Sunday, October 20, 2013
Carlos Beltran Celebrates his first trip to the World Series
The Cardinals have clinched their 4th National League pennant in the last decade with last Friday's NLCS clinching win against the Dodgers. Rookie pitcher Michael Wacha won two games against the Dodgers and earned the NLCS MVP for his dominant performance. Carlos Beltran made several big plays with his bat and glove to help his team make their 19th World Series appearance. They will face the Boston Red Sox, who went from worst to first this season, finishing tied with the Cardinals for the best record in baseball. This marks the first time since 1999 where both leagues top records advanced to the World Series. This will be the Red Sox's 12th appearance in the World Series. It will be a rematch of the 2004 World Series, in which Boston broke their 86 year title less drought. These two teams also met in 1946 and 1967, when the Cardinals defeated Boston in 7 games both times.
While these two teams met in the 2004 World Series, only David Ortiz and Yadier Molina remain. The Red Sox also won the 2007 World Series, but only Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester remain from that club. The Cardinals won the 2006 and 2011 World Series. Only Molina, Adam Wainwright, and the injured Chris Carpenter remain from that club. This is also a vastly different Cardinals team than the 2011 version. On the active roster, only 8 players remain from the 2011 World Series roster. Wainwright was injured that season and the team still has 6 other players from that team who are injured or not on the roster this year. Both teams are looking for their third championship of the 21st century. The Cardinals are seeking their 12th title and the Red Sox are seeking their 8th title. The Cardinals have relied on rookies this season, and the Red Sox signed a bunch of veterans to rebound this year. Here's a position by position comparison.
Molina is the best catcher in baseball and a 6 time Gold Glove winner. Boston was third in the AL with 123 steals this year and will test Molina. Jacoby Ellsbury led the AL with 52 steals and it will be a showdown between a great base stealer and a great arm behind the plate. Yadi is also a force with the bat and drove in a career high 82 runs this season. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit 14 homers and 40 doubles this year. Salty is a solid catcher, but clearly inferior to Yadi
Matt Adams has filled in for Allen Craig since Craig sprained his ankle in early September. Craig led the team with 97 RBI's and had the best RISP in the league. Still, St. Louis hasn't had much of a dropoff with Adams. Adams has tremendous power and hit 17 homers in around 300 at bats. The Red Sox added former Rangers catcher Mike Napoli to be their first baseman in the offseason and he had a good year for them. If Craig was healthy, this would be an advantage for the Redbirds, but I'll give the Sox a slight advantage with Napoli over Craig. David Ortiz could possibly play some first base in games at Busch Stadium.
Both teams feature All Star second sackers in Matt Carpenter and Pedroia. Carpenter had a season worthy of MVP votes in his first year as a starter in a different position. Carp led the NL in hits, runs, and doubles this season. Pedroia has been a big part of Boston's renaissance this year. This will be Pedroia's second World Series. The 2008 MVP is a better defensive player than Carpenter, but Carp had a slightly better offensive year. I would say this is a push.
Former Diamondback Stephen Drew was one of Boston's many additions in the offseason. He is clearly a better offensive player than either Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso. Mike Matheny has mixed and matched Kozma and Descalso on matchups this postseason, and it's worked so far. Kozma is the superior defensive player of the two, and better than Boston's Drew. Still, Drew's offense is much better than either Cardinals option at short.
David Freese has taken a step back this season after being a 2011 postseason hero and a 2012 All Star. Freese hasn't hit for the opposite field power like he did in year's past. He has showed some flashes of his old self, like when he hit a home run in Game 5 of the NLDS vs. the Pirates. Wil Middlebrooks had a sophomore slump this season, although he played better after Boston traded away Jose Iglesias. John Farrell started rookie Xander Boegarts in the last game of the ALCS after he delivered in other opportunities. He may go with Boegarts more than the struggling Middlebrooks in the World Series. I'm going with a slight edge for St. Louis on this since this is Freese's time of year.
Matt Holliday turned it on big time in the second half this season after a slow start. Holliday has a propensity for grounding into double plays and occasional lapses on defense, but he does put up the offensive numbers every year. The Red Sox have been going with a lefty/righty platoon of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava this year. It's been solid for them this year.
Jon Jay has had a up and down season this year. He was dropped down from the leadoff spot early in the year, but went on a hot streak late in the year. Jay's defense has been one of his strengths in the past, but he was uncharacteristically shaky during the NLCS. Matheny used Shane Robinson in Game 6 when Clayton Kershaw pitched and may do the same when Lester starts. Robinson had a pinch hit home run in Game 4. Ellsbury had a rebound season from an injury plagued 2012. Ellsbury steals a lot of bases, plays good defense, and is a solid hitter.
