EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 21, 2013

Watch out for Wacha

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — The Red Sox and Cardinals commence the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park on Wednesday (8:07 p.m. start). It’s a rematch of the 2004 Fall Classic, which Boston swept in four games.

Boston’s magical turnaround from 69 wins and a last-place finish in 2012 to American League Champions in 2013 has been quite the ride. But the Cardinals are tremendously talented foe, worthy of respect. The Red Sox have plenty work remaining to win this year’s title.

Here are nine facts you need to know about the National League champion Cards as they head to the hub:

1. Watch Out For Wacha

Michael Wacha is the man in St. Louis right now. The rookie right-hander, who is just 22 (exactly a year and three months older than Xander Bogaerts), was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Wacha out-dueled 2011 NL Cy Young Clayton Kershaw twice during the NLCS.

Wacha was 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 15 appearances, nine starts, this regular season. He has allowed just one earned run in three postseason starts (21.0 innings).

He throws a fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball. His fastball averaged 93.5 mph this year, according to fangraphs.com. That’s the same fastball average velocity of Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa for 2013.

He throws his fastball and changeup the most.

2. Molina Has A Cannon

The Red Sox have speed. Jacoby Ellsbury already has set a club record for most steals (6) in one postseason. Boston base runners have swiped 11 bags during the playoffs.

But the Cardinals have the major league’s best defensive catcher, Yadier Molina, who has won five straight Gold Gloves and has a cannon for an arm.

He threw out 43 percent of base stealers this season and is at 45 percent for his career. He has led the league in caught stealing percentage three times, including throwing out 64 percent in 2005.

The 31-year-old Molina played in three games and recorded three at-bats in the 2004 World Series vs. Boston.

3. Cards Have True Ace

The Cardinals have a true ace, All-Star right-hander Adam Wainwright. The 32-year-old sinker ball pitcher led the National League in wins (19), starts (34), innings (241.2), complete games (5) and shutouts (2) in ‘13. He posted a 2.94 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP.

He throws a sinker, cutter, curveball and changeup in addition to a fastball that averaged 91.1 mph this year, according to fangraphs.com.

4. Freese Has Flair

David Freese was the MVP of the 2011 NLCS and ‘11 World Series.

During the ‘11 postseason, he batted .397 with a .465 on-base percentage, .794 slugging percentage, 1.258 OPS, five homers, 21 RBIs, eight doubles and one triple.

Freese has not hit well this postseason. He has a .189 batting average and .250 on-base percentage in 37 at-bats.

But Freese has a flair for the dramatic so the Red Sox better watch out for him. He could heat up at any time.

5. Cards As Good As Sox

The Cardinals, like Boston, won 97 games during the regular and finished tied with the Red Sox for the best record in the majors.

They were 83‐14 (.856 winning percentage) when scoring four or more runs and 92‐23 (.800) when scoring three or more runs.

The Cardinals had a plus-187 run scored differential (783‐596), the best in the NL and second only to Boston (plus-197) in the majors.

The two teams obviously are pretty evenly matched on paper.

6. Cardinals HavePower Arms

The Cardinals have several power arms in addition Wacha.

Right-handed starter Joe Kelly’s fastball averaged 94.9 mph this year while right-handed starter Lance Lynn’s fastball averaged 92.4 mph, according to fangraphs.com.

Closer Trevor Rosenthal’s fastball averaged 97.3 mph.

7. St. Louis’ BullpenIs Dominant

Rosenthal, yeah, he’s darn good. The same can be said about the Cards ‘pen.

St. Louis has the second best playoff bullpen of teams that have played more than one game this postseason with a 1.80 ERA in 30.0 innings. Meanwhile, Boston has the top bullpen (0.84 ERA in 32.0 innings).

Edward Mujica was the Cardinals’ closer this season but he lost the job when he posted an 11.05 ERA in September.

Rosenthal is experienced with just three career regular season and three career postseason saves to his name. Some Koji Uehara doesn’t have years of experience as a closer either and we’ve seen what he’s done.

8. Cards AreA Young Bunch

While the Red Sox are a team of veteran ballplayers for the most part, the Cardinals are young.

Their average age is 27.4 while the Red Sox’ average age is 30.1. St. Louis’ pitching staff is very young with Wacha being 22, Rosenthal 23 and reliever Carlos Martinez 22.

That said, the Cards have some vets, too. Molina has played in three World Series and then there is 2011 NLCS and ‘11 World Series MVP David Freese. The Cards also have proven veterans Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Wainwright.

9. Pujols’ Replacement is Good Too

Allen Craig replaced Albert Pujols at first base for the Cardinals when Pujols, once the most beloved player in St. Louis, left for the Angels a couple of years ago.

Craig played 134 games this year, batting .315 with a .373 on-base percentage, .457 slugging percentage and .830 OPS.

Craig hasn’t played since the beginning of September because of a Lisfranc injury, but he has said he is ready for the World Series.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB