The Fall Classic is upon us. This Wednesday, the AL East Champion Boson Red Sox take on the NL Central Champion St. Louis Cardinals in what’s shaping up to be an epic matchup between two historic franchises. Over the past eight years, the Cards and Sox have won four World Series – a testament to the dominance of these teams over the past decade. However, the road to the Fall Classic has not been easy for either team, as they have had to rely on strong pitching and timely hitting, the key to any successful playoff run. Of course, it’s been a total team effort for both as rookies have stepped up and wily veterans have once again come though in the clutch (I’m looking at you, Big Papi). Yet, throughout the playoffs, the performances of several players have stood head and shoulders above the rest. Let’s take a look at the valuable players who carried the Sox and the Cardinals into the World Series once again.
This past winter the Red Sox signed ex-Texas Ranger Mike Napoli to a one-year, $5 million deal. What seemed to be a minor signing at the time now looks like the best signing of the offseason. Throughout the 2013 playoffs, Napoli has provided the Sox with much needed support in the middle of the lineup. Last season, the Sox missed the playoffs and their club house was unstable. That issue was addressed by signing players like Napoli and Shane Victorino, but they lacked a power threat to hit behind David Ortiz – a role Manny Ramirez provided for so many years. Napoli, however, has done his best “Manny” impression this postseason by hitting two homers, three doubles, three timely RBIs and posting an impressive .342 on-base percentage. While Ellsbury and Pedroia have been hitting machines at the top of the lineup, its been Napoli that has really cemented this team’s prowess at the plate.
You cannot overstate the importance of hitting behind a player like David Ortiz, but Napoli has done everything to exceed expectations this postseason.
When Big Papi is given opportunities, he performs, like his game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of game two. But it’s been Napoli’s presence at the plate that has allowed the sure-fire Hall of Famer Ortiz to see those types of pitches.
In addition to Napoli, the Sox have also witnessed the emergence of an unsung hero by the name of Koji Uehara, the ALCS MVP.
Uehara has been simply dominating in late innings, posting a 1.00 ERA with a 0.56 WHIP and a total of five saves. The importance of a closer in the playoffs is immense and Uehara has filled this roll with shinning colors. You better believe that Uehara is going to be tested late in the World Series, though. If I’m the Sox, after his performance so far, I have the utmost confidence in my first-year closer.
For the Cardinals, there have been two players that have helped lead this team into the World Series. No one has been more valuable to their team’s success this postseason than rookie sensation Michael Wacha. Not only did Wacha outpitch the best pitcher in the majors, Clayton Kershaw – he did it twice, with the last one being the NLCS clincher; talk about ice in your veins. This postseason, Wacha has “video game” numbers, leading all starters with a 0.43 ERA and 0.57 WHIP while racking up three wins including a seven-inning shutout to punch the Cardinals’ ticket to the Fall Classic. His dominance this postseason has been historic and the fact that he’s a rookie makes it even more unbelievable. It’ll be interesting to see him face off against the best offense in the majors in the Sox, but if we’ve learned anything so far this postseason, Wacha can simply shut teams down.
At the plate and in the field, the Cardinals have relied on the stellar performance of Carlos Beltran. This is somewhat of a feel-good story for Beltran who, in his 15 years in the league, will make his first World Series appearance. Beltran has been a beast at the plate with 12 RBIs, two homers, three doubles and an impressive .383 OBP. He’s been a rock in the middle of the lineup and a reliable presence in late-game situations. His performance in game one of the NLCS cemented his spot as one of my MVPs as he not only drove in all three runs for the Cards, but saved the game by gunning down Mark Ellis in the 10th. This game, which lasted 13 long innings, set the tone for the rest of the series and helped propel the Cards into the Fall Classic.
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