Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals have each clinched the pennant in their respective leagues. They will open the World Series on Wednesday night in Boston.
To get ready, let's take a look at three players from each team whose performance could swing the outcome of the series one way or the other.
St. Louis Cardinals
1. Michael Wacha - The rookie right-hander is 3-0 in three starts this postseason, and he's allowed just one run in 21 innings pitched, with 22 strikeouts and just 12 baserunners (8 hits, 4 walks) allowed. He has the element of surprise in his favor. Nobody in Boston's lineup has ever faced him. Can he continue to pitch like a budding ace? If so, the Cardinals have the advantage in starting pitching in this series. Ace Adam Wainwright will start Games 1 and 5, while Wacha will get Games 2 and 6.
2. Allen Craig - The first baseman hasn't played since Sept. 4. He's been out with a foot injury, but he is slated to DH in Games 1 and 2 in Boston. If Craig can chip off the rust quickly, his bat is a huge asset in the middle of the St. Louis lineup. In 134 games this year, he posted a .315/.373/.457 slash line and had 13 home runs and 97 RBIs. We'll see if Craig is healthy enough to play first base when the series shifts to St. Louis, but even if he can only DH and pinch hit, his return to the active roster could be pivotal.
3. Yadier Molina - One of the things I like about the Red Sox offense is their speed at the top of the order. Boston was third in the American League in stolen bases with 123, with Jacoby Ellsbury (52 steals), Shane Victorino (21 steals) and Dustin Pedroia (17 stolen bases) accounting for most of them. However, few catchers in baseball can neutralize an opponent's running game as well as Molina. He threw out 43 percent of runners who tried to steal against him this year, and has caught 45 percent for his career. Will Boston be able to run against Molina? We shall see.
Boston Red Sox
1. John Lackey - This guy is back from the dead this year. Lackey posted a 6.41 ERA in 2011 and missed all of 2012 after elbow surgery. But this year, he's rebounded to post a 3.52 ERA and has pitched much better than his 10-13 regular season record indicates. He beat Detroit ace Justin Verlander 1-0 in Game 3 of the ALCS, which in hindsight might have been the most pivotal game of that series. Lackey will be matched up with Wacha in Game 2. Does he have another big effort in him? We know the veteran isn't afraid of the big stage. He won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie with the Anaheim Angels.
2. David Ortiz - It's been a slow postseason for the Boston designated hitter. He's batting just .200 with three home runs and seven RBIs in the playoffs. All of his damage was done in two games. He had a two-homer game in Game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, and a game-changing grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit. The Red Sox need Ortiz to get some things done on occasions other than Game 2 of this series. When the series shifts to St. Louis, Boston skipper John Farrell will have to choose between Ortiz and Mike Napoli at first base. You figure Ortiz gets the nod, since St. Louis has all right-handed starting pitchers. But, Napoli is 6-for-16 with two home runs in his last four games. The decision becomes harder if Napoli stays hot and Ortiz stays cold.
3. Koji Uehara - Most championship teams have a few guys who come out of nowhere to have career seasons. No question Uehara is one of those guys for the Red Sox. The 38-year-old reliever went 4-1 with 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA and a 0.565 WHIP in the regular season. Those are all career bests. Uehara has continued his excellence in postseason play. He's allowed just one run in nine innings, and he has posted five saves. In three of his five saves, he has pitched more than one inning. That's huge, because Boston's starting staff doesn't get deep into games. Knowing Uehara can come on in the eighth inning and get the job done allows Farrell to shorten the game a little bit.
I'm not real good at making predictions, but before the playoffs I said St. Louis had the most balanced team in the field of eight. So, I should probably forecast them as the winner. I think the Red Sox have a real shot at this thing, but I'll stick with my original thought and say Cardinals in six. You can all laugh at me if I get proven wrong.