Matt Adams is a perfect example of why the Cardinals are in their second World Series in three years. First baseman Allen Craig, who himself emerged as a potential successor to Albert Pujols during the Cardinals' championship season of 2011, sprained his foot on Sept. 4, putting one of the teams' best hitters on the shelf in the midst of a pennant race.
Yet what might have been a crippling blow to another team didn't cause St. Louis to miss a beat. The 25-year-old Adams, a career .318/.364/.563 hitter in the minor leagues who had hit .269/.329/.476 coming off the Cardinals' bench to that point this season, hit two home runs in extra innings as Craig's replacement in that Sept. 4 game and has hit .308/.348/.554 with nine home runs in 138 plate appearances in the regular and postseasons combined dating back to Craig's injury.
Adams doesn't draw many walks, and he can be neutralized by lefthanded pitching, but he is a dangerous hitter at the plate possessed of tremendous power. Defensively he is surprisingly agile and soft-handed in the field for a man listed at 260 pounds.
In his first year as a regular at first base, Napoli proved unexpectedly adept in the field; he was 10 runs above average according to both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating.
His ability to hold down the position so well allowed him to remain in the lineup on a near-everyday basis and set career highs offensively in several key counting stats; a .367 batting average on balls in play, 57 points higher than his career norm, didn't hurt either. On the down side, his strikeout rate shot up to 32.4 percent, which kept his batting average low despite the aforementioned BABIP spike; including the regular season and postseason, he has 202 whiffs under his belt this year. He clouted two very big homers in the ALCS against the Tigers, and for what it's worth, he was a beast (.350/.464/.700 with 10 RBI in 28 PA) in the 2011 World Series against the Cardinals while a member of the Texas Rangers.
Even so, it remains unclear exactly how manager John Farrell will handle the St. Louis segment of the series. Farrell has said he will play David Ortiz at first base, as he did six times this year, in the NL ballpark, though he didn't say how many games Ortiz will start. Either way, it will cut into Napoli's playing time.
A third baseman by trade, Carpenter played a grand total of 18 professional innings at second base prior to this season. Last offseason, however, the Cardinals looked at Carpenter's .294/.365/.463 line as a 26-year-old rookie and the collective .240./309/.363 line of their second baseman in 2012 and saw a solution.
The result was a near-MVP season from Carpenter, who not only proved above-average defensively at the keystone this year, but raised his production at the plate to .318/.392/.481 while leading the majors in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55), adding seven triples for good measure. When needed, he even spotted at third base, first base and rightfield. He was, quite simply, St. Louis' best everyday player this season.
A torn UCL in his left thumb limited Pedroia to career lows in slugging percentage (.415) and isolated power (.114). That outage particularly shows up in his drastic home/road and platoon splits. He hit .315/.393/.474 with seven homers in 354 PA at Fenway Park compared to .288/.351/.360 with two homers in 370 PA elsewhere, and while he raked at a .354/.432/.505 clip in 220 PA against southpaws, he hit just .278/.345/.376 in 504 PA against righties, which is relevant given the all-righty tilt of the St. Louis rotation.
For all of that, Pedroia's durability (a career-high 160 games), on-base percentage (.372) and typically strong defense (+15 DRS) enabled him to lead the team with 6.5 Wins Above Replacement. He's struggled so far this postseason (.256/.311/.308 in 45 PA) to the point that slotting him third in front of Ortiz in the lineup doesn't make much sense, though Farrell has yet to try anything else so far in October.
It's too bad Carpenter can't play shortstop. The Cardinals have two good-field/no-hit players at that position in righty Pete Kozma and lefty Daniel Descalso, the latter of whom was displaced by Carpenter at second base this season. Kozma is the weaker hitter of the two, but a brilliant fielder. Small sample success at the plate last year led to Kozma getting the job to start this season, which is technically his rookie campaign, but his brutal production in a larger sample led to Descalso displacing him down the stretch.
Since Descalso went 0-for-7 to start this postseason, however, Kozma has started seven of Cardinals' last eight games and made a pair of crucial plays in the field in the late innings of the one game he didn't start. Together, Kozma and Descalso hit just .222/.280/.303 in the regular season and a mere .195/.283/.220 in this posteason, with Kozma contributing the bulk, what little of it there is, of the latter.
Drew is hitting just .086/.111/.143 in 36 PA this postseason, but strong defense has kept him in the lineup. That said, he's a handful of runs in the red over the past two years in terms of DRS, UZR and Fielding Runs Above Average.
