McAdam's five keys to the World Series

McAdam's five keys to the World Series
October 22, 2013, 2:00 pm
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The last time the Red Sox faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the Sox were on some sort of mission, having stormed back against the New York Yankees in a historic ALCS comeback. Their momentum was such that no team was likely to stop them, and indeed, the Sox won in a sweep.
     
It's highly unlikely that happens again this time. These Cardinals are more balanced and more battle-tested in the post-season.
     
If the Sox are going to win their third World Series in 10 years, here are some keys:


1) Get into the bullpen early and often

The Red Sox were dominated by Tigers starters in the ALCS -- and still won the series in six games, largey because of the damage they did against Detroit's relievers. Two late-inning grand slams - in Games 2 and 6 -- went a long way in tilting the outcome toward the Red Sox. The Sox scored just two runs off the Tigers starters in Games 2 and 3 -- and still managed to win both games.
     
The Cardinals' starters are a strong group too, led by Adam Wainwright. But the starters haven't shown the stamina that some of the Detroit starters displayed. It's unlikely that any of the St. Louis starting pitchers are going have their pitch counts up past 120, the way Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander did.
     
If the Sox display their typically patient approach, they might be able to get into the St. Louis bullpens in the middle innings. That, in turn, will leave a lot of outs for the Cardinals relievers.
     
The St. Louis bullpen is full of hard throwers, most of whom have fastballs in the mid-to-upper 90s. But good as they are, it's still a relatively inexperienced bunch. And the Cards didn't face a lineup as strong, deep and unrelenting as Boston's in the National League during the regular season.
    
 
2) Minimize aggressiveness vs. Yadier Molina

Molina is clearly the best in the game when it comes to slowing down the running game. He threw out 40 percent of all baserunners in 2013, and for his career, the percentage is 45 percent. That may restrict the Sox on the bases.

As John Farrell hinted Monday, there are still ways for the Red Sox to take advantage of their aggressiveness on the bases without stealing: using the hit-and-run, going first to third on base hits, etc.
     
The Sox have been smart in picking their spots, having been thrown out just twice since August. They need to continue to be selective when it comes to running on Molina, now that outs are more precious than ever.


3) Get more out of their No. 3-4 starters

Clay Buchholz seemed to lose his stuff in a hurry in Game 6 of the ALCS. One inning, he was throwing his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s; in the next, his pitches were up in the zone and his fastball velocity had dipped under 90 mph. Farrell wisely gave him the hook.
     
Trouble was, Buchholz lost it in the sixth inning. He'll need to, at the very least, get the Sox through six innings, leaving the bullpen with nine outs to record, rather than double-digits.
     
Peavy, meanwhile, had huge command problems in Game 4 of the ALCS, issuing three walks -- including one with the bases loaded -- while failing to get an out in the fourth before being lifted. A team can't afford to be taxing its relievers that early and hope to succeed.
     
One concern for Peavy is that, by the time he starts Game 4 on Sunday night, he'll have made just two starts in the previous 32 days: Game 4 in the ALDS and Game 4 in the ALCS. That's a lot of down time for a pitcher who doesn't have overpowering stuff anymore and needs to execute his stuff.


4) Take advantage of Cardinals defense
     
For an organization and team saluted for its commitment to fundamentals, the Cardinals -- beyond Molina behind the plate and Pete Kozma at short -- aren't exactly a great defensive team.
     
The Cards finished 17th in terms of defensive efficiency - i.e. converting balls in play into outs -- during the regular season, in strong contrast to the Red Sox, who were second in that category.
     
The St. Louis shortcomings may be even more apparent in the games at Fenway, since few Cardinals have much experience there. In particular, the Sox could capitalize on Matt Holliday in left, where The Wall is bound to present some challenges. Further, Carlos Beltran, once an elite defender, could have some difficulty covering all the ground in right field given that he has creaky knees which limits his mobility.
     
The infield, beyond Kozma, has limited range with David Freese at third, Matt Carpenter at second and Matt Adams at first.


5) Get contributions from the bench

The role players could play an especially large role in the Series, especially with the three middle games in St. Louis, when the Sox will be without the use of the DH.
     
Presumably, the Sox will use Oritz in two if not all three of the games, leaving Mike Napoli as a big pinch-hitting weapon off the bench. And with the pitcher having to hit in those games, Farrell will have more choices, including Daniel Nava (or Jonny Gomes, should Nava get some starts) and Mike Carp available to pinch-hit.
     
Given how close the Series is expected to be, it's likely a number of games will be determined in the late innings, making it critical that the Sox get some big hits from players not in the starting lineup.