World Series Preview
Last night marked the first of potentially seven games of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Tom Smith takes us through one of the world’s biggest sporting spectacles.
Both teams aren’t far down the road from their last World Championship – Boston won it back in 2007 and St. Louis back in 2011. It’s the perfect World Series because it pits the best teams from the regular season of the National and American Leagues; as both teams finished with the best record in their respective leagues with 97 wins apiece.
Just two years after last winning the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals return to try and win another, but it may have been a big decision after the last World Series that allowed them to be back to the top so quickly. Albert Pujols, one of the best hitters ever in baseball, was a free agent after the 2011 season and ended up signing a ten-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels, leaving a St. Louis team he had spent his career with.
At the time, fans were devastated and rightly so – the hitter was arguably the best in baseball at the time. However, in the two years since, he has suffered multiple injuries and looks to be on the decline. He hasn’t performed anywhere near the level that baseball fans have come to expect.
Allowing him to leave gave the Cardinals the financial flexibility to resign catcher Yadier Molina – the platinum fielder (the best fielder as voted by all the managers in the league), an excellent hitter, but also a dynamic leader. It also allowed them to keep ace pitcher Adam Wainwright and resign Carlos Beltran.
The Cardinals are also one of the league’s best for identifying and producing young talent – the breakout of Michael Wacha in October the most recent example. The Cardinals have got here after a league-best regular season and a victory against a rejuvenated Pittsburgh Pirates team who were back in the playoffs after a 20-year absence, before beating the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL Pennant.
The Dodgers are the Manchester City of baseball, spending millions on superstars to assemble a side to challenge for the title. After a slow start, the they found young sensation Yasiul Puig, a revelation that kick-started their season, and looked in great shape for the World Series before they were derailed by the Cardinals. Whatever the result, expect the Cardinals to be in the World Series picture for the next few years.
After finishing bottom in their division last season, the Boston Red Sox fired controversial manager Bobby Valentine and traded for Toronto’s manager John Farrell, who had been the Red Sox pitching coach before taking the job at their division rivals. After shipping the contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox had the opportunity to clean the house and bring in some free agents to help the team return to the playoffs.
A group of individuals transformed into a team within weeks of Farrell’s arrival and the signings of some of the best veteran free agents proved to work brilliantly. Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, David Ross and others have helped to turn around the franchise, behind Boston stalwarts Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Also, starting pitchers Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey have all had much improved seasons with Farrell helping to restore the form of the Red Sox pitching staff. They boasted one of the best offences in the regular season but wouldn’t have kept the dangerous Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees in check without it.
Like St. Louis, the Red Sox entered the playoffs with a league-best record and were able to beat division rival Tampa Bay in four games to face the Detroit Tigers who were last season’s representative from the American League in the World Series. Despite a lack of offence for most of the six games the Red Sox were able to keep in check Miguel Cabrera, the best hitter in all of baseball at the moment and subdue the rest of the line-up. They took their chances against a strong pitching line-up which included Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander to seal the AL Pennant, which topped off by a win at Fenway Park, sealed by a Victorino grand slam.
Action started in Fenway Park on Wednesday night, with the Red Sox taking a 1-0 lead. The first two games will be in Boston, with the next three in St. Louis, before the final two back in Boston if required. Boston has home field advantage due to the American League winning the All-Star game in New York back in July.
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to seven games, and it will be another fascinating World Series with plenty of action and many surprises. Both teams would be deserved winners, but the question of who can hold their nerve and take their chances will determine who gets to spray champagne and who has to go home empty handed.