Relative to other shortstops -- and particularly to opposite number Pete Kozma -- it's his offense that generally stands out. He was second among shortstops with at least 400 PA in terms of isolated power (.190) and fifth in slugging percentage (.443). He's another player who should benefit from facing the Cardinals' righty rotation, given that he hit .284/.377/.498 in 334 PA against righties but just .196/.246/.340 in 167 PA against lefties.
The 2011 World Series MVP hit .397/.465/.794 in that postseason and followed it up with his strongest regular season in 2012, but he has been a major disappointment this year at the age of 30. Freese got off to an awful start in 2013 after suffering a lower back injury when falling into the stands in pursuit of a foul pop-up early in spring training. Even leaving out his pathetic April (.163/.255/.204), Freese hit an underwhelming .274/.350/.402 with just nine home runs over the final five months of the season, which would still be his worst single-season performance in the majors. He's struggling in the postseason, too, batting just .189/.250/.297.
His range in the field also vanished this year, possibly another after-effect of the back injury. That helped drag his overall value down to, and by some measures even below, replacement level according to the Wins Above Replacement statistics from Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs.
It's not just the stats that say he's no longer the same player. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny has lifted Freese for a defensive replacement in the latter innings of six of the Cardinals' 11 games this postseason (not counting the time he came out due to since-healed calf strain).
Bogaerts, a 21-year-old phenom, has overtaken Will Middlebrooks (.227/.271/.425 with 17 homers during the year but -0.1 WAR) for the starting third base job despite having played just 18 regular season games in the majors after being called up in late August. One reason for that is the poise Bogaerts has shown at the plate in the postseason that has helped him earn five walks and a .727 OBP. In 11 postseason plate appearances, he's hitting .500/.727/1.000 with three doubles, five walks and one strikeout.
During the regular season split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, he hit .297/.388/.477 with 15 homers in 515 PA. He's relatively inexperienced at third base, with just 10 minor league appearances and eight major league starts, including the postseason.
Remember when people thought Matt Holliday would lose his value if he didn't get to play half of his games at Coors Field? Well, in five seasons since being traded by the Rockies, Holliday has hit .304/.388/.512 while averaging 25 home runs, 97 RBIs and 37 doubles a year. Now 33, he largely replicated those numbers in this, the fourth year of his supposedly misguided seven-year contract with the Cardinals.
Holliday has become such a reliable source of production in the St. Louis lineup that many observers take him for granted. He did lead the majors by grounding into a career-high 31 double plays this year, but he has hit into just one in 11 games this postseason.
From a simple platoon standpoint, matching up Gomes against the Tigers' all-righty rotation appeared to be a head-scratching decision, but he started four of the six ALCS games over switch-hitter Daniel Nava (.303/.385/.445) due to Farrell's preference for Gomes' power, defense and baserunning. He did hit reasonably well against righties this year (.258/.341/.404 in 176 PA), though his career OPS against them is just .733, compared to .879 against lefties.
The lefthanded Jay gets on base a decent clip (.356 career, .351 this year), but he doesn't have power or speed and his defense took a big step backward this year according to the major advanced stats, each of which had him below average in center. So it should have been no surprise that all it took for righthanded backup Shane Robinson to get a start against a lefty in the NLCS was a fluke pinch-hit home run (Robinson's solo shot in Game 4 was his sixth round-tripper in 398 major league plate appearances to that point).
Robinson singled in his only two at-bats against the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 as the Cardinals clinched the pennant. Robinson could well be in the lineup again whenever Boston ace Jon Lester starts in the World Series.
Though he did miss almost three weeks in September due to a compression fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot, Ellsbury was healthy for the better part of a full season for just the second time in four years. He delivered a performance much closer to his career norm (.297/.350/.439) than to his uncharacteristically powerful 2011, when he homered 32 times and slugged .552. This time around, he stole an AL-high 52 bases in 56 attempts, and was 13 runs above average in the field according to DRS.
Any concern that having just a three-game tuneup upon returning from his foot injury would cause him to be rusty in the postseason has been put to rest, as he's hit .400/.467/.525 with six steals in 45 PA thus far. That said, he did get thrown out stealing on Saturday for the first time since Aug. 8, breaking a streak of 18 straight successful attempts.
Beltran left his legs in Queens, but his bat still travels well, earning him All-Star berths in both of his seasons with the Cardinals and reviving his reputation as an elite postseason performer. Beltran has hit .309/.412/.630 with five home runs in 23 postseason games with St. Louis over the last two years, and he has drawn 15 walks, none overtly intentional, against just nine strikeouts over that span.
