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SI.com's experts pick World Series winner, MVP and more

Photo: Elise Amendola/AP

The World Series will be played at Fenway Park for the 11th time.

The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals have much in common. Both are among the most iconic franchises in baseball history. Both teams won 97 games this year, tops in the majors, and both led their league's in scoring. Both boast a superstar slugger with outstanding October credentials in Boston's David Ortiz and St. Louis' Carlos Beltran. And both have a dominant pitcher or two capable of overpowering opposing hitters: closer Koji Uehara for the Red Sox and starters Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha for the Cardinals.

With so many similarities, what will happen in the 109th Fall Classic? Below, SI.com's baseball writers -- Tom Verducci, Albert Chen, Ben Reiter, Joe Lemire, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran and Joe Sheehan -- make their picks for which team will win the series, who will be named MVP, who the the unlikely Series hero will be and which X-factor could swing the outcome. Game 1 is Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

World Series Winner
 
Tom Verducci
The Cardinals are formidable with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha rested and ready for four of the first six games. But the Tigers had better starting pitching than Boston in the ALCS and still went home. Boston went 3-0 when it faced Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer because its grinding offense forces mistakes. The series will be decided in the roughly 27-pitch gap between the many pitches the Red Sox have forced per nine innings in the postseason (157.1) and the few pitches the aggressive Cardinals have thrown in the postseason (130.6).

The slight edge goes to Boston because the Sox can better dictate terms at home in their small ballpark. AL teams with homefield advantage are 14-3 in the World Series over the past 30 years while winning 65 percent of the games (59-32). Home teams are 9-0 in World Series Game 7s since 1980. Keep in mind, however, this particular pick is unprecedented. The Red Sox have played five decisive World Series Game 7s and lost them all.
Red Sox in 7
Albert Chen
Yadi vs. Boston's burners. The Red Sox mashers vs. the rookie Redbird relievers. Allen Craig vs. his foot. The Cardinal Way vs. The Basebeard Way. So many compelling storylines in this year's World Series, a dream matchup of baseball's two best teams (at last). Both the Red Sox and Cardinals are evenly matched and both took similar roads to the World Series, defeating likely Cy Young winners (Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw) and silencing lineups with hobbled superstars (Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez). In the end, I like Wainwright and Wacha at the top of St. Louis' rotation more than Lester and Buchholz atop Boston's, and as brilliant as the Red Sox' bullpen has been of late, the Cardinals' is deeper.
Cardinals in 6
Ben Reiter
These are, by far, the two most relentless teams in baseball, and were also quite comfortably the best offenses in their respective leagues. While the Red Sox outscored the Cardinals by 70 runs during the regular season, the impending return of Allen Craig will mean that St. Louis will be able to match Boston's AL-style offensive depth. The lineups look to be a wash. The edge, and it's a slight one, might come in the rotations, as the Cardinals appear to have the two best starters in the series, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. Of course, you could have said something similar about the Tigers -- but St. Louis' young, hard throwing relievers should continue to buttress the starters in a way Detroit's bullpen did not.
Cardinals in 7
Joe Lemire
Boston and St. Louis have been baseball's best and deepest teams all season, leading their leagues in wins and run differential. They are a mostly evenly matched pair, but the Cardinals have slightly higher-end starting pitching in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha leading the way. Also, while both lineups are relentless on-base machines, the Cardinals are better at putting the ball in play and succeeding in situational hitting, skills that are correlated with postseason success.
Cardinals in 7
Jay Jaffe
The Cardinals have gotten great work out of their rotation thus far this postseason, with a collective 2.57 ERA compared to Boston's 4.29. With Adam Wainwright in Games 1 and 5 (if necessary), and Michael Wacha in Games 2 and 6 (if necessary), they're lined up to have the better starter in at least four of the first six games of the Series. Even though its all-righty tilt isn't a great match for a Red Sox team with such a lefty-heavy presence in their lineup, the Tigers' rotation showed that Boston could be kept at bay -- and St. Louis has a bullpen better suited for finishing the job.
Cardinals in 6
Cliff Corcoran
Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, the two best starters on either team heading into this series, will start four times in the first six games. When the other two Cardinals starters and Wainwright take the mound in St. Louis, Boston will have to sit either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli. Allen Craig will start at designated hitter, saving St. Louis from starting Shane Robinson in that spot, and the Redbirds' bullpen will succeed where the Tigers' failed, slamming the door on the Red Sox. All of which means the Cardinals will soon be celebrating their second championship in three years.
Cardinals in 6
Joe Sheehan
There's not much to differentiate these two teams, but the Red Sox' strategy of working the starters out of the game should be less successful because of the Cardinals' deep pool of power relievers. The Sox will likely lose Mike Napoli for the three games in St. Louis, as they slide David Ortiz to first base. That's a big blow to their offense. St. Louis had the better contact rate in the regular season, a leading indicator that is 4-2 this year and now 26-8 the last five postseasons. Small edges. You may as well flip a coin. That's how close this is.
Cardinals in 6
 
World Series MVP
 
Adam Wainwright :: David E. Klutho/SI
Verducci
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina may stop the running game, but the Red Sox are at their best when Ellsbury sets the table. Boston will see all righthanded starters once again, giving the lefthanded Ellsbury the chance to feast on righties the way he did all year to the tune of a .328/.374/.489 line.

Chen
Carlos Beltran, Cardinals. The best postseason hitter of alltime will lead St. Louis to a championship. In so doing, he will finally put his bases-loaded strikeout that ended Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS -- when his Mets lost to the Cardinals, no less -- behind him.

Reiter
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals. If St. Louis wins the series, it will be tough to beat out sentimental favorite Carlos Beltran (assuming he does anything notable, which seems a safe assumption given his postseason credentials), but I like the chances of the 2009 13th round draft pick. Carpenter, the Cardinals' regular season WAR leader, hasn't hit much in the playoffs so far -- he's batting .167 -- but few have hit that much on a team with a cumulative postseason average of .210.

He has, however, been a sparkplug when it counts, such as in Game 1 of the NLCS, when he drew a 13th inning walk that pushed Daniel Descalso into position to score the winning run on Beltran's subsequent single, and in Game 6 of that series, when he doubled on the 11th pitch of the at bat that seemed to break Clayton Kershaw. Expect Carpenter to produce many such moments as the Cardinals' leadoff hitter in the World Series.

Lemire
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals. Overshadowed by rotation-mate Michael Wacha so far this month, Wainwright has been almost as brilliant as his understudy and he will win both his tête-à-tête matchups with Boston's No. 1 starter, Jon Lester. Wainwright has allowed just four earned runs in 23 innings (1.57 ERA) over his first three postseason starts, including a complete-game victory over Pittsburgh in the NLDS, and the few Boston hitters who have faced him previously have had little luck. Even after excluding Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster's 0-for-3, the others are still just 11-for-65 (.169) though three have homered: Shane Victorino (5-for-22, HR; those numbers came while batting lefthanded), Stephen Drew (2-for-19), David Ross (2-for-11, HR), Jonny Gomes (2-for-10, HR) and Mike Carp (0-for-3).

Jaffe
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals. With so much focus on the rookie Wacha, it's almost escaped notice that Wainwright has been so strong this fall; in addition to his 1.57 ERA he has a phenomenal 20/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Notably, he doesn't have much of a platoon split; his OPS against righties and lefties this year was very similar (.631 versus .639), and that trend has generally held for several years.

Corcoran
Michael Wacha, Cardinals. The last time St. Louis won the World Series, in 2011, David Freese won both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards. This year's NLCS MVP, Wacha, has been close to unhittable in his last four starts (3-0, 0.43 ERA, 0.571 WHIP) and is a huge reason that many are picking the Cardinals to win the Series. If St. Louis does win it, chances are Wacha will have turned in another MVP-worthy performance along the way.

