If the Cardinals win the World Series, Adam Wainwright will likely get a lot of the credit. Same for the Red Sox and David Ortiz.
But below are six postseason stats put up by six Red Sox and Cardinals players besides the biggest superstars. These are the brilliant acquisitions and smart signings who helped turn their already-star-laden teams from good to great, like Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal and Sox veteran Shane Victorino. Some of these players are performing well so far in October, and some aren’t. And in a week-plus, savvy fans are likely going to be saying that one of them was a surprise key to a World Series championship, whether it’s because they kept up a hot playoff streak or because they broke out of a slump when it counted most.
Of course, since we don’t actually know who’s going to win, we’re hedging our bets and picking three players from each team. Somewhere in this list lies a number that, in retrospect, will explain everything.
1. 0.00 — Trevor Rosenthal’s ERA
Armed with the second-fastest fastball among all pitchers who threw 70+ innings this season, the 23-year-old Rosenthal comes from the stout, B.J. Ryan and Rod Beck mold of closer — tough to intimidate, with velocity to spare.
The Cardinals’ bullpen is stocked with young arms like Carlos Martinez and John Axford, but if skipper Mike Matheny can get Rosenthal in late with a lead, the Red Sox will be hard-pressed to force the second-year flamethrower into making a mistake. Five shutout innings against the Dodgers in the NLCS, including the Game 6 clincher, has Rosenthal on cruise control at 100 mph. Just give him the ball and stand clear.
2. .727 — Xander Bogaerts’ On-Base Percentage
This Aruban phenom is just three weeks past his 21st birthday, and while Bogaerts was a non-factor against the Rays in the ALDS, his replacement of third baseman Will Middlebrooks in Games 5 and 6 of the ALCS helped ignite a tepid Red Sox offense when they needed a jolt. With three doubles, three walks, and four runs scored in nine plate appearances, Bogaerts is working on the smallest of small sample sizes right now, but he’s undeniably in a hitter’s groove.
With his added production in the nine-spot of the order, Boston can keep the hits coming even as the lineup turns over into the Ellsbury-Victorino-Pedroia-Ortiz four-headed monster at the top. That might be a combination too much for even the Cardinals’ loaded arms.
3. .219 — Matt Carpenter’s BABIP
Perhaps we all don’t fully appreciate the season that Cardinals utility man Matt Carpenter put up: His 126 runs, 199 hits, and 55 doubles all led the National League, and he finished the season fifth among all National League non-pitchers in bWAR. Not bad for a 27-year-old playing in his second full MLB season. The Cardinals don’t have a lot of power in their offense — they finished with the fourth-lowest home run total in baseball, even while scoring the third-most runs — and they depend on Carpenter to set the table for the sluggers (Carlos Beltran, the Matts Holliday and Adams) they do have.
The problem: Carpenter is not having a great postseason numbers-wise — .167 batting average and five runs in 11 games. But his ridiculously low batting average on balls in play (.219) should give Cardinals fans hope. It’s 140 points below his regular-season BABIP, and it’s quite reasonable to expect the balls Carpenter hits from here on will begin to find their way to the ground and not a fielder’s glove. His first-pitch triple off Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 of the NLCS was but a glimpse of what a locked-in Carpenter can do. If he’s getting on base, others will surely follow.
4. 0 — Shane Victorino’s Walks
What a miserable ALCS for Victorino, who had more at-bats (24) than any other Red Sox player and could only scrape out three hits — except that one of them was the big-fly grand slam to left that sealed the win against Detroit in Game 6 and is the only reason we’re talking about him now and not, say, Prince Fielder (who had an equally subpar ALCS as well as the most perfect bellyflop known to mankind).
Victorino was more than serviceable in the regular season — 15 home runs and 21 steals in 122 games — but if he’s to provide a second speed threat alongside Jacoby Ellsbury (who did have a good ALCS), he needs to improve on his .341 on-base percentage in these playoffs. He might think about doing that by drawing a walk, something he has yet to do against the Rays or Tigers. If Victorino can be more patient at the plate, then the Red Sox may have enough to overwhelm the Cards’ pitching and not simply rely on fortuitous grand slams.
5. 22 — Michael Wacha’s Strikeouts
The story is near-legendary by this point: The St. Louis Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to the Angels’ fat contract, and in return they got a compensatory draft pick and selected Michael Wacha. That was just a year and change ago, but the 22-year-old has been pitching well beyond his years in this postseason. Thirteen shutout innings in the NLCS, including two wins over presumptive Cy Young-winner Clayton Kershaw.
How is keeping hitters off-balance? By abandoning his 89-mph cutter in favor of a lethal 77-mph curveball that he mixes with his fastball and changeup (both of which got faster as the season went on). That’s added up to 22 strikeouts in 21 innings this postseason — a number he’ll look to increase once the Sox step up to bat in Game 2 on Thursday night.
6. 5 — Koji Uehara’s Saves
Uehara finished the regular season with a ridiculous 101/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he’s been even better in the playoffs, if that’s even possible by definition. With six shutout innings and three saves in five games against the Tigers — with a 9/0 K/BB to boot — Uehara has used his unhittable splitter to masterful effect. (You can see the telltale grip perfectly in the photo above.) In October, hitters are whiffing at 34.5% of Uehara’s splitters — his highest percentage in any month this season.
Critics have been waiting for the 38-year-old to break form all season long, but when Uehara struck out an overmatched Jose Iglesias to win the American League pennant on Saturday, it was easy to envision a similar, World Series-clinching scenario against the Cardinals in a week’s time. The Red Sox offense doesn’t figure to blow out the Cardinals’ great pitching in any given game, so Sox wins may well have to end with Uehara shutting St. Louis down.
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