A look at his regular season splits appears to reveal that the switch-hitting Beltran has been an inferior hitter from the right side this year, but much of that can be attributed to a small righthanded sample and a wide gap in batting average on balls in play from the two sides. It's true that he walks less as a righty, which has been the case over multiple seasons, but he has hit for equal power as a lefty and a righty this year. Further, he has had no other recent seasons in which he has been significantly weaker from the right side.
It was a year of change for Victorino, and not just because he's in his first season in Boston. Shifting from centerfield to right paid off handsomely, as he was 23 runs above average according to DRS and 24 according to UZR.
Meanwhile, a left hamstring injury led Victorino to more or less abandon switch-hitting by taking almost all of his swings from the right side. He hit .314/.370/.491 in 188 PA against lefties and .300/.386/510 in 115 PA against righties, compared to .274/.317/.389 in 229 PA against righties as a lefty, a continuation of his 2012 platoon woes (.229/.296/.333 in 472 PA). His OBP is helped by being hit by pitches 15 times over the final two months of the regular season; he has an additional six HBPs in the postseason.
After a torrid Division Series and a largely frigid LCS salvaged by his Game 6 grand slam, he's hitting .237/.341/.342 in 45 PA this fall; the homer was just his second extra-base hit.
Molina was an All-Star when he was merely the best defensive catcher in baseball. Over the last three seasons, however, he has established himself as one of the best-hitting catchers in the game, as well.
Molina has hit .313/.361/.481 since 2011, becoming a perennial MVP candidate as a result. He has yet to replicate that production in the postseason, but his solid on-base percentages, ability to shut down an opponent's running game and overall excellence as a receiver render his autumnal drop in power a minor detail.
The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia set career highs in most offensive categories this season. With 40 doubles and 14 homers, he had more extra-base hits than any other catcher in the majors besides Carlos Santana (60) and opposite number Yadier Molina (56); he tied with Jason Castro. From a platoon standpoint, he was much stronger against righties (.294/.350/.523 with 12 homers in 334 PA) than lefties (.218/.309/.319 with two homers in 136 PA), a trend that's consistent with his track record and one that works strongly in his favor heading into a series against the Cardinals' all-righty rotation.
Defensively, he threw out just 21 percent of attempted basestealers, but against a St. Louis team that ranked second-to-last in the NL in steals, that's not much of an issue. More importantly, he was a bit below average (-5.6 runs) in terms of pitch framing according to data from Max Marchi at Baseball Prospectus, but a bit above average in terms of missed pitches (passed balls plus wild pitches) per nine innings at 0.36; the latter ranked 12th in the majors among the 39 catchers with at least 500 innings behind the plate.
Craig has not appeared in a game since injuring his right foot six and a half weeks ago, but he is expected to be added to the Cardinals' World Series roster and to be in the Game 1 lineup as St. Louis' designated hitter.
There's no telling how quickly he'll be able to shake off the rust or if his foot will hold up under game conditions, but given that the Cardinals' bench is otherwise comprised largely of light-hitting speed-and-defense types, even a diminished Craig would be an upgrade on the alternative, be it Robinson or thus-far-overmatched rookie Kolten Wong.
Beyond Craig, however, there's not much value for manager Mike Matheny to turn to. Indeed, the only Redbird reserves who have a hit this postseason are the two who have drawn starts: Robinson and Descalso.
The 37-year-old slugger rebounded after missing nearly all of the second half of last season with an Achilles injury and continued his surprisingly contact-oriented late-career resurgence, striking out in just 14.7 percent of his plate appearances -- the sixth-lowest rate among the 28 hitters with at least an .850 OPS in 300 plate appearances. He destroyed righthanded pitching (.339/.440/.652 in 384 PA) but had his worst showing against lefties (.260/.315/.418 in 216 PA) since 2010, which was also well below his career norm (.267/.339/.477), so expect him to face a lefty specialist in the middle innings.
As his ALCS Game 2 grand slam proved, Ortiz can change the game with one swing, though he did go just 2-for-22 against the Tigers after going 5-for-13 with three extra-base hits in the Division Series against the Rays; his overall line for this postseason is .200/.349/.486 in 43 PA.
