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World Series position-by-position breakdown

10:11 AM, Oct 22, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - Two of the most storied franchises in major league history will battle in the 2013 World Series, as the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox get the best-of-seven matchup underway Wednesday at historic Fenway Park.

These teams haven't met in interleague play since 2008, but are certainly no stranger to one another when it comes to the Fall Classic. This will be the fourth time these teams have faced off in this round and the first since 2004 when the Red Sox, of course, ended their 86-year drought with a four-game sweep.

St. Louis beat Boston in the World Series in 1946 and '67.

It's not often that you get the two best teams from each league squaring off in the World Series, but that will be the case this year, as both teams topped their respective leagues with a 97-65 mark.

In fact, it's the first time since 1999 (Yankees and Braves) that the best teams in each league will be facing off in the World Series.

Actually, there home/road splits were almost identical, as well, with the Red Sox going 53-28 at home and 44-37 on the road, while the Cardinals were 54-27 and 43-38, respectively.

St. Louis is back in the Fall Classic for the third time since 2004 after beating Pittsburgh in five games of the NLDS, then taking out the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games of the NLCS.

The Cardinals have won 11 World Series with its last coming in 2011 against Texas.

One year removed from a 93-loss season, Boston is back in the Fall Classic since sweeping the Colorado Rockies in 2007. The Red Sox, who have seven titles to their credit, advanced to this round with a four-game win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS and six-game triumph over Detroit in the ALCS.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the matchups at each position:

CATCHER

In addition to being the best defensive catcher in the game, Yadier Molina has also become a more than capable bat in the lineup. This year, he hit .319 and drove in 80 runs. Molina, though, was just 5-for-25 in the NLCS.

Molina may be tested by the run-happy Red Sox, especially Jacoby Ellsbury, who led the majors in steals this season and has six stolen bases this postseason.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia set career highs in almost every offensive category during the regular season, but was just 3-for-16 in the ALCS.

EDGE: CARDINALS

FIRST BASE

St. Louis was dealt a blow in early September when Allen Craig went down with a foot injury, but Matt Adams stepped in and the team barely skipped a beat. Adams, though, is hitting .268 (11-for-41) with one homer and four RBI in the playoffs. Craig should be ready to go against the Red Sox, but will likely be relegated to DH duty.

Mike Napoli had a terrific year at the plate, swatting 23 home runs to go along with 92 RBI. He's carried that big stick into the postseason and hit a pair of huge home runs for the Red Sox in the ALCS. Even more impressive was the way Napoli played in the field, as he lead all first basemen in UZR.

Still, Napoli may find himself on the bench when the series shifts to St. Louis, as Boston manager John Farrell may try to get David Ortiz's bat into the lineup.

EDGE: RED SOX

SECOND BASE

Matt Carpenter will get some NL MVP votes, as the rookie was one of the big surprises in the league this season, hitting .318 with a team-record 55 doubles, while scoring a major league-best 126 runs. However, he is batting a mere .167 this postseason, although he hit .261 in the NLCS with a pair of doubles and two RBI.

Dustin Pedroia is the unquestioned leader of the Red Sox. His six RBI rank third on the team this postseason and always seems to be the one to spark a rally. Carpenter may have had a better overall season, but there are few, if any, who bring the intangibles that Pedroia does to the table. Not to mention he may be the best decision maker in the field in the game.

EDGE: RED SOX

THIRD BASE

David Freese is not having the type of postseason Cardinals fans have grown accustomed to with just seven hits in 37 at-bats. The 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP has always thrived when the lights are brightest and had two hits in the Cards' Game 6 clincher against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Boston will apparently turn to 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, who passed Babe Ruth as the youngest Red Sox player to start a postseason game. He has responded with three doubles in six at-bats and has totaled a .727 on-base- percentage in his six games. Bogaerts could be the biggest X-Factor in this World Series.

