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October 23, 2004
Two years ago, the Angels and Giants set World Series records by combining for 85 runs, 21 home runs, 45 extra-base hits and 231 total bases. Now, I'm not sure which or how many of those records are going down over the next nine days, but I know some of them are. These two offenses are that much better than the pitching staffs they'll be facing, especially at this point in the year.
The question is, which offense is better; or more specifically, which offense is likely to be better against the particular opposition staff? As Dayn Perry pointed out, once you consider the DH and park effects, these two teams were nearly equals during the regular season.
In the short season, though, the Sox should have some advantages. For one, they will continue to avoid those freaky people who throw with the wrong hand. They were better against right-handers in the regular season by about 25 points of OPS, a gap that was minimized by the absence, for most of the year, of Trot Nixon. They went 26-19 against lefties in the regular season, a bit worse than their mark of 72-45 against righties.
Since slapping Jarrod Washburn around in the first game of the Division Series--which seems like a lifetime ago--Red Sox have come to bat with a southpaw on the mound just five times. The Cardinals may be down to just one left-handed reliever if Steve Kline can't answer the bell, which would put a big burden on Ray King while increasing the pressure on Tony La Russa to deploy his lone left-hander correctly.
Who says Roger Clemens no longer helps the Red Sox? Because Clemens had nothing on a random Tuesday three months ago, the Sox will get an extra game at Fenway Park if the Series goes the distance. They were a much better home team in '04, winning nearly 70% of their contests at the Fens. That was entirely a run-production thing: they scored an extra run a game at home while allowing nearly the same number as they did on the road.
The home-field edge could be meaningful. While the Cards were an MLB-best 52-29 on the road in the regular season--the only team to win 50 road games--they're just 1-4 away from Busch Stadium in October, with some problems putting runs on the board. I'm inclined to dismiss that as a sample-size issue, because they faced Clemens, Roy Oswalt, bottomless Brad Lidge, and the Don Larsen moments of both Jose Lima and Brandon Backe along the way.
(An aside, because it's 2:30 a.m. and I never do this: "Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby" holds up very well after 17 years. I know… get a blog.)
If the home-field advantage is ever going to be a factor, though, it will be in a series like this one. In an era in which player movement is as common as cloud movement, it's a strange thing to see a team reach the World Series with so little experience against its opponent or in their ballpark. While some of the Cards' players have been around, they've done almost all their playing in the National League. Mike Matheny played in the AL for the Brewers and Blue Jays, and Jim Edmonds had a substantial career with the Angels. The rest of the Cards' starters are NL guys.
The lack of exposure to Fenway Park may have one other negative effect, cutting down on the Cards' considerable defensive ability. There's no place like it in baseball, with an oddly-shaped outfield and walls that range from three feet high to 37. They managed to grade the outfield 70-odd years ago, so it's no Minute Maid Park, but then again, not everyone likes to mix baseball and steeplechase.
It's heresy, but the first thing I would do is flip Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker for the next week, allowing Sanders to roam the expansive right field while Walker busies himself learning the wall. It probably won't make a difference, especially with Jim Edmonds catching everything between Mass Ave and Boston College. I just like it as a better application of skills to the situation; then again, I have a higher opinion of Sanders' defense than almost everyone I know.
The Cards' inexperience with AL players may be part of the motivation behind the decision to start Tim Wakefield in Game One, rather than Pedro Martinez. I'm not a fan of the decision, because I don't think you start your #5 guy rather than your #2 when you can get the latter to the mound on his normal work day. The worst-case scenario for the Red Sox is that Wakefield and Derek Lowe get hammered, Bronson Arroyo never pitches in even a three-run game, and the Series ends before Martinez and Curt Schilling get their second starts. It would be criminal for the Sox to get eliminated while only using each of those guys once each, and that's a possibility here.
However, if you're going to get all Connie Mack on the big stage, you might as well do it with the guy who throws the freak pitch and with whom no one in the other lineup is familiar. Edmonds (crushed him) and Matheny (him crushed) have faced Wakefield a bunch; the other six regulars have seen him 47 times, total. It's a gamble, but one with upside. I like the move more than I did when it was first announced.
Whether it pays off may determine the course of the series. See, the Cards open with Woody Williams, one of the two starters they have who has been pitching well in the postseason. It's the only matchup in the first three games that favors the Cardinals, and if they lose it, they're staring at The World's Most Famous Stitches and the newly orphaned Pedro Martinez--on long rest, his specialty--in Games Two and Three. Lose Game One, and they could be down 3-0 before Tim McCarver stops talking about Derek Jeter. It's impossible to come back from down 3-0.
It's not particularly insightful to say that the first game of a best-of-seven series is important. In the 2004 World Series, though, I think it's vitally important to the Cardinals.
Other things to consider while wondering if Scooter and Clippy could mate and make one hell of a scuffball…
I got an e-mail this week from someone asking me why I kept making predictions, even though I know that predicting the outcome of a game or a series is folly, a bit of "mediocy." I think the prediction is the least important element of any of the postseason content, or really any content. The important stuff is the analysis, which I like to think rises above the kind of fluff and cliché that falls under the mediocy header. A prediction is one of those things that gets tacked on at the end with a lot of salt and an acknowledgment of the uncertainties involved.
I mostly do them because they're fun. As long as I can stand behind the analysis, I'll make a prediction. You can take it or leave it, but it adds a little something for me and for the readers who want to know who I'm picking.
In this case, I'm going with the Red Sox in six, banking heavily on the Cards' unfamiliarity with the knuckleball in Game One and a similar path for Schilling as we saw in the ALCS, with one good start.
I may require a pinch-hitter in this space Sunday, but one way or another, there will be a Game One recap on the site. Enjoy the game!