By Steve Silverman
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It was once the premier event on the sports calendar, but that was a very long time ago.
If the Yankees or Mets — they had to be mentioned for sake of all things even remotely possible — are not playing in the World Series, it has become an afterthought for many New York sports fans.
You may very well watch Game 1 of the Fall Classic between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. But after that you may only catch glimpses of it here and there during commercials of NFL or college football broadcasts, or whatever else you may be watching.
As large as the gap between the NFL and Major League Baseball is right now — and it is huge — the difference between the two sports’ premier events are Grand Canyon-esque.
It seems that the World Series has shrunk and shriveled — no man wants to hear that word — over the years to the point where it is a folksy little event to all except those associated with the two teams participating.
MLB officials would be wise to give agent Scott Boras’ seemingly ridiculous idea of playing the first two games of the series at a predetermined, warm-weather site some consideration.
It would create a new buzz for the World Series and it would assure massive media coverage, at least for the first few years. It might allow the World Series to gain back some of the traction it has lost over the four-plus decades to the Super Bowl.
But despite this loss of stature, this particular World Series figures to be the most watchable since the Yankees got the best of the Phillies in 2009, although the Cardinals’ seven-game triumph over the Texas Rangers in 2011 was quite memorable.
Here’s a thumbnail position-by-position breakdown:
Catcher: This position has Red Sox manager John Farrell shaking in his boots. Yadier Molina (.319/.359/.477) is arguably the second-best defensive catcher in the history of baseball, ranking just behind Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. He is also a clutch hitter who shines on the big stage.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.273/.338/.466) hit 14 home runs this season and he is not awful, but he pales in comparison with Molina. Saltalamacchia is a strikeout waiting to happen and he can’t throw out good base-stealers.
Huge edge: St. Louis
First Base: Matt Adams (.284/.335/.503) and Mike Napoli (.259/.360/.482) are fairly similar based on the numbers. Adams is a big man with a big swing who took over when Allen Craig injured his foot. Napoli has the ability to get clutch hits, but he also goes into mind-numbing tailspins.
Second Base: This would appear to be a big edge for the Red Sox because they have Dustin Pedroia, who is generally thought of as the second-best second baseman in the American League behind Robinson Cano. However, Matt Carpenter (.318/.392/.481) actually had a better year than Pedroia (.301/.372/.415), who was playing with a damaged thumb for most of the season.
Shortstop: Probably the most nondescript position in this World Series because both teams have mediocre performers. Pete Kozma (.217/.275/.273) is a throwback to the shortstops of the 1960s and ’70s because he can field but can’t hit. Stephen Drew (.253/.333/.443) was a somewhat better hitter than Kozma during the regular season, but there’s little reason to believe that he has the ability to hit well against good pitching.
Slight edge: Red Sox
Third base: David Freese (.262/.340/.381) had quite a World Series in 2011 and brought home the MVP award. Yet if you look at much of the national analysis, Red Sox rookie Xander Bogaerts rates the edge over Freese. Bogaerts (.250/.320/.364) performed well in the clutch when he was given the opportunity, but the belief here is that Freese has the stroke to repeat his earlier success.
Left field: Matt Holliday (.300/.389/.490) is a solid hitter with plenty of power. He has also learned how to draw walks, but he can be a liability in the field because of his limited range. The combination of Johnny Gomes (.247/.344/.426) and Daniel Nava (.303/.385/.445) gives the Red Sox high marks for intangibles. Gomes is the spiritual leader of the team while Nava is one of the most improved players in baseball.
Slight edge: Cardinals
Center field: Here’s where the Red Sox figure to make some hay in the series. Jacoby Ellsbury (.298/.355/.426) is a true igniter who can get on base, run like the wind and get a lot of extra-base hits. John Jay (.276/.351/.370) is fairly proficient at getting on base and is a decent fielder, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that Ellsbury does.
Huge edge: Red Sox
Right field: Shane Victorino (.294/.351/.451) has been one of the team’s most inspirational leaders all season. His grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS clinched the title for the Red Sox. He has been getting clutch hits all season and he is an excellent fielder and baserunner.
As good as Victorino is, Carlos Beltran (.296/.339/.491) is perhaps the best clutch hitter in postseason history. He has been waiting to get to the World Series throughout his career, and now he gets a chance with the sport’s most consistent team.
Designated hitter: This would seem to be a huge edge for the Red Sox because of the presence of David Ortiz (.309/.395/.564), but if Craig (.315/.373/.457) is healthy, he is one of the best clutch hitters in the game. Craig has recovered from his foot injury, but he must regain his timing at the plate.
Edge: Red Sox
Pitching: Give the Cardinals a slight edge for starting pitching and the Red Sox a similar advantage for relief pitching. Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha are going to be special for the Cardinals, while Jon Lester and John Lackey are a tick below those two for the Red Sox. Koji Uehara’s unhittable streak is over, but he still rates a small edge over Trevor Rosenthal.
Prediction: Cardinals in seven games
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