EDGE: CARDINALS

SHORTSTOP

Pete Kozma might be the worst position player on this Cardinals team. He hit .217 during the season and was a putrid 1-for-15 in the NLCS. With the way things seem to break for this Cardinals team, that probably means he'll come up big at some point in this World Series. Still, Kozma has shown flashes of being a competent hitter, but those moments have been too far and few between, especially this season.

Stephen Drew has also struggled in the playoffs, hitting 3-for-35 with 12 strikeouts. His track record at the plate is far better than that of Kozma, but like his counterpart, he's in the lineup because of what he brings in the field.

EDGE: RED SOX

LEFT FIELD

Matt Holliday is still one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball following his eighth straight year with at least a .290 average and 20-plus home runs. Holliday only hit .200 versus the Dodgers, but hit a big home run in Game 4 and had three hits in Game 5. It will be interesting to see how he handles the Green Monster.

Farrell platooned Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes for most of the season, but has gone with the latter for most of the playoffs. The switch-hitting Nava hit .322 against righties this season, but Gomes will likely get the start in Game 1 against the Cardinals, despite going just 3-for-16 versus the Tigers in the ALCS. Farrell loves the energy that Gomes brings to the lineup.

EDGE: CARDINALS

CENTER FIELD

Although Shane Robinson started in Game 6 of the NLCS, John Jay should be in the lineup on Wednesday. Jay is only hitting .206 (7-for-34) in the first two rounds of the postseason and has struggled at times in the field. Don't be surprised if Robinson eventually gets the nod.

There is no cause for concern for the Red Sox in center field, as Ellsbury has been terrific. The soon-to-be free agent had missed most September with a compression fracture in his right foot, but has shown no ill effects from the injury, as he hit .318 (7-for-22) in the ALCS and is batting .400 (10-for-40) with five RBI overall. Plus he's been a bear on the basepaths and his 16 hits and .992 OPS lead both teams.

EDGE: RED SOX

RIGHT FIELD

Carlos Beltran is perhaps the best postseason hitter of his generation with 37 RBI in 45 playoff games with an incredible 1.173 OPS. This, though, will mark his first-ever trip to the Fall Classic. He is only hitting .256 this October, but has driven in 12 runs in the Cards' 11 games.

If Beltran is money, than what exactly is Shane Victorino?

Boston may have been criticized for giving him a 3-year, $39 million deal this offseason, but the Flying Hawaiian was one of the team's top performers this season, hitting .294 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI, 82 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.

Not to mention Victorino has had a penchant for coming up big in the postseason, as he has driven in 38 runs in 56 playoff games. Victorino propelled the Red Sox past the Tigers in the clinching game with a grand slam of his own in the eighth inning that put them ahead.

EDGE: CARDINALS

DESIGNATED HITTER

St. Louis' struggling offense may get a boost with the return of Craig, who hasn't played since Sept. 4 due to a a Lisfranc fracture to his left foot. Craig finished the year leading the Cardinals with 97 RBI and a .454 batting average with runners in scoring position. Overall, he hit .315.

Offensively the Red Sox are still led by the 37-year-old Ortiz, who put forth his seventh 30-homer/100-RBI season and hit .309 to boot. Ortiz is only hitting .200 this postseason, but may have changed the course of the ALCS with his game-tying grand slam in Game 2 against the Tigers.

Ortiz, though, was just 1-for-15 after that pivotal blast.

EDGE: RED SOX

STARTING PITCHING

The Cardinals may have found an ace in this postseason with the emergence of 22-year-old right-hander Michael Wacha, who outdueled Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS and has won all three of his postseason starts, while pitching to a 0.43 ERA.

Since closing the regular season with 8 2/3 no-hit innings, Wacha, the NLCS MVP, has pitched 21 postseason innings, limiting the Pirates and Dodgers to one run on eight hits.

St. Louis, though, will turn to right-hander Adam Wainwright in Game 1. Wainwright, the NL wins leader in the regular season with 19, has been equally effective, going 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three starts. His only loss came in NLCS Game 3 against the Dodgers, as he allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings.

