World Series Preview: Rematch Edition
Late Saturday night Shane Victorino lifted his leg up high, planted it, and flipped his bat around like an eight iron to send the Red Sox to the World Series. It affected multiple fan bases.
It affected Philadelphia because the words “Victorino” and “Grand slam” are synonymous with their 2008 championship run. It affected Milwaukee because that same swing five years ago imploded CC Sabathia’s miracle run for the Brewers. It affected Los Angeles because Victorino was once a Rule 5 draft pick that slipped away from the Dodgers and then slipped away again last offseason. It affected St. Louis because they quickly received an opponent. Of course, it affected Boston, too.
Their postseason has once again been made up of several iconic, unforgettable moments (mostly home runs with three runners on base) that may potentially go down into Red Sox folklore, if not into Beantown’s Youtube Hall of Fame. The wonderfully controlled fan video of David Ortiz’s game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS is enough to give you shivers as the white round speck evaporates into the night. This team may not be as magical or destined as they were in 2004, even with Ortiz being the only common “clutch” denominator. But St. Louis is back to celebrate the nine-year anniversary of that miracle run, of course that’s not the verb they would use to describe this rematch. Maybe “avenge” would be more appropriate, but even that word applies to only Yadier Molina and former catcher now manager Mike Matheney, the only Cardinals who impacted the four game sweep that erased Baseball’s largest curse.
In nine years things have changed significantly and yet hardly at all for these two ball clubs. The Red Sox and Cardinals have each only had one losing season since then, have acquired a combined nine playoff appearances, and added three World Series trophies to their respective mantles. Their cities and fans have embodied the term “baseball town” and their ownership has made it possible and acceptable to don that phrase (St. Louis fans will even cheer for opponents if they make an athletic play because they love baseball so much). Both teams hail from blue-collar cities and you can see this on Boston’s chins growing bushy animals and from St. Louis’s unspectacular roster of guys named Joe Kelly and Matt Carpenter. They’ve replaced All-Star first basemen (Pujols and Gonzalez) with equally capable offensive catapults (Beltran and Napoli). They’ve also got loads of history.
This matchup will be the fourth World Series meeting between the two teams. St. Louis defeated Boston in 1946 and 1967 and both went seven games. In 2004, it was a different story. For fun, here’s a comparison of starting lineups and rotations from nine years ago and today...
St. Louis Cardinals 2004 WS Lineup St. Louis Cardinals 2013 WS Lineup
Edgar Renteria SS Matt Carpenter 2B
Larry Walker RF Carlos Beltran RF
Albert Pujols 1B Matt Holiday LF
Scott Rolen 3B Yadier Molina C
Jim Edmonds CF David Freese 3B
Reggie Sanders DH Matt Adams 1B
Tony Womack 2B John Jay CF
Mike Matheny C Pete Kozma SS
So Taguchi LF Allen Craig DH
Woody Williams Adam Wainwright
Matt Morris Michael Wacha
Jeff Suppan Joe Kelly
Jason Marquis Lance Lynn
These lineups aren’t precise but give a general look at the differences that have taken shape. '04's club had a lot of power. They led the league in average (.278), slugging (.460) and OPS (.804) and tallied 105 wins that season. It’s hard to beat another 3-4-5 in the lineup better than St. Louis in 2004. Pujols whacked 46 home runs and 123 RBIs. Scott Rolen totaled 34 home runs and 124 RBIs. Jim Edmonds launched 42 home runs and acquired 111 RBIs. That’s incredible when you think about it. That production, along with speedsters and sharp defenders up the middle in Womack and Renteria, made this team special. Their only mistake was running into Boston’s bloody sock fate.
2013’s squad does not appear nearly as dominant offensively but the numbers remain relatively equal. This season they maintained the league’s second best average (.269), the third best slugging percentage (.401) and league’s best on base percentage (.332). This is the best fielding team in the National League and it begins with Yadier Molina who committed just 4 errors the entire year. One thing is for sure: both clubs fielded strong catching units and it only makes sense that Matheny is still coaching his protégé and leader of the team for the last nine years. The addition of Allen Craig to the lineup will also be a needed boost. As for the pitching, this team has a legitimate group of youngsters surrounding its ace in Wainwright who won’t miss the World Series like Chris Carpenter did in 2004. It might have been a different series then had Carpenter’s right bicep not acted up.
Boston Red Sox 2004 WS Lineup Boston Red Sox 2013 WS Lineup
Johnny Damon CF Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Orlando Carbera SS Shane Victorino RF
Manny Ramirez LF Dustin Pedroia 2B
David Ortiz DH David Ortiz DH
Kevin Millar 1B Mike Napoli 1B
Trot Nixon RF Jonny Gomes LF
Jason Varitek C Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Bill Mueller 3B Stephen Drew SS
Mark Bellhorn 2B Will Middelbrooks 3B
Pedro Martinez Jon Lester
Curt Schilling Clay Buchholtz
Tim Wakefield John Lackey
Bronson Arroyo Jake Peavy
It would be hard to find a worthy opponent to the '04 Cardinal’s 3-4-5, but the Red Sox might be able to outmatch them in their 3-4 combination, if that makes any sense. Manny Ramirez (43 HR and 130 RBI) and David Ortiz (41 HR and 139 RBI) are probably still considered the scariest middle of the lineup in recent history. They spearheaded a Billy Beane-influenced team that boasted the league’s best on base percentage (.360), slugging percentage (.472) and, naturally, OPS (.832). This was a roster just getting used to the name Kevin Youkilis and trying to move past the name Garciaparra, who was traded midseason to Chicago. In many respects, Orlando Cabrera is still in my mind one of the best two-hole hitters the game has seen, whether playing for Boston or later on in his Angels days. Johnny Damon singles, Cabrera initiates the hit-and-run and the big boys do the damage. At certain points, Trot Nixon and Bill Mueller became just as dangerous. It was a special, gritty team.
The same might be said of the current Red Sox. Now virtually all contemporary Red Beard Pirates, John Farrell’s squad mimicked 2004 in leading the American League again in on base percentage (.349), slugging (.446), and OPS (.795). Ortiz is still somehow solidifying the middle of this lineup and Mike Napoli has jolted this team through their offensive woes in the playoffs. Teams usually fracture or gel in late September and Boston was blessed with the former in 2011 and the latter this year, gathering a team fully healthy for seemingly the first time all season. The names are different between these two teams, but the structure is not. Nixon, Miller, and Bellhorn find their contemporaries in Gomes, Middlebrooks, and Drew and every time you’re ready to doubt them, they give you a surprise. It’s hard to beat 2004’s rotation. Against the Tigers in the ALCS, Lester, Buchholtz, and Lackey have looked strong, but it’s tough to beat the aura surrounding Pedro and Curt and the infamous knuckler. 2013 rekindled late inning dramatic flare. I doubt it will carry them into a four game sweep again.
And let’s hope not. This might not only be the most viewed World Series, it could be one of the best to actually watch in detail. Rarely does baseball have its two best teams playing each other in the final competition and very rarely are they two teams with as much history and tradition as we have in front of us. I could go either with this pick but I think the lack of a DH for potentially three games in St. Louis will be too difficult to overcome. Or maybe it won’t. Boston did it before and could do it again. I’ll say Cardinals in seven games, mostly because a game seven in Fenway is just too wonderful to express.
In 2004, Steven Tyler opened festivities by singing the National Anthem. This year it’s Mary J. Blige. If that’s not an indication this series will be better, I don’t know what is.