 
Unlikely Hero
 
Xander Bogaerts :: Elise Amendola/AP
Verducci
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox. The ultra-talented and ultra-cool 21-year-old didn't even reach the majors until Aug. 20 and he played just 18 regular season games, but that didn't stop him from supplanting Will Middlebrooks as Boston's starting third baseman in the postseason. Bogaerts was impressive in the ALCS, reaching base six times in nine plate appearances thanks to three hits and three walks.

Chen
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox. His Game 6 walks were as impressive as any grand slam in the ALCS. John Farrell turned to his 21-year-old in the last two games against the Tigers and it's hard seeing Bogaerts (five walks in 11 plate appearances this postseason) returning to the bench now. The World Series could be his big coming out party.

Reiter
Shelby Miller, Cardinals. The 22-year-old was the firm early favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year award, and though he was eventually overtaken by Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig, he should still receive some votes on the strength of his 15-9 record and 3.06 ERA. In the playoffs, though, Miller has been St. Louis' forgotten man, throwing just a single inning.

Miller was clearly fatigued late in the regular season, as he failed to strike out five batters in any of his final six starts, a total he reached or surpassed in 21 of his first 25 outings -- and his spot has been more than ably filled by the fresher arm of Michael Wacha. Miller and Wacha have really combined to form a season-long superrookie. But now Miller has had essentially a full month off, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him reemerge to get some big outs against the strikeout-prone Red Sox -- and, who knows, perhaps even to start a game, either Game 3 or Game 4 in place of Joe Kelly or Lance Lynn.

Lemire
Seth Maness, Cardinals. The rookie reliever's 2.32 ERA in 62 innings is impressive, but it's his method of run prevention that will make him such a critical piece of the Cardinals' success. Among pitchers who threw at least 20 innings, Maness led all of baseball with an absurdly high 86.1 percent groundball rate and with a 29.6 percent success rate in inducing double-play balls. He'll be St. Louis manager Mike Matheny's go-to reliever when the Red Sox have runners on base and he wants to keep the ball on the ground.

Jaffe
Kevin Siegrist, Cardinals. Even with their tremendous top two starters, the Cardinals will have to get some big outs from their bullpen, and they have two lefties in Siegrist and Randy Choate whom they can call upon to try and shut down the biggest bat in Boston's lineup: David Ortiz. Big Papi destroyed righthanded pitching in 2013 (.339/.440/.652 in 384 PA) but had his worst showing against lefties (.260/.315/.418 in 216 PA) since 2010. Siegrist, a a 24-year-old rookie who didn't debut until June, held lefties to a .118/.241/.147 line in 79 PA, and he did a number on righties as well (.138/.233/.246 in 73 PA). With his mid-90s heat, the bet here is that he can overpower Ortiz, who swung and missed at a higher percentage of four-seam fastballs from lefties this year (14.8 percent) than in any year since the PITCH f/x era began in 2007. Don't be surprised if Siegrist also gets key outs against the other Boston hitters, too.

Corcoran
Carlos Martinez, Cardinals. It's difficult to consider a highly-regarded prospect with triple-digit heat unlikely to succeed, but the 22-year-old Martinez's regular season career comprises just 21 games and a 5.08 ERA, and he didn't emerge as the Cardinals' primary set-up man until the final week of the regular season. A starter in the minors, Martinez can work multiple innings (he threw two scoreless frames in Game 4 of the NLCS), and since taking over the eighth inning, he has allowed just two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out nine in 10 innings. He'll be a crucial bridge to Trevor Rosenthal in this series, particularly in the games started by anyone other than Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.

