This doesn't actually happen as much as you might think. The two teams with the best records in the American League and National League are meeting in the World Series.
It's the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Boston Red Sox, two teams that won 97 games in the regular season. The top winners in each league haven't met in the series since 1999.
There's no Cinderella this year. No San Francisco Giants looking to shock baseball. Just the top two teams, and two of the top MLB franchises historically, each looking to add another World Series to their trophy case.
It's something of a rematch of the 2004 World Series, the two teams played then with the Red Sox sweeping the series. Except today's rosters are much different than 2004's. David Ortiz is still around in Boston. Yadier Molina was a young pup for the Cardinals then. The most notable carryover is Mike Matheny — who played for the Cardinals then and manages them today.
These are two pretty evenly matched teams — both in the top five of most offensive categories in the regular season. The Cardinals, though, didn't hit as many homers as the Red Sox and Boston didn't pitch as well as St. Louis. Here's a stat that shows how good they both were: The Red Sox led MLB with a +197 run differential, while the Cardinals were No. 2 with +187. Here's a closer look at the series.
Game 1: Wednesday at 8:07 p.m. ET in Boston (All games on Fox)
Game 2: Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET in Boston
Game 3: Saturday at 8:07 p.m. ET in St. Louis
Game 4: Sunday at 8:15 p.m. ET in St. Louis
Game 5*: Monday at 8:07 p.m. ET in St. Louis
Game 6*: Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 8:07 p.m. ET in Boston
Game 7*: Thursday, Oct. 31 at 8:07 p.m. ET in Boston
Game 1: Adam Wainwright (21-10, 2.82 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (17-9, 3.64 ERA)
Game 2: Michael Wacha (7-1, 2.21 ERA) vs. John Lackey (12-13, 3.49 ERA)
Game 3: TBA
Game 4: TBA
Game 5: TBA
Game 6: TBA
Game 7: TBA
Both teams have their No. 1 starters ready and rested for Wednesday's Game 1. Their Game 2 starters are both coming off strong LCS outings. From there? Nothing confirmed yet. Guesses (and postseason pattern) say that the Cardinals will follow with Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn. The Red Sox will likely go with Clay Buchholz in Game 3 and then Jake Peavy in Game 4.
The Red Sox and the Cardinals didn't play this season or last season. In fact, they haven't played a meaningful since 2008, when they met in an interleague series at Fenway Park. The Cards won two of three in that series, though it featured only a few people you'll see in this World Series. Lots has changed since even then. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester played for the Red Sox then, while Yadier Molina is the lone Cardinal who played in that series. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright were around then, but didn't play in the series.
THREE KEYS FOR THE CARDINALS
Allen Craig — Their top RBI man from the regular season is back for the World Series and he's ready to DH and pinch hit. He could even get some time at first base in St. Louis if he's doing well. It's great news for the Cardinals, since Craig hit .315 in the regular season and drove in 97 runs. Plus, the Cards will be able to use both Craig and his replacement, Matt Adams, when the series is in Boston. Despite beating the Dodgers in the NLCS, the Cards hit just .211 in the series. They could use the boost.
Make the most of the games in St. Louis — There's a home-field advantage, sure, but there's also a National League advantage for the Cardinals. No designated hitter. That means the Red Sox will have to choose between David Ortiz (their usual DH) and Mike Napoli (their usual first baseman). They're the two most capable long-ball hitters for the Red Sox, and having to stick one of them on the bench will help St. Louis.
Keeping hitting with runners in scoring position — The Cardinals hit an insane .330 with RISP during the regular season. Bringing that to the World Series would obviously help. And against the Red Sox, it would especially help. Boston pitchers were a top-10 ERA team in the regular season with runners in scoring position. Their bullpen particularly shut down the Tigers with runners in the scoring position in the ALCS.
THREE KEYS FOR THE RED SOX
Score earlier — Look, it's great to hit late-inning home runs and grand slams to tie a game or take a lead like the Red Sox did in the ALCS, but it's definitely not something you can depend on. The Cardinals, like the Tigers before them, offer tough starting pitchers, but the Red Sox will need to do more against these guys. There's not a shaky bullpen waiting afterward like there was with the Tigers.
Get some production from the right side of the infield — Shortstop Stephen Drew and third baseman Will Middlebrooks had two total hits in the ALCS. Middlebrooks was sent to the bench in Game 6, with rookie Xander Bogaerts getting the start. Sounds like he might again. Whoever is there, the Red Sox would be well served by more offense.
Keep pitching better than the regular season: Boston was a middle-of-the-pack pitching staff ERA-wise in the regular season at 3.79. They're doing much better in the postseason, 3.05, with John Lackey and Jon Lester faring particularly well in the ALCS. One of the reasons for Boston's better ERA is their bullpen, anchored by closer (and ALCS MVP) Koji Uehara. More on the Red Sox 'pen in just a second.
FIVE IMPORTANT NUMBERS
• 0.84 — Boston's bullpen ERA this postseason, almost a run better than St. Louis' mark of 1.80, which is the second best among teams that made it out of the wild-card round.
• 2.34 — St. Louis' overall ERA in the postseason, the best in the playoffs. It's a full run better than it was in the regular season, 3.42.
• .325 — The Red Sox's on-base percentage in the postseason, which is the highest of any team. Their .349 OBP was the highest in the regular season too.
• .337/.449/.724 — Carlos Beltran's career hitting line in the postseason. Get ready. You'll be hearing a lot about it.
• 20 — How many times, in the previous 24 World Series, that the winner of Game 1 went on to win the series. Rest well for Wednesday, guys.
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