A look at the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox going into the World Series, starting Wednesday at Fenway Park in Boston (7:30 p.m. ET).
Cardinals: Matt Adams. Though he looks like a beer league softball player, Adams can really hit. Quick hands and a sound swing helped him post 17 homers and 51 RBIs in only 296 at-bats, impressive numbers for a rookie who has filled in admirably since cleanup man Allen Craig was injured in early September. Adams is prone to strikeouts, however, and can be vulnerable against left-handed pitching. Defence is not a strength.
Red Sox: Mike Napoli. After a hip condition showed up during his physical last winter, Napoli settled for an incentive-laden, one-year contract with the Red Sox after the sides had agreed to a $39 million US, three-year deal. But the former catcher stayed healthy at first base and fit perfectly in Boston with his ample beard, patient approach and powerful swing. A proven post-season hitter, Napoli had two big homers in the American League Championship Series against Detroit but also struck out 11 times in 20 at-bats.
Edge: Red Sox
Cardinals: Matt Carpenter. Catalyst for the National League's highest-scoring offence, Carpenter had a breakout season that earned him his first all-star selection. He led the majors in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55), making the leadoff man a surprise MVP contender. Carpenter held his own at second, too, after switching from third base in spring training. Just coming out of a slump, he started to find his stroke in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers.
Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia. The heart and soul of the gritty Red Sox since their 2007 championship, Pedroia plays with a dirty uniform and an all-out gusto that translates into leadership and wins. It also inspires a string of cliches about the 2008 AL MVP. But there's no denying how good he is, regardless of size, and how crucial this mighty mite has been to Boston's success.
Cardinals: Pete Kozma. A light-hitting glove man, Kozma has a knack for feisty at-bats in October. But his true value is on defence, where he really shines. He'd better, because Kozma isn't much of a threat at the plate. Daniel Descalso also sees playing time at shortstop.
Red Sox: Stephen Drew. The brother of two big leaguers (J.D. and Tim) from a baseball family, this Drew has plenty of talent himself. After hitting .253 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs in his first season with Boston, he slumped to 3-for-35 (.086) in the AL playoffs but kept playing superb defence.
Edge: Red Sox
Cardinals: David Freese. A hometown favourite in St. Louis, Freese was the NLCS and World Series MVP when the Cardinals won it all two years ago. Coming off a mediocre regular season, he's hitting .189 with four RBIs this October. Still, he remains a threat. Descalso is often a late-inning sub for defence.
Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts. A premier prospect, Bogaerts was called up in August and hit .250 in 44 at-bats over 18 games. But late in the ALCS, he replaced slumping Will Middlebrooks in the starting lineup and it's easy to see why. The 21-year-old rookie from Aruba shows a sharp eye and pop at the plate, with poise and patience beyond his years. Can he keep it up on the World Series stage?
Cardinals: Yadier Molina. Baseball's best defensive catcher has turned into quite a hitter, too. Molina batted .319 with 44 doubles and 80 RBIs this season, not to mention his gifted handling of St. Louis' young pitching staff. No wonder he's a top MVP candidate. Possessing a rocket arm, Molina threw out 19 of 45 attempted base-stealers this year. The Red Sox like to run, so that could be an intriguing matchup.
Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia. A switch-hitter with power, "Salty" is another hairy member of Boston's beard brigade. He strikes out an awful lot, but when he gets a hold of one he can hit it a long way. And he probably hasn't received enough credit for the job he's done with an eclectic Red Sox pitching staff. David Ross also gets the occasional start behind the plate.
Cardinals: Matt Holliday. A six-time all-star, Holliday is a streaky hitter who nevertheless puts up consistent power numbers by the end of each season. He remains a legitimate thumper in the middle of the lineup, though his defense can be shaky. That could come into play at Fenway Park with the Green Monster right behind him.
Red Sox: Jonny Gomes or Daniel Nava. Another one of the gritty and grizzled newcomers contributing to Boston's success, Gomes brings a power bat and an upbeat attitude. Yes, he's prone to strikeouts, but he'll also work a walk. Sound familiar in this lineup? The Red Sox are 6-0 when he starts this postseason. Nava is an underrated switch-hitter who batted .303 with 12 homers and 66 RBIs this year.