Wainwright has three straight postseason starts of at least seven innings, with one or no runs allowed. Only three pitchers in history had more such consecutive starts in the postseason: Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Christy Mathewson.

Although St. Louis manager Mike Matheny hasn't named his other starters, righties Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly both figure to get nods.

Farrell, of course, was the Red Sox pitching coach under Terry Francona, and his impact was immediately evident, especially among the starting staff which saw their ERA decrease by nearly two runs from the prior season.

Nobody benefited from having Farrell back more than likely Game 1 starter Jon Lester, who was a miserable 9-14 in 2012, but bounced back to go 15-8 this past season, while pitching to a 3.75 ERA.

Lester is 2-1 this postseason with a 2.33 ERA.

If anyone doubted whether or not John Lackey was fully recovered from Tommy John surgery needs to look no further than his Game 3 performance against the Tigers that saw him outduel Justin Verlander and give control of the series to the Red Sox.

Lackey has been much better at home this season than on the road, making him a prime Game 2 candidate, but regardless he may be the Sox's best option right now anyway.

Buchholz was spectacular during the season, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA, but has been miserable in the postseason, pitching to a 5.40 ERA in his three starts.

Righty Jake Peavy has also underwhelmed and is 0-1 with an 8.31 ERA in his two starts this postseason.

EDGE: CARDINALS

BULLPEN

St. Louis' bullpen situation seemed a bit shaky heading into the postseason following the late-September demotion of closer Edward Mujica. Matheny, though, has entrusted hard-throwing rookie Trevor Rosenthal with the ninth inning. He is also relying on two other youngsters in lefty Kevin Siegrist and righty Carlos Martinez.

In 30 innings this postseason, the Cardinals' pen has a 1.80 ERA and a .177 batting average against.

As good as St. Louis' pen has been, it pales in comparison to Boston's relief corps, specifically ALCS MVP Koji Uehara, who has been the best closer in the league since assuming the role after injuries to both Joel Hanrahan and Mark Melancon.

Uehara, whose ERA was the best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more innings, also posted a mind-blowing 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings - the lowest WHIP in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50 innings, surpassing by a considerable margin the 0.61 standard set by Dennis Eckersley in 1989.

He also hasn't walk a batter in his last 30 appearances and has pitched to a 0.61 ERA in his save chances.

It's been more of the same for Uehara here in the postseason, as he has saved five games to go along with a 1.00 ERA. The only run he allowed was a walk-off home run in his ALDS Game 3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Uehara has had some help too. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman, Franklin Morales, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront have combined for a 0.84 ERA, 28 strikeouts and a .209 batting average against in 32 innings of relief this postseason.

EDGE: RED SOX

BENCH

Having Craig come off the bench at home will be a huge plus late in games for the Cards. But, if Kozma and Jay continue to struggle, the bench becomes an awful lot thinner if Daniel Descalso and Robinson are forced into a starting role. Kolten Wong could also be a factor if the middle infielders stumble.

The Red Sox bench has a little bit of everything. Nava should probably be starting, Mike Carp gives them a thumper and Quintin Berry was 28-for-28 in stolen base attempts. Oh, and David Ross is as solid a backup catcher as there is in baseball.

Any other questions?

EDGE: RED SOX

MANAGERS

A storyline that seems to be buried here is the fact that Matheny was the Cardinals starting catcher when the Red Sox beat them back in 2004. While he had virtually no experience when taking over for Tony La Russa, Matheny still nearly got his team to a World Series last season. He's continued to emerge as one of the best young managers in the game this season, leading the Cardinals to the best record in the NL.

Farrell, meanwhile, was the driving force behind the Red Sox' 28-game turnaround from last season and should be the AL's Manager of the Year. He may be credited with getting the pitching staff back on track, but everything just seemed so much smoother with him at the helm rather than the volatile Bobby Valentine.

EDGE: RED SOX

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