From worst to first: Why the Red Sox will win it all in 2013

The Newtonite

Thinking Outside The Batter's Box is a blog about baseball published every week.
Thinking Outside The Batter’s Box is a blog about baseball published every week.

by Jacob Gurvis

Read another World Series prediction here.

For the first time in six years, the Boston Red Sox are back in the World Series. After winning the American League (AL) East Division and finishing with an AL best 97-65 record, the Sox have completed their worst to first turnaround. Coming off their historical collapse in September 2011 and their disastrous 69-93 2012 season, the Bearded Sox are back at the top.

The Sox easily defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in the series to move on to the American League Champion Series (ALCS). The Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 4-2 in the best-of-seven series.

At long last, the Red Sox are back where they belong, in the World Series, matching up against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals ended with the same record as the Red Sox in the regular season, and baseball’s two best teams were going to play for baseball’s Commissioner Trophy.

This 2004 rematch between two very talented and similar teams is bound to be an exciting and close series. So let’s break it down, position by position, and I’ll give my predictions (here’s another set of predictions, but ya know, mine’s better) for the series, which starts tomorrow at Fenway.

Catcher:

For Boston, we have Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Salty” is one of the game’s best hitting catchers, and had a .804 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), while leading all AL catchers with 40 doubles. The Cardinals catcher, Yadier Molina, is hands down the best offensive and defensive catcher in baseball. He had a great offensive season, with 12 homers, 80 Runs Batted In (RBIs), and a .319 batting average. Molina has handled the Cardinal’s impressive pitching staff exceptionally, and has had a large impact on the team’s rookies.

Who has the advantage: Big advantage for St. Louis

First Base:

On the Red Sox, we have slugger Mike Napoli. Napoli had a very good first season for the Sox, hitting 23 homers with 92 RBIs and an .842 OPS. Napoli, who switched over to first base from catching this season, has turned into an elite defensive first baseman, and could very possibly win a Gold Glove. In St. Louis, we have rookie Matt Adams. Adams burst onto the scene this season, and showed his powerful bat, with 17 homers in 108 games in his first season in the big leagues. Adams had a .839 OPS, and leads the Cardinals with 11 postseason hits so far.

Who has the advantage: Boston

Second Base:

Let’s start with “the Laser Show.” Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia had yet another great season for Boston, despite playing the entire season injured. Pedroia batted .309 in 2013, and had a .372 OBP. Pedroia is the best defensive second baseman in baseball, and makes sensational plays on a daily basis. Now the breakout player. Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter has been one of the biggest surprises this season in baseball, as he came out of nowhere and had an MVP-caliber season. Carpenter led all of baseball with 199 hits, and led all second basemen with a .318 batting average and a .392 OBP.

Who has the advantage: Slight advantage for Boston

Third Base:

For the Red Sox, we have an interesting situation. Originally, Will Middlebrooks was starting for Boston, but during the ALDS and ALCS, Sox rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts had some crucial at-bats, and earned a few starts against Detroit. He played only 18 games in 2013, but had three hits, all of which were doubles, in six at-bats in the postseason, with seven runs and five walks. I assume Bogaerts will start. For the Cardinals, we have 2011 postseason hero David Freese. When the Cardinals won it all in 2011, Freese came up countless times in clutch moments, and was both the NLCS and World Series MVP. Although Freese, like Middlebrooks, had a decent season, his performance in the postseason has put his name in the record books, and his clutch play will never be forgotten by Cardinals fans.

Who has the advantage: Very slight advantage for Boston, but basically even.

Shortstop:

In Boston, we have Stephen Drew, who had an underrated season. He struck out a lot, but had 13 homers and 67 RBIs, and was arguably the best shortstop in the AL in 2013. Drew is very skilled defensively, and was left in the lineup in the ALCS for his elite defense, despite hitting 1-20 in the series. In St. Louis, we have young Pete Kozma. Kozma didn’t have a great season, hitting only one home run in 143 games. Kozma’s batting average, OBP and OPS were all under .300, which isn’t good. Kozma is a good defender, and has had a good postseason. He is 5-10 with two RBIs and four walks. He’s nothing special.

Who has the advantage: Advantage for the Red Sox.