The Sox have a very deep bench relative to that of the Cardinals. The switch-hitting Nava hit .322/.411/.484 against righties this year, but just .252/.311/.336 against lefties. Lefty Mike Carp hit .300/.367/.537 in 215 PA against righties while being shielded to a great extent (just 28 PA) from southpaws. Middlebrooks, who struggled to the point of being sent back to Triple-A not once but twice, hit .276/.329/.476 in 158 PA from Aug. 10 (the date of his last promotion) to the end of the season; the righty swinger owns a career .285/.338/.500 line against lefties. Backup catcher David Ross hit just .216/.298/.382 but threw out 41 percent of would-be base thieves, and after starting twice in the first two postseason rounds, figures to get at least one turn here. Pinch-runner Quintin Berry is a perfect 28-for-28 in the majors in steals over the past two years, including 2-for-2 in this year's postseason.
The Cardinals' ability to develop young pitchers is staggering. Of the 11 pitchers on their roster in the first two rounds of this postseason, just one of them, Lance Lynn, was active in the 2011 World Series. Even if you leave out Adam Wainwright, who missed that season due to Tommy John surgery but was an established staff ace prior to that, just three of the other nine -- veteran relievers Edward Mujica, John Axford and Randy Choate -- have come from outside the organization. The remaining six were all technically rookies this season (though closer Trevor Rosenthal and displaced starter Shelby Miller were active in last year's postseason).
None of their pitchers has shined brighter than Michael Wacha. In three postseason starts, the 22-year-old Wacha has allowed just one run (on a solo home run) in 21 innings while striking out 22 against four walks, one of those intentional. He beat Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS and combines with Wainwright (1.57 postseason ERA) to give St. Louis two starters who are, at least right now, better than any of the four the Red Sox will send to the mound in this series.
The back half of the Cardinals' rotation, however, contains the two weakest starters between the two Series combatants. Joe Kelly is a solid competitor, but he's more likely to keep the St. Louis in the game for five or six innings than to deliver them a win the way Wainwright or Wacha can, while Lynn is still looking for his first postseason quality start.
In a postseason that's been dominated by pitching, the Sox have been comparatively mediocre. Their four horsemen -- Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy -- have combined for a 4.29 ERA, 7.5 strikeouts per nine, 5.7 innings per start and just four quality starts, all lows among the final four teams. In terms of Game Score, their top-ranked start is just 12th (Lackey's 6 2/3 shutout innings in Game 3 of the ALCS) and they have just two among the top 25.
That said, their performance reflects the caution with which Farrell has allowed them to work through the batting order for a third time. He's come to get each of those pitchers in the sixth inning at least once and often averted trouble by doing so; in only three starts has one of his starters allowed more than three runs, and the Sox still won two of those games.
As the lone lefty against a team that's vulnerable to the same, Lester is particularly important to Boston's chances. He's been a much more effective pitcher since the All-Star break, with a .261 ERA (3.23 Fielding Independent Pitching) over his last 17 starts, including the postseason. Buchholz hasn't been as dominant since returning from a three-month absence as he was prior. In seven starts, he's put up a 3.32 ERA (4.21 FIP) while allowing 1.1 homers per nine. Lackey, who was rocked for 20 runs in 32 1/3 innings over a five-start span in September and in the Division Series, delivered the aforementioned gem in the ALCS. Peavy may be the weak link, having failed to last six innings in either postseason start and getting knocked out after just three in the LCS.
The Cardinals have favored talent over experience in their bullpen this season and it has paid off in spades. Rosenthal, a fireballing 23-year-old who took over the closer's job from a fatigued Mujica in the season's final week and will likely retain it next season, has converted his last six save opportunities while allowing just one hit total in those games. In the last two postseasons combined he has thrown 15 2/3 innings without allowing a run, inherited or otherwise, while striking out 24 against just five hits and four walks (one intentional).
Carlos Martinez, 22, has become Rosenthal's set-up man while averaging 100 mph on his four-seam fastball this postseason, per Brooks Baseball. Southpaws Kevin Siegrist (age 24) and Choate (38) shut down the lefties. Sinkerballer Seth Maness (25) is the groundball machine that Matheny goes to in double-play situations. Former Brewers closer John Axford has been reduced to lower-leverage innings, while Mujica, who saved 37 games during the regular season, is now used solely for mop-up work. The 23-year-old Miller, who went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 31 starts this season, is the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency long man.
Altogether, that group posted a 1.93 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in the first two rounds of the playoffs, with half of the runs allowed by the Cardinals' bullpen this month being charged to Axford, Mujica and Miller.
