By Christian S. Kohl
The Cardinals and Red Sox are squaring off against one another yet again this year in the Fall Classic. While much of the spotlight will fall on marquis players like David Ortiz, a battle over a limited seven game sample such as this often boils down to X-Factors. Whichever team features players who elevate their game to a level befitting of the World Series will most likely end up holding the trophy when the dust settles. To that end, this week puts two potential X-Factors under the microscope: Michael Wacha and Koji Uehara.
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A direct comparison between a starting pitcher and a closer is difficult in and of itself. The starting pitcher simply has so many more opportunities to dictate the outcome of a game that he is almost by definition more of an impact player than a reliever whether he performs well or poorly. 8 scoreless from Wacha will almost certainly result in a win. 6 ER from him through 2 almost certainly would be a loss. Conversely, a dominant showing by either St. Louis or Boston throughout the series could result in Uehara never even appearing.
Wacha, for his part, has been utterly dominant to date in this postseason. He is 3-0 across 21 innings, allowing just 1 ER while striking out 22. If nothing else, it’s clear St. Louis needs Wacha to be a bigger impact in the series. A big series from Uehara would be great, but not necessarily imperative for a Series win. If Wacha collapses or God forbid gets injured, virtually all hope would be lost for St. Louis.
Uehara, when given the chance, has also excelled. He has registered 5 saves this postseason across 9 IP while allowing just one earned run and walking none. Given the youth of Wacha (22), it seems more likely that of these two, Uehara is more likely to continue his dominance and not come unhinged.
Still, Wacha has to win this battle for that very reason, because so much more hinges on his performance. As far as which of the two will likely have the better series, in my estimation Wacha wins by a narrow margin. Even though seven games feels like a lot, postseason numbers are unbelievably small samples, and so much boils down to rhythm and comfort. Wacha is rolling right now, and despite the amazing and slightly depressing fact that he was born in the 1990s will likely be mitigated by his surging confidence. Uehara may just not have enough opportunities to be a hero (or a goat) for Boston. Guys like Shane Victorino offer a lot of options and a wide variety of skills that may come up big late in tight ballgames. This series could very well be brutally contested, but the edge goes to Wacha for overall impact this week.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.