Koji Uehara has become the most important player on the Red Sox.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
It's not often you get a World Series that features the two best teams in baseball.
We will have that this year, though, when the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals kick off the 109th edition of the Fall Classic at Fenway Park.
Both Boston and St. Louis topped their respective leagues with identical 97-65 marks. Actually, it's the first time since 1999 (Yankees and Braves) that the best teams in each league will be facing off in this round and only the third time it's happened since baseball went to the division series/wild card format in 1995.
Of course, this is also a rematch of the memorable 2004 World Series that saw the Red Sox exorcise generations of demons with a four-game sweep of the Cardinals to claim their first World Series title since 1918,
St. Louis had beaten the Red Sox the two other times these historic franchises had met in October.
The Red Sox may not have their way with the Cardinals the way they did nine years ago, but when it's all said and done, there should be another "Rolling Rally" through the streets of Boston a little over a week from now.
Was there a more nondescript signing this offseason than when the Red Sox added a right-handed reliever named Koji Uehara? It was about as under-the- radar a transaction as you will find, but Uehara has become the most important player on the Red Sox.
It looked bleak for John Farrell's club when not one, but two closers went down with season-ending injuries. Uehara, though, stepped in for both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and simply put forth one of the best statistical seasons by a reliever in Major League Baseball history.
Just how good was he?
Well, Uehara's mind-blowing 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings was the lowest in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50 innings, eclipsing Dennis Eckersley's 0.61 standard set in 1989 by a considerable margin.
Also, his 1.09 ERA this season was the best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more innings. Plus, he hasn't walked a batter in any of his last 30 appearances and is pitching to a 0.61 ERA in all of his save chances, including the postseason.
Uehara has saved five games for the Red Sox through the first two rounds of the playoffs to go along with a 1.00 ERA. The only run he allowed was a walk- off home run to Tampa catcher Jose Lobaton in his ALDS Game 3 loss to the Rays.
But, it hasn't been just him, either.
Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman, Franklin Morales, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront have combined for a 0.84 ERA, 28 strikeouts and a .209 batting average against in 32 innings of relief this postseason.
The bullpen has made it real easy on Farrell, whose starting staff hasn't been that sharp with the exception of Jon Lester. Boston's starters pitched to a 4.78 ERA against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS and are 4-2 with a 4.29 ERA this postseason.
Speaking of Game 1 starter Lester, he could prove to be very important right out of the gate, as the Cardinals managed just a .238 average against left- handers this postseason.
Lester has been by far the best starting pitcher this October for the Red Sox and is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA.
Another thing to watch here is the health of Clay Buchholz. Apparently, he may not be right, and his 5.40 ERA indicates as much. But, if he can't go, expect the Red Sox to throw another lefty, Felix Doubront, at the Cardinals in either Game 3 or 4.
St. Louis may have the two best starting pitchers in this World Series in rookie Michael Wacha and National League wins leader Adam Wainwright, but didn't Detroit have a pretty good starting staff, too?
Yes, they did. In fact, they pitched to a 2.06 ERA in the ALCS and still were on the hook for three losses. Why? Well, for one, Boston's lineup is relentless, and, two, they seem to get every big hit they need (see David Ortiz and Shane Victorino grand slams).
More importantly, though, they have a plan at the plate. They make these starters work.
Heck, Detroit's Anibal Sanchez had a no-hitter going in Game 1 of the ALCS and had to leave after six innings because his pitch count was so high. No pitcher was more dominant in that series than likely AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, but he didn't see the eighth inning in either game.
Now St. Louis has a better bullpen than Detroit had, but it is an extremely young corps and one that throws nothing but fastballs. In case you haven't been paying attention, this Red Sox team feasts on that kind of pitching.
Still. the Cardinals bullpen has pitched to a 1.80 ERA and a .177 batting- average-against this postseason.
Lefty Kevin Siegrist has been a big part of the Cardinals' run, but do you think the 24-year-old is up to the task of getting Big Papi out in a big spot?
The bullpen isn't the only thing St. Louis has going for it, either.
Aside from Uehara, Wacha has been the story of this postseason. The former first-round pick, who, by the way, was the compensation pick the Cardinals received from the Angels when Albert Pujols left as a free agent, has been absolutely magnificent, as he outdueled Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS and has won all three of his postseason starts, while pitching to a 0.43 ERA.
Since closing the regular season with 8 2/3 no-hit innings, Wacha, the NLCS MVP, has pitched 21 postseason innings, limiting the Pirates and Dodgers to one run on eight hits.
And he's not even the Cards' Game 1 starter.
Then there is Carlos Beltran, the best postseason hitter of this generation, who will be showcasing his talents in the World Series for the first time.
Beltran has 37 RBI in 45 playoff games with an incredible 1.173 OPS. He is only hitting .256 this October, but has driven in 12 runs in the Cards' 11 games. Like the rest of his teammates, he always seems to come through when they need a hit.
Honestly, though, with as evenly matched as these two teams are, the biggest edge Boston has may simply come down to having home-field advantage. The Red Sox have won all four games at home in their last two trips to the Fall Classic and NL teams were just 2-8 in Boston this past season.
At the end of the day, though, the Red Sox are just the better overall team.
Get the Duck boats ready in Boston because the Red Sox are about to celebrate their eighth World Series title.