It took Beltran 15 seasons, but he will finally make the World Series this year. The Cardinals denied him in 2004 as an Astro, in 2006 as a Met, and fell a game short his first season with St. Louis in 2012. Beltran made his 8th All Star team this year and led the Redbirds with 24 homers this year. Beltran tied Babe Ruth on the all-time postseason home run list this year. The Red Sox signed former Phillie Shane Victorino this past offseason. The Flyin' Hawii'an answered critics who thought he was washed up with a vintage season. Having Victorino in right field is like having two center fielders for the Red Sox.
David Ortiz is the only remaining member of the 2004 curse breaking Red Sox. He's not a 40 or 50 homer guy anymore, but at age 37 had a big year. Big Papi hit .309 with 30 homers and 103 ribbies this year. Boston also will have Middlebrooks, David Ross, Mike Carp, Quentin Berry, an either Gomes or Nava on their bench. Craig has said he will be able to play in the World Series. He will likely DH in Fenway Park and be available for pinch hitting in NL games. It's doubtful he will play any games in the field. Craig's return likely means that either Adron Chambers or Kolten Wong are taken off the roster. Both are speedy players, and the team will need to decide if it needs an extra outfielder or infielder. Tony Cruz, Descalso, and Robinson will also be on the Redbirds bench. I think that Boston has the edge here.
Adam Wainwright and Wacha have been a powerful combo this postseason. They have won 4 games for the team so far in the playoffs. Wainwright won 19 games in the regular season this year and will likely be matched up against Red Sox lefty Jon Lester in Game 1. In Game 2, rookie phenom Wacha will likely be matched up against former Angel John Lackey. I would imagine that Joe Kelly would start Game 3 at home against Clay Buchholz. Buchholz was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA this year, but was limited to 16 starts due to injury. Matheny has went with Lance Lynn over Shelby Miller as the team's fourth starter and I would assume that Lynn would start Game 4 against former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.
Even if Miller doesn't start, I would expect him to have a bigger role in the World Series. He was arguably the Cards second best starter in the regular season, and his workload and struggles in the second half might have something to do with Miller being limited to one relief appearance against Pittsburgh. Matheny has said that Miller didn't matchup well against Pittsburgh or Los Angeles. It's quite a luxury to have a 15 game winner waiting in the wings if needed.
These two teams approach to building the bullpen were drastically different. The Cards have relied on mostly youngsters, while the Sox have relied on veterans. Still, both teams have had to adjust at closer due to injury and poor performance. Going into the year, Jason Motte was expected to be the Cardinals closer. He was shelved before the season started and had season ending Tommy John surgery in May. Mitchell Boggs filled in, but was ineffective at the closing role and eventually traded. Edward Mujica took over and made the All Star team. However, Mujica faded late in the season and was replaced by hard throwing Trevor Rosenthal. Boston opened the season with Joel Hanrahan as closer, and later Andrew Bailey after Hanrahan was injured. Both pitchers were former All Stars, but 38 year old Koji Uehara moved into the role and thrived. Uehara finished the season with 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA, and a 0.57 WHIP.
Besides Rosenthal, the Cardinals have relied on rookies Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, and lefty Kevin Siegrist in the late innings. Martinez looks like a younger Pedro Martinez and was really impressive in the NLCS. Randy Choate does a good job getting lefties out and the team also has Tyler Lyons and Sam Freeman should it decide it needs another lefty. Mujica and John Axford are also on the roster, but shouldn't be used in tight games. Boston moved starter Ryan Dempster to the bullpen for the postseason. Dempster joins righties Brandon Workman, Junichi Tazawa, Uehara, lefties Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, and Craig Breslow in the bullpen. Breslow has had a terrific postseason.
Mike Matheny is in the World Series in only his second season as manager. He has made the playoffs in his first two seasons after taking over for Tony La Russa. John Farrell came over from Toronto to replace Bobby Valentine last offseason. Farrell was the Sox pitching coach under Terry Francona and returned the club to the postseason. Both teams are well coached and have plenty of players with a winning background. So far, both managers moves have worked out for the two teams.
Prediction: Cardinals in 6
Friday, October 11, 2013
Molina and Wainwright Celebrate Division Series Clincher
This weekend, the Championship Series will begin in both leagues. The Dodgers will head to St. Louis Friday to kick off the NLCS, and the Tigers will head to Boston for the ALCS starting Saturday. The Dodgers dispatched the Braves in 4 games as did the Red Sox with the Rays, but it took the Tigers and Cardinals five games to knock off the Athletics and Pirates. Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright pitched gems to propel their teams to victory. This was the second year in a row that the Tigers defeated Oakland in Game 5 with Verlander winning. The Cardinals have also won three straight Game 5 Division Series clinchers. I'll preview both series below.