Boston's bullpen ranked just 10th in the league with a 3.70 ERA and last with a 34 percent rate of allowing inherited runners to score. It was a more respectable sixth in strikeout rate (8.9 per nine) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.7). Many of the pitchers who dragged down those rankings aren't on the World Series roster, however, and it's worth noting the unit's improvement as the season went on; its collective ERA dropped from 4.10 before the All-Star break to 3.08 after, with its home run rate cut from 1.1 per nine to 0.6.
Key in that improvement was the emergence of the 38-year-old Uehara as closer in late June after injuries derailed Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. From June 26 onward, Uehara converted 20 of 22 save opportunities, and he finished the year with eye-popping numbers, including 12.2 strikeouts per nine and just 4.0 hits per nine. He had a total of four long saves (four outs or more) and nine stints of at least 1 1/3 innings in the regular season, and he has three such saves in the postseason.
Meanwhile, righties Junichi Tazawa (3.16 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 6.0 K/BB) and Brandon Workman (4.97 ERA, 10.2 K/9) and lefty Craig Breslow (1.81 ERA) emerged as the team's top setup men. That quartet has 27 of the team's 34 relief appearances this postseason, and a similar portion of innings, so they deserve the lion's share of credit for the Sox bullpen's postseason-low 0.84 ERA thus far; that quartet has allowed just three of 22 inherited runners to score.
Breslow was actually less effective against lefties this year than righties (.253/.304/.400 versus .208/.281/.300) and has been essentially neutral for his career, which explains why Franklin Morales (.184/.262/.184 in 42 PA) and Felix Doubront (.247/.309/.339 in 192 PA) are both on the roster as well.
Matheny has a reputation for being bunt-happy, but that rep is a year out of date. Per the data from Baseball Prospectus, only four teams had a non-pitcher bunt fewer times than the Cardinals in 2013. The numbers suggest he's not overly fond of the hit-and-run, either. That might be due to his slow-footed lineup (Jon Jay led the team in steals, by a lot, with 10), though some managers use the hit-and-run to compensate for a lack of speed, and it's to Matheny's credit that he is not among them.
Because he has a slow and powerful lineup and a weak bench, there's not a lot of tinkering that Matheny can do with his offense, and contrary to his reputation, he has not forced the issue. As mentioned above, he has also shown an awareness of his players' shortcomings, frequently replacing David Freese in the field in late innings, and a flexibility that has led to late-season changes at shortstop and closer.
Speaking of pitching, the Cardinals' success with and trust of their young pitchers speaks well of the former Gold Glove catcher's management of his staff. He seems to have a good sense of which pitchers he can push (of St. Louis' five starts of 120 or more pitches during the regular season, four were by the veteran Wainwright) and which he needs to pull quickly. During the regular season, the Cardinals had just three blown quality starts (starts in which a pitcher finished six innings with three or fewer earned runs allowed only to lose the quality start thereafter). Matheny has also proven responsive to meaningful fluctuations in performance and sensitive to apparent fatigue, particularly in the cases of Mujica and Miller.
It's been hard to think of a move Matheny has made this October that could have been blatantly second-guessed, never mind first-guessed. His players love him, women adore him and he has led his team deep into the postseason in his only two seasons as a manager at any level. What's not to like?
In his first year at the helm in Boston, Farrell managed to erase the sour memory of the team's 2012 nightmare while providing some amount of continuity with the bygone Terry Francona era, which is no surprise given that he had served as the team's pitching coach from 2007 (the Red Sox' most recent championship) through 2010. As such, it wasn't all that surprising to see former charges like Lester and Buchholz rebound from subpar 2012 showings. Farrell did an admirable job of handling a team that endured a whole lot of turnover and had a fair number of moving parts in both the lineup and the bullpen.
Not all of that comes into play in a short series, but a man who survived a season in the Boston fishbowl should do fine in the World Series spotlight. For what it's worth, Farrell has done well thus far this fall with regards to using a quick hook on his starters, relying upon a relatively unheralded core of relievers and making bold calls with regards to Gomes/Nava and Bogaerts/Middlebrooks.
From a tactical standpoint, he's very unlikely to order intentional walks (the Sox ranked last in the majors with 10) or sacrifice bunts (they were 12th in the AL with 24). However, he does like the hit-and-run (they were fifth in the league in swings with runners going) as well as the stolen base; while the team ranked just eighth in the league in attempts (142), it was third in successful steals (123) and first in the majors in success rate (86.6 percent).
Farrell got great mileage out of his pinch-hitters, who hit .244/.359/.564 and led the league in homers (7), on-base percentage and slugging percentage. That, as well as the quality of his bench, should give him an edge when the series shifts to St. Louis.
EDGE: RED SOX
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