Cardinals’ sputtering offense a boost, even if we must temper expectations from the get-go.

Craig led the Cardinals in RBIs during the regular season with 97, and hit a jaw-dropping .454 with runners in scoring position. Even if he’s not 100 percent, Craig offers an excellent designated hitter option for an NL team that lacks pop off the bench now that Matt Adams has been thrust into action at first base.

Fenway Park has the potential to really work in the Red Sox’ favor this series, but there is one benefit to the series starting in Boston for the Cardinals. Mike Matheny will be able to get a look at Craig, who hasn’t played since Sept. 4, in a DH role before determining whether the slugger is mobile enough to return to his usual first base post when the series shifts back to St. Louis.

When the series does shift to St. Louis, the Red Sox will already be at a disadvantage, as either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli will need to come out of the starting lineup for each contest in the NL ballpark.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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