Long, drawn-out battles in the World Series used to be all the rage. Between 1985 and 1997, nine of the 12 Fall Classics lasted at least six games.
Alas, these sorts of battles have since gone out of style. Only five of the last 15 World Series have lasted as many as six games. Only one of the last 10 has gone the full seven games.
As such, this year's World Series could end up being a modern rarity. The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals have only played two games, but it already feels like it could be some time before they finally settle things.
Game 1 was a nightmare for the Cardinals. Adam Wainwright lasted only five innings and the Cardinals were sloppy in the field and hopeless at the plate against Jon Lester. With an 8-1 rout under their belts, there was a hint in the air that the Red Sox were clearly the superior team.
Game 2, however, brought a turning of the tables. The Cardinals evened things with a 4-2 victory and, in the process, the seemingly mighty Red Sox were made to look decidedly less mighty.
Michael Wacha did his part. The rookie sensation wasn't as dominant as he had been in his first three October outings, but the only real mistake he made was a changeup that David Ortiz hit over the Green Monster in the bottom of the sixth. It was a two-run blast that made it 2-1 in favor of Boston.
But quick as it came, that lead was soon gone. In somewhat ironic fashion, to boot.
In Game 1, it was the Cardinals who hurt themselves with mental errors in the field. It was the Red Sox's turn in the top of the seventh in Game 2. Craig Breslow and Jarrod Saltalamacchia combined to allow a crucial double steal to happen, and both runners scored moments later. Matt Carpenter's sacrifice fly to left field brought one of the runs home, and Breslow brought home another when his ill-advised throw toward third base ended up in the seats.
Carlos Beltran tacked on a run with an RBI single moments later, and the gruesome twosome of Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal took it from there. They handled the final three innings Thursday night in impressive fashion, striking out six and allowing only one hit to preserve the 4-2 win.
So here we are; the World Series is tied 1-1. That means at least three more games will be played. But the reason it feels like more than that will be needed is because there's no telling who has the edge in this series now. Both clubs have their advantages and disadvantages, and trying to make sense of them is about as easy as trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle the size of a football field.
So I won't try to solve it. I'll settle for just getting all the pieces out in the open.
Though they're not leaving Boston with the commanding 2-0 lead, the Red Sox can't be too down in the dumps with how the first two games went. Not in light of the two pitchers they were tasked with beating.
Wainwright and Wacha were, after all, basically untouchable in the first two rounds of the postseason. They combined to allow only five earned runs in 44 innings, with 42 strikeouts on the side. Had they kept up that level of dominance in Boston, the Red Sox would be in serious trouble right now.
Instead, the Red Sox showed that having to face the Detroit Tigers' lethal rotation did not exhaust their bats. They were able to work counts and drive Wainwright's pitch count up early in Game 1, and they worked Wacha pretty well too, working his pitch count to 114 in sixth innings.
This is something for the Red Sox to be optimistic about heading to St. Louis. If they could get to Wainwright and Wacha, then logic says they should be able to jump all over Joe Kelly in Game 3 and Lance Lynn in Game 4. Wainwright may start in Lynn's place Sunday, but he'll be starting on short rest for the first time in his career if he does.
The Red Sox also have to like how David Ortiz has looked. He was a non-factor outside of his grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS. But he already has a pair of home runs in the World Series and one long fly ball that would have been a grand slam had it not been for Beltran's glove.
This is an important turn of events with the Red Sox set to lose the designated hitter in St. Louis. They could have found themselves being forced to play a slumping Ortiz at first base, a no-win situation if there ever was one. It now looks like playing Ortiz at first base will be worth their while, no questions asked.
But then there are the things the Red Sox can't be too thrilled about.
There's what happened in the top of the seventh inning on Thursday night, for starters. Aggressive baserunning is a trademark of the Red Sox, and they found out that the Cardinals can play that card a lot better than the Tigers. Good defense is another trademark of the Red Sox, but you'd never know it from watching Breslow throw that ball into the stands.
Elsewhere, the Red Sox have some serious issues at the bottom of their batting order. Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew are a combined 15-for-103 in the postseason (a .146 average). Daniel Nava stands out as a possible upgrade over Gomes, but rust has to be a concern with Nava at this point now that he hasn't started in over a week.