Outfield:

In Boston, we have the trio of Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shane Victorino. Gomes had a good first season in Boston, with 13 homers and 52 RBIs in 116 games, and is an above-average fielder with average speed and a good glove. Ellsbury is the best of the six outfielders in this series, and he led the MLB with 52 steals in 2013, with a .355 OBP. Victorino, “The Flyin’ Hawaiian”, had a great season, with 15 homers with 21 stolen bases, and had his moment of glory in game six of the ALCS, with his go-ahead grand slam to win the game and series. In St. Louis, we have the Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Carlos Beltran trio. Holliday had a great season, batting .300 with 22 homers and 94 RBIs, and he has two homers and five RBIs this postseason. Jay had a decent season, with a .351 OBP, and is a good baserunner and fielder, but is nothing special. Beltran is the best of these three, and is one of the best postseason players in history. Beltran had a good regular season with 24 homers and 84 RBIs, and has has a career .337 batting average with 16 homers and a 1.173 OPS in 45 postseason games.

Who has the advantage: Slight Advantage for Boston.

Designated Hitter:

For Boston, we have the one and only, “Big Papi,” ‘nuf said. David Ortiz, one of the most clutch hitters ever, had another great season in Boston, hitting .309 with 30 homers and 103 RBIs. Ortiz was as good as ever, and was clutch in the ALCS with a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of game two. In St. Louis, we have slugger Allen Craig, who will be rejoining the team after missing the NLDS and NLCS. Craig had a great season for the Cards, with 100 RBIs and a .315 average. Craig also hit a major league best .454 with runners in scoring positions.

Who has the advantage: Big Papi, which means big advantage Boston.

Starting Rotation:

In Boston, we have the veteran group of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy. Lester had a good season, going 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA, and pitched very well in his three starts this postseason. Lackey was also good this season, going 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA, and has gone 2-0 in the postseason, winning a game in the ALDS and ALCS. Buchholz had an impressive (and injury-shortened) season, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts. Peavy, who was acquired by the Sox at the trade deadline, went 4-1 with the Sox in 10 starts. For the Cards, we have Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, and Lance Lynn. Wainwright had a Cy Young caliber season, going 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA and 219 strikeouts. Rookie sensation Michael Wacha went 4-1 in the regular season, and was the story of the NLCS, going 2-0 while giving up no runs over 13.2 innings, and almost pitching a no-hitter. Kelly went 10-5 over his 15 starts for St. Louis in 2013, and pitched decently this postseason. Lynn went 15-10 in his second full season for St. Louis, and had 198 strikeouts with a 3.97 ERA.

Who has the advantage: Slight advantage to the Cardinals.

Bullpen:

The Sox bullpen is possibly its greatest asset. Their bullpen has been lights out throughout the playoffs, and despite losing Andrew Miller, Joel Hanrahan, and Andrew Bailey to season-ending injuries, were great all season. The trio of Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara have been incredible. Breslow and Tazawa have been great set-up men to Uehara. Uehara had a record 0.57 Walks Plus Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP) in 2013, and was the first pitcher in history to strike out over 100 batters while walking fewer than ten in a season. Uehara also had a streak of 37 straight batters retired this season. Oh, and he literally only throws strikes. St. Louis also has a great pen. With youngster Trevor Rosenthal as their closer, they have also been lights out this October. Rosenthal throws 100 miles per hour, and their set-up man Carlos Martinez has been great. Martinez has given up only three hits in his last 11 innings pitched. Randy Choate was also very good this season, and was the only NL reliever who threw at least 30 innings without giving up a home run. The Cards also have rookie Shelby Miller available. Miller was on pace to win Rookie of the Year, and can be very dominant.

Who has the advantage: It’s very close, but slight advantage goes to Boston.

Series Prediction:

Red Sox over Cardinals in seven games.

It is going to be a very close series. These two teams, both extremely talented, are very similar and relatively balanced. Despite the Sox winning the majority of the positional comparisons, the Cardinals are still very good. I think the Sox will win it in seven. The Series will probably come down to either a rare mistake from either team, or late inning heroics. So even though both teams could win it, I have to believe in the magic of the Red Sox. Call it optimism, call it wishful thinking. Whatever, I’m sticking with my boys all the way. And clear your schedules for Nov. 2, because the duck boats will be riding through the streets of Boston once again!