American League Championship Series
Tigers vs. Red Sox
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
Season Record: Det 4, Bos 3
I think it is pretty clear that the Tigers and the Red Sox were the two best teams in the American League this year. Nothing against the A's or Rays, but neither team was as talented or deep as Detroit or Boston. Oakland came close to upsetting the Tigers, but lost the final two games after being up 2-1. The Tigers have one of the best starting pitching staffs in the game and have a strong offense led by Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Torii Hunter. The Tigers are looking for another shot at a championship after being swept in last year's World Series. One concern for Detroit is their bullpen, which is the weakest of any of the four teams left playing.
Boston went worst to first this season after a couple of disappointing and embarrassing seasons. John Farrell became the third manager in the last three years after he replaced the unpopular Bobby Valentine. There is no more talk of chicken and beer, nor is there any distractions about their manager. The team added veterans Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, and Ryan Dempster in the offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury and John Lackey had big seasons after being hurt last year. Team fixtures like Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Jon Lester also had good years; helping the Red Sox turn it around this year. They finished the year with the American League's best record and led the league in runs scored.
There should be some good pitching matchups in this series. Game 1 will feature Lester vs. Anibal Sanchez(who led the AL in ERA this year). Game 2 will pit All Stars Max Scherzer and Clay Buchholz. In Game 3, Lackey will face Verlander, and in Game 4 Doug Fister will face Jake Peavy.
It's tough to say who will win this series. Boston has homefield advantage, but lost the season series to Detroit. Cabrera has been banged up, and it's affected his hitting. The Cardinals have played a World Series against both teams in the last 10 years.
National League Championship Series
Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Previous Playoff Matchups: 1985, 2004, 2009
Season Record: LA 4, StL 3
The philosophy of building a team is vastly different with the Dodgers and Cardinals. The Cardinals have relied on home grown talent and have 10 rookies on their postseason roster. The Dodgers have acquired big name stars such as Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford. Dodgers ownership and team president Magic Johnson are committed to winning a championship. So is Bill DeWitt, John Mozeliak, and the Redbirds brass. Mozeliak has prioritized the farm system and player development since he became the team's GM. This philosophy has allowed the Cardinals to continue winning after deciding not to match the Angels offer to Albert Pujols.
The Cardinals led the National League in runs scored, despite not hitting a lot of home runs and not stealing many bases. Clutch hitting, hitting good with runners in scoring position, and getting on base has been the recipe for run scoring for St. Louis. Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter personifies this approach. He had one of the best seasons ever by a Cardinals leadoff hitter, and broke Stan Musial's single season record for doubles by a left handed hitter. The Cardinals also had big years from Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Allen Craig. Craig is still out for the NLCS, although he could be available for a pinch hitting and DH role if the Cardinals advance to the World Series. Matt Adams has filled in for Craig, and the Cardinals haven't missed a beat. Adams hit a monster home run in Game 5 of the Division Series off Mark Melancon.
The Dodgers started off very slow this year, and it nearly cost Don Mattingly his job. They were in last place entering June, but caught fire when summer hit. At one point, the Dodgers won 42 out of 50 games. Rookie phenom Yasiel Puig played a big role in this surge, filling in for injured outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Kemp will miss the entire postseason, while Ethier has been limited to a pinch hitting role. Dodgers management also went out and acquired Ricky Nolasco, Brian Wilson, and Michael Young for the playoff push. Pitching was also key to the Dodgers success. Clayton Kershaw will likely win his second Cy Young Award this year after finishing the season with a 1.83 ERA.
Mattingly has announced that Greinke will start Game 1, Kershaw will start Game 2, and Hyun-Jin Ryu Game 3. A starter hasn't been announced for Game 4, but it could be Nolasco, who has struggled lately. The Cardinals will counter with Joe Kelly in Game 1, Michael Wacha in Game 2, Adam Wainwright in Game 3, and Shelby Miller in Game 4. Miller has taken Lance Lynn's spot after Lynn imploded in Game 2 of the NLDS. Wacha was particularly impressive in Game 4, throwing 7 plus innings of no hit ball. Wacha has been a fast riser, starting postseason games a year after he was drafted. Mozeliak drafted Wacha in the first round with the Angels pick they forfeited for signing Pujols.
Wainwright and Kershaw both won 2 games during the Division Series, and both pitchers will have a big say in who wins the NLCS. The Cardinals actually beat Kershaw twice during the regular season. This should be an exciting matchup against two teams both seeking their 19th National League pennant. I think the Redbirds have a good chance in winning this series and have homefield advantage. They'll need big performances from their starting pitchers to win because the Dodgers have two of the best pitchers in the league going for them.