It was the bottom of the order that went down without a fight against Rosenthal in the ninth inning, and his and Martinez's dominance sent a clear message that pulling off miracles against this St. Louis bullpen won't be nearly as easy as it was against Detroit's bullpen.
On the other side of that token, the continued excellence of Martinez and Rosenthal—they've now combined for 21 strikeouts in 17.2 innings in October—is one of several bright sides for the Cardinals at this hour.
If the Red Sox can feel OK with a split in the first two games of the series, the Cardinals can feel thrilled about it. They're heading home now knowing full well that the series doesn't necessarily have to shift back to Fenway Park.
And it might not given how well St. Louis treats the Cardinals. Mike Matheny and Co. posted the second-best home winning percentage in MLB in the regular season, in part because they pitched better at Busch Stadium (3.10 ERA) than they did on the road (3.77 ERA).
And while Kelly and Lynn are nowhere near Wainwright and Wacha's caliber, the Cardinals can't feel too bad about the pitching matchups in the next couple games.
They'll get to face Jake Peavy in Game 3. He gave up seven runs in three innings his last time out and has given up at least three runs in five of six starts dating back to September. Kelly can be beat, but so can Peavy.
As for Game 4, pitching at home has agreed with Lynn all season; he posted a 2.82 ERA at Busch Stadium compared to a 5.15 ERA on the road. Clay Buchholz is slated to pitch for the Red Sox, but his right arm is clearly in bad shape.
“I’ve got maybe one start left, so this is where you want to throw it all on the line,” Buchholz said this week, via the Boston Herald. “That’s sort of how I’m looking at it now. I haven’t been 100 percent for a long time now and pitched less than 100 percent for the last couple of months. What’s one more?”
Buchholz has run out of gas in the sixth inning in each of his last two starts. If the trend holds in Game 4, the Cardinals could find themselves reaping the benefits before turning things over to their bullpen and saying, "Here, beat this."
All the Cardinals have to do is keep from losing both Game 3 and Game 4. If they can win at least one of those games, they'll get to hand the ball back over to Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha on full rest with a chance to close out the series.
There is the one big concern for the Cardinals, however, and it's the same one they came into the World Series with. They may have walked away from Boston with a win, but they didn't do so because their offense woke up.
St. Louis entered the Fall Classic with a collective .610 OPS in the postseason. So far, only two of the five runs the Cardinals have scored against the Red Sox have come via run-scoring base hits. The Red Sox have four such hits.
And if I'm a Cardinals hitter, I'm praying hard that Buchholz gets the ball in Game 4 rather than Felix Doubront. He doesn't have Buchholz's talent, but Doubront is left-handed, and left-handed starters are the Cardinals' nemesis. Their .675 OPS against lefty starters in the regular season was one of the worst in baseball, and they certainly looked prone against southpaws when Lester was on the mound in Game 1.
If there is hope, though, it's in Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Mr. Beltran.
After sitting out since early September with a foot injury, Allen Craig has looked largely fine thus far, picking up a pair of hits and a walk. If he's able to play first base in St. Louis, having his bat in the lineup could be crucial.
Holliday, meanwhile, only has two hits in the World Series, but both have been loud: a booming homer in Game 1 and a booming triple in Game 2. Since his power has tended to vacillate, it's a good sign that it's reappeared when the Cardinals need it most.
As for Beltran, he had two hits in Game 2 after leaving Game 1 with wounded ribs. Neither of those hits were cheapies, either. I was worried that his injury would cost the Cardinals in a big way, but it looks like that's not going to be the case.
A great, big, complicated puzzle indeed, and this series simply had to be this way at this juncture. The Red Sox and Cardinals looked like a good fit for one another the moment their matchup was set, and Game 2 succeeded in shooting down the false narrative of Game 1.
There is no dominant team in this series—just two very good teams that are hoping to win a couple games before their various flaws and handicaps jump up and bite them. Rather than seeing one of them sprint to it, this World Series will see the Red Sox and Cardinals fight to the finish.
Just like the old-timers used to.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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