Cardinals: Jon Jay or Shane Robinson. While his best attribute is a quality glove, Jay can hit the ball in the gap or steal a bag. He batted .206 without an extra-base hit in the playoffs, so Robinson started against a lefty in the NLCS clincher. With more power than expected for a little guy, Robinson is 3-for-8 in the post-season with three RBIs, including a pinch-hit homer at Dodger Stadium. He also is a solid defender.
Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury. The speedy sparkplug that gets Boston going, Ellsbury is a big reason the Red Sox scored 57 more runs than any other team this season. He spent most of September on the disabled list with a broken right foot, yet barely missed a beat. After leading the majors with 52 steals (in 56 tries), he swiped six of seven in the AL playoffs while batting .400.
He can become a free agent this fall, and while Ellsbury already is recognized as one of baseball's best leadoff hitters, a big World Series could only boost his asking price.
Edge: Red Sox
Cardinals: Carlos Beltran. With 12 RBIs this post-season, the 36-year-old Beltran has only added to his resume as one of the game's greatest playoff performers. He's finally in the World Series for the first time in his 16-year career after three painful losses in Game 7 of the NLCS. An eight-time all-star, Beltran doesn't run as well as he used to, but he's still a frightening force at the plate in clutch situations. The switch-hitter can become a free agent again after the season.
Red Sox: Shane Victorino. One of those winning players who is much better than his statistics will ever show. As manager Joe Maddon of the rival Rays put it, the speedy Victorino "drips with intangibles." In a fascinating move, he gave up switch-hitting this season, his first with Boston after signing a $39 million, three-year deal, and now bats exclusively right-handed.
That has led to more power (15 homers to go with 21 steals) from "The Flyin' Hawaiian." He beat Tampa Bay in the division series with an infield single and finished off Detroit in the ALCS with a grand slam.
Cardinals: Allen Craig. St. Louis banked on Craig when Albert Pujols left as a high-priced free agent following the 2011 World Series title. That move has paid off handsomely. An RBI machine, Craig batted a major league-best .454 with runners in scoring position this season and knocked in 97 despite missing most of September with a sprained left foot. He was sidelined throughout the playoffs, but appears poised to return for the World Series.
With a DH allowed under AL rules in Boston, that gives the Cardinals a perfect opportunity to ease Craig back in during the first two games, potentially a huge boost to their already-potent lineup. Perhaps he'll even be ready to play first base at some point in the Series.
Red Sox: David Ortiz. After his 2012 season was shortened by an Achilles injury, "Big Papi" bounced back with 30 homers, 103 RBIs and a .959 OPS at age 37. There's no better DH in the game, and Ortiz has a long history of clutch hitting in October, including his tying grand slam against Detroit in the eighth inning of Game 2 that swung the ALCS. The nine-time all-star started six games at first base this year, so he can probably still play there when NL rules prohibit a DH in St. Louis. But that would put Napoli on the bench, a bummer for Boston.
Edge: Red Sox
Cardinals: The young staff is led by Adam Wainwright, a reliable ace who went 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA and 223 strikeouts in an NL-high 241 2/3 innings this season. He's often at his best in October, too. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.10 ERA and four saves in 16 career pos-season games, including seven starts. He even helped St. Louis to a championship as a rookie closer in 2006, but missed the title run two years ago while recovering from major elbow surgery.
The rising star is 22-year-old rookie Michael Wacha, drafted in the first round out of Texas A&M last year. He made only nine big- league starts this season but has been almost untouchable since barely falling short of a no-hitter in his final regular-season outing. He went 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three playoff starts, outpitching Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw twice to win MVP honours in the NLCS with 13 2-3 scoreless innings. Wacha gets the ball in Game 2, probably followed by Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn.
The back half of the rotation is where St. Louis could be vulnerable against Boston's deep and powerful lineup. Talented right-hander Shelby Miller, who had a 3.06 ERA and led major league rookies with 15 wins, was left out of the playoff rotation. He is expected to remain in long relief.
