It’s not always the case that the two best teams in baseball ultimately meet one another in the World Series. But it’s certainly the case with this year’s Cardinals-Red Sox Fall Classic, scheduled to begin Wednesday night around 8:07.
For the record, I make no apologies for any disdain for these clubs that I may have pontificated about in prior posts. But it’s without argument that St. Louis and Boston have been the standard bearers in their respective leagues all season long.
Sure, you could try to make an argument contrary to that fact. It would just be wrong. The evidence is overwhelming.
I direct your attention to Exhibit A: their regular season records. The Cardinals boasted the best in the Nation League after finishing 97-65. The Red Sox’s 97-65 record was best in the American League.
Of course there are some who complain that record alone is insufficient to truly peg the game’s best teams. It’s true that several elements factor into any club’s final win total.
Injuries, for one. Several pundits argued that the Dodgers were baseball’s best team, and did not have the best record in the National League simply because the lineup and pitching rotation was marred by injuries for much of the first half of the season. The Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers in six games during the NLCS. Despite L.A.’s two wins, the outcome of the series was never really in doubt. Not to mention that the Cards and Sox have absorbed a large number of significant injuries themselves, and not faltered once.
Schedule strength might be another. With the way each league is split into divisions, those that play in stronger divisions face better opponents more often than those in weaker divisions. But St. Louis and Boston each played in the best division in their respective league, so there’s another potential argument out the door. The National League Central, won by the Cardinals, featured two other playoff teams in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The American League East, won by the Red Sox, featured four teams that won at least 85 games.
There is also a lot of luck involved in baseball. Funky, fluky plays; the way a ball bounces; where balls just happen to be hit; all of these can impact and determine outcomes. The best team doesn’t always win. But the best teams are the ones that put themselves in position to win most often. The Cardinals and Red Sox have done that all year.
Need me to show my work? I direct your attention to Exhibit B: season run-differential totals. Boston ranked first in the MLB with a run-differential of +212. That means that, in total, the Red Sox scored 212 more runs than its opponents through 162 games. Who do you think ranked second? Yep, you guessed it. St. Louis with a run-differential of +201.
The numbers are the result of great pitching and situational hitting.
The Red Sox possess the most productive offense in baseball. They scored a MLB-leading 853 runs during the regular season, nearly 60 full runs ahead of second place.
The Cardinals possess the most opportunistic offense in baseball, one that has been historically good. They hit a league-leading .330 with runners in scoring position this year, the highest of any team on record dating back to at least 1916.
And both World Series participants have phenomenal and undervalued pitching staffs. St. Louis has the fifth-best team ERA (3.38) despite a reliance on several rookies to man rotation and bullpen spots. Boston ranks 14th in ERA (3.79) and seventh in opponents’ batting average against despite losing not one, not two, but three closers and playing most of the year without Clay Buccholz, who has been the club’s best starter.
Boston, in my opinion, is the most annoying sports town in America. And if I have to hear or read one more statement about “The Cardinal Way” I may vomit.
As much as it pains me to say, neither team really has a weakness. And as much as I’d prefer to see anyone besides them hoist the World Series championship, the Cardinals and the Red Sox are most deserving of the opportunity.
So I guess I will just have to swallow my pride (and hatred) for now, and watch objectively until the dust has settled and a champion is crowned. Good luck to both clubs.