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October 24, 2013
World Series Game One Recap (Cardinals Edition)
Throughout the World Series, we'll be providing two recaps of each game, one with a focus on the winner and the other devoting a longer look to the loser. This is the Cardinals entry for Game One. The Red Sox entry is here.
In retrospect, this sort of set the tone for Game One from the Cardinals’ perspective:
That’s the 6’7” Adam Wainwright making his way to the mound in the first and bumping his head on the roof of the visiting dugout at Fenway, whose home team in the ballpark's long-ago inaugural season topped out at 6’2”. Things got worse for Wainwright from there.
“If you like defense, then this isn’t the series for you,” R.J. Anderson wrote in his World Series preview. As R.J. noted, neither the Cardinals nor the Red Sox placed particularly well on the various defensive leaderboards this season, though St. Louis was worse, ranking 21st in defensive efficiency, 26th in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, 27th in team UZR, and 22nd in team DRS. Boston wasn’t so much better that the team’s glovework constituted a massive advantage, but if you wanted to find a weakness in a matchup between two of baseball’s best teams, the Cardinals’ lack of leather was it.
As the Red Sox ran up the score on Wednesday, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck kept clucking about how atypical it was for a Cardinals team to look so sloppy. In a sense, they were right: the Cardinals committed three errors in the game, which was out of character for them (only the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles committed fewer errors in 2013). But errors aren’t a great proxy for overall defensive performance; the Cardinals' shortcomings in the field have more to do with the balls they don't touch. It seems like defensive inadequacy should be inconsistent with the Cardinal Way, but converting batted balls into outs is one aspect of the game at which St. Louis doesn’t excel.
Pete Kozma committing two of the errors last night was odd, in that he’s the one Cardinal who’s in the lineup solely because of his glove. Aside from Yadier Molina, no one on the team was less likely to flub two plays, the first of which potentially cost the Cardinals a double play that would have ended in an inning in which the Sox went on to score three runs.
Wainwright—for what it’s worth, a Gold Glove winner in 2009—hurt himself by not attempting to catch a Stephen Drew popup that dropped in front of the mound to start the second, and David Freese allowed Drew to score on a Dustin Pedroia grounder that got under his glove.
Defensive struggles from Freese, at least, made sense; the third baseman also contributed to Boston’s two-run seventh with a two-out throwing error that put Pedroia on first and gave David Ortiz a chance to go deep. Only four of the eight runs allowed by the St. Louis staff were earned.
As I watched the Cardinals fall further and further behind, I kept making mental comparisons to NLCS Game Six, in which Clayton Kershaw wasn’t quite as sharp as usual but the final score was less a reflection of his own failings than it was a product of bad defense and Murphy’s Law batted-ball placement. I made the case in my recap of that game that it very easily could’ve been a nailbiter instead of a blowout, and one could say the same about Wainwright’s Game One start (although this time, it was Jon Lester in the “unhittable opponent” role Michael Wacha played against the Dodgers).
The difference is that in the Cardinals’ case, one could also point to a play that made things much better than they could’ve been:
That’s the second extra-base hit Beltran has robbed in October; this one saved three runs. When he was removed from the game with what appeared to be a bruised rib, it looked like another callback to the NLCS. But in Beltran’s case, nothing is broken, so this isn’t Hanley Ramirez redux.
St. Louis got off to a lousy start in this series, but this wasn’t one we should have counted on the Cardinals to win. Only four teams—the Mariners, Marlins, White Sox, and Mets—had a lower OPS against left-handed pitchers this season than their .672 mark, so a matchup with Lester at Fenway was the game in this series in which their offense was most likely to struggle. Yes, the Cardinals looked a little lost along the way, and the score was more lopsided than one would’ve expected. But those extra Red Sox runs don’t roll over to today.