Red Sox: Much improved over last year, the Red Sox rotation begins with left-hander Jon Lester, who was 15-8 with a 2.75 ERA in 213 1/3 innings this season. He went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in three playoff starts and has a 2.49 ERA in 11 career post-season games. Behind him is Clay Buchholz, along with veterans John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Lackey rebounded nicely from Tommy John surgery this year and won both his playoff starts, beating Justin Verlander 1-0 in Game 3 of the ALCS.
Back when he was a rookie in 2002, the right-hander won Game 7 of the World Series against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. Buchholz went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA during an injury-interrupted season. Peavy struggled in two playoff starts, compiling an 8.31 ERA. The 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a July trade. This is his first World Series.
Cardinals: The closer is another hard-throwing rookie, Trevor Rosenthal. Flashing a 100-mile-per-hour fastball, he has excelled since assuming the ninth-inning role late in the season after Edward Mujica faded. Rosenthal has three saves and nine strikeouts in seven scoreless innings this post-season. New setup man Carlos Martinez, right-hander Seth Maness and lefty Kevin Siegrist all have good stuff. Right-hander John Axford and lefty specialist Randy Choate provide plenty of depth and experience.
Red Sox: Koji Uehara has been a lights-out saviour as the surprise closer in his first season with Boston since signing a $4.25 million, one-year contract that turned into quite a bargain. The 38-year-old right-hander only inherited the job when former all-stars Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were injured. After a phenomenal regular season, Uehara gave up a game-winning homer against Tampa Bay in the division series but took home the ALCS MVP award against Detroit. He is 1-1 with five saves, 13 strikeouts and a 1.00 ERA in nine innings this post-season.
Steady setup man Junichi Tazawa did a great job neutralizing Miguel Cabrera in the ALCS, and lefty Craig Breslow is much more than a big brain from Yale. He had a 1.81 ERA this year and tossed seven shutout innings in the playoffs. Brandon Workman along with regular starters Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront round out a unit that's been a dominant strength in October.
Cardinals: The addition of Craig would make the Cardinals deeper at home and give them a couple more options on a weak bench that lacks pop. Robinson is the best available bat, and the versatile Descalso provides solid defence. Pinch-hitter Adron Chambers went 0-or-5 with three strikeouts in the playoffs.
Red Sox: All sorts of depth and power available, including Nava or Gomes, Middlebrooks or Bogaerts, Ross or Saltalamacchia, and Mike Carp. Add in Napoli to the mix when Ortiz starts in St. Louis, and the Red Sox have plenty of desirable weapons to employ if they need a big hit, or walk. Quintin Berry offers blazing speed and an outfield glove, too.
Edge: Red Sox
Cardinals: Mike Matheny. Smart, serious and very well prepared, an inexperienced Matheny had big shoes to fill when he replaced Tony La Russa, who retired after the 2011 championship. But in two seasons at the helm, Matheny has guided St. Louis to Game 7 of the NLCS last year and now the World Series. He knows how to manage a pitching staff and appears to possess the golden touch with young players.
Before concussions shortened his playing career, Matheny was a four-time Gold Glove winner. He was the primary catcher, with Molina as his 21-year-old rookie backup, for the 2004 Cardinals, a 105-win team that got swept by Boston in the World Series. "That was one of the toughest experiences in my baseball career," Matheny said. "You don't forget that."
Red Sox: John Farrell. Following a successful run as Boston's pitching coach, the no-nonsense Farrell returned this year to manage the team when the Red Sox traded infielder Mike Aviles to Toronto as compensation. Farrell spent two non-descript seasons managing the Blue Jays, but he's been the perfect antidote to Bobby Valentine in the Boston clubhouse.
Lester, Buchholz and Lackey returned to form under Farrell's watch, and he's done a brilliant job with the bullpen. He's not afraid to make bold moves, like inserting Bogaerts into the starting lineup. And he hasn't hesitated to use Uehara for more than three outs in October, a huge key for the Red Sox.
Series prediction: Red Sox in 7