 
X-Factor
 
Fenway Park :: Elise Amendola/AP
Verducci
Fenway Park. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said the Rays got "Fenway-ed" in the ALDS, when fly balls become doubles. Home crowd is a factor and Boston's fans are famously rowdy. More tangibly, the Red Sox led all of baseball in batting average on balls in play at home.

Chen
Randy Choate, Cardinals. He's thrown a grand total of 20 pitches over five scoreless appearances this postseason. In perhaps every tight game this series, though, the lefty specialist will play a pivotal role: to shutdown David Ortiz.

Reiter
NL Rules. It is usually the American League team that has the lineup advantage in the World Series, as the National League club has to scramble to find someone to serve as designated hitter in games played in AL parks. But, as I noted above, the Cardinals have a built-in DH in Allen Craig for the games in Boston. The disadvantage will come during Games 3, 4 and 5, which will be played in St. Louis -- and it will be felt by the Red Sox. The lack of a DH there means that the Sox will likely start every game at Busch Stadium bereft of one of their two leading OPS men and run producers, either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz, as only one can play first base, and there's no chance that Napoli will return to his former position of catcher after logging zero innings behind the plate this season. A Red Sox lineup without both Napoli and Ortiz is nowhere near as fearsome.

Lemire
Allen Craig, Cardinals. After missing the past six weeks with a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, Craig seems ready to rejoin the active roster for the World Series, albeit probably only as a hitter, not a fielder. Craig had a robust .315/.373/.457 batting line this season and led the majors with a .454 average with runners in scoring position (59-for-130). As a designated hitter in Boston and a pinch hitter in St. Louis, Craig should have plenty of cracks at driving in a few runners. Just his presence on the bench could affect how Boston manager John Farrell deploys his bullpen.

Jaffe
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox. In line to start either Game 3 on Saturday or Game 4 on Sunday, Buchholz -- who missed three months of the season due to shoulder and neck issues -- is dealing with "some physical issues" according to a report by WEEI's Rob Bradford. Though he put up a 1.74 ERA in 16 regular season starts this year, the 29-year-old righty has been touched up for 10 runs in 16 2/3 innings over three postseason starts. In his seven starts overall since returning from the disabled list, has posted a 3.32 ERA and 4.21 FIP while allowing 1.1 homers per nine.

During that span, his velocity has notably been down; via the data at BrooksBaseball.net, his four-seam fastball averaged 93.2 mph prior to his absence and just 91.7 since; in his five-inning, 85-pitch ALCS Game 6 start, he was at 91.3 mph. If for some reason the Sox conclude that he can't go, 25-year-old lefty Felix Doubront is the likely candidate to start; he threw a simulated game and a side session on Tuesday. Doubront had a decent year, pitching to a 4.32 ERA and making 27 starts for Boston, but he is simply not as good as Buchholz.

Corcoran
Jake Peavy, Red Sox. A three-time All-Star and former National League Cy Young award winner, Peavy is a good pitcher, one the Red Sox were willing to trade Rookie of the Year contender Jose Iglesias for at this year's deadline. However, including the wild-card tiebreaker in his Cy Young season of 2007, Peavy has gone 0-3 with a 9.84 ERA in five career playoff starts, none of which were quality, and four of which were disasters in which he allowed as many or more runs than his total innings pitched.

That's still within the realm of being a fluke, and Peavy fell just one out shy of a quality start against the Rays in the Division Series. He'll start Game 4 of this series on Sunday, and could tip the balance of what should be a very close Series if he can deliver a win.

 
 

More World Series Coverage

VERDUCCI: Learning curve vital to determining a champion

VERDUCCI: The small gap that will decide who wins

CORCORAN and JAFFE: Position-by-position breakdown

LEMIRE: Number to know, player to watch and more

JAFFE: Six first-impressions of a tradition-rich matchup

CORCORAN: A history of Cardinals vs. Red Sox in the World Series

VIDEO: Strengths and weaknesses for both teams

GALLERY: Best moments in World Series history

Complete World Series schedule: start times, TV listings

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