Tight matchup makes this year’s World Series difficult to predict

Last year, the MLB introduced a second wild card team to try to keep more teams fighting for postseason glory. This puts more teams on an equal playing field by needing only some luck and skill to go from a losing season to wild card success. Baseball traditionalists were up in arms over the idea that the fifth-best team in either league could end in the World Series.

This year’s World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, however, has been the opposite of what the MLB had in mind when adding the wild card spot and has eased the fears of traditionalists around the country. Each team had the best record in their respective leagues. These two teams have also been two of the most consistent in baseball over the past decade.

Since 2004, when these two teams last met in the World Series that ended Boston’s 86-year championship drought, the Red Sox have won championships in 2007, and the Cardinals won in both 2006 and 2011.

The stories of how these two teams made it to the World Series are remarkably similar. Both feature strong pitching, timely hitting, and uneven defense.

The make-up of the pitching staffs is the largest difference between the two teams. The Cardinals have been relying on their fantastic staff of hard-throwing rookies, most of whom started the season in the minors or the bullpen. Rookie pitchers Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly have been amazing in the postseason, dealing with increased pressure using the same calm composure of veteran ace Adam Wainwright.

On the other hand, the Red Sox staff is composed of resurging veterans, the most surprising of which is former ace pitcher John Lackey. After missing the 2012 season because of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, Lackey finished the regular season with a 3.52 ERA and 161 strikeouts, his highest total since his 2007 season with the Los Angeles Angels. Before his injury, Lackey had severely underperformed during his tenure with the Red Sox after signing a lucrative contract following his eight-year stint with the Angels.

For both teams, shortstop has been the weakest position. In Game 1, St. Louis infielder Pete Kozma had two critical errors that helped fuel an early Red Sox rally that quickly put the game out of reach before the third inning. He redeemed himself in Game 2 with a great double play when he entered as part of a double switch.

Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew has been solid defensively but has struggled on offense. His one hit during the World Series came on an infield pop-up that landed squarely between the pitcher and catcher. Otherwise, he has been completely ineffective at the plate, bringing any momentum the Red Sox have to a complete stop.

Overall, these two teams are very evenly matched. But so far, the Cardinals have been the sharper team, bouncing back from a rough Game 1 and capitalizing on some Red Sox mental blunders and defensive mistakes to lead the series 2–1 after Saturday’s Game 3. Boston won’t go down without a fight, but ultimately, the Cardinals will take the series in seven games.