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Do the Red Sox or the Cardinals have the World Series pitching edge?

Oct 21, 2013, 2:10 PM EDT

Adam Wainwright AP

This postseason has been dominated by pitching, so who has the arms advantage in the World Series?

During the regular season the Red Sox ranked sixth among AL teams in runs allowed and the Cardinals ranked fifth among NL teams in runs allowed, but overall totals can be misleading when it comes to evaluating the quality of a playoff pitching staff because lesser pitchers rarely make an appearance.

For instance, through 11 playoff games for the Cardinals and 10 playoff games for the Red Sox both teams have used four starting pitchers. That in itself is obviously a big change from the regular season and in the Red Sox’s case they’ve significantly shortened the bullpen pecking order too, essentially going with a four-man relief corps in anything resembling a high-leverage situation.

And that’s where the strength of these two teams really shines through: They don’t have any real, “oh no, this guy is coming into the game?!” weak links once the pitching staff is shortened. Rotation orders haven’t been announced yet, but here’s how the starters compare:

Cardinals:
Adam Wainwright: 242 IP, 2.94 ERA, 2.80 xFIP
Michael Wacha: 65 IP, 2.78 ERA, 3.36 xFIP
Joe Kelly: 124 IP, 2.69 ERA, 4.19 xFIP
Lance Lynn: 202 IP, 3.97 ERA, 3.66 xFIP

Red Sox:
Jon Lester: 213 IP, 3.75 ERA, 3.90 xFIP
Clay Buchholz: 108 IP, 1.74 ERA, 3.41 xFIP
John Lackey: 189 IP, 3.52 ERA, 3.49 xFIP
Jake Peavy: 145 IP, 4.17 ERA, 4.03 xFIP

(xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, about which you can learn more by clicking here.)

Adam Wainwright is the best starting pitcher in this series and based on how he’s pitched so far in his brief MLB career Michael Wacha has made a strong case for second-best, but Jon Lester also has a lengthy track record of very good work and Clay Buchholz had a 1.74 ERA in the regular season.

Every starter who’ll take the mound in this series is at worst a solid mid-rotation guy and the Cardinals have so much starter depth that they aren’t even going to use stud rookie Shelby Miller. I’d give St. Louis a slight rotation edge based on the Wainwright-Wacha one-two punch, but in the (likely) three-four spots I actually trust Boston’s Lackey-Peavy duo a bit more than Kelly-Lynn.

Which brings us to the bullpens …

Cardinals:
Trevor Rosenthal: 75 IP, 2.63 ERA, 2.34 xFIP
Carlos Martinez: 28 IP, 5.08 ERA, 3.83 xFIP
John Axford: 65 IP, 4.02 ERA, 3.56 xFIP
Seth Maness: 62 IP, 2.32 ERA, 3.13 xFIP
Kevin Siegrist: 40 IP, 0.45 ERA, 3.00 xFIP
Randy Choate: 35 IP, 2.29 ERA, 3.30 xFIP

Red Sox:
Koji Uehara: 74 IP, 1.09 ERA, 2.08 xFIP
Junichi Tazawa: 68 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.03 xFIP
Brandon Workman: 42 IP, 4.97 ERA, 3.18 xFIP
Craig Breslow: 60 IP, 1.81 ERA, 4.37 xFIP

Koji Uehara has basically been as dominant as a pitcher can possibly be, in the regular season and the postseason, but the Cardinals also have a stud closer in Trevor Rosenthal. And while the Red Sox may struggle to get consistently strong work bridging the gap to Uehara the Cardinals have no shortage of quality setup options from the right side and left side. I’d trust Uehara over anyone right now, but I’d trust Rosenthal and his assortment of setup men over Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and whatever Red Sox manager John Farrell can piece together in the middle innings.

None of which is to say the Red Sox’s bullpen is a huge weakness or anything. It’s not, but if we’re splitting hairs here trying to find potential advantages in this series I think the Cardinals’ bullpen depth could play a big role. They have 5-6 good options, including a lefty specialist in Randy Choate who’ll no doubt be matched up against David Ortiz in some big-time situations.

So which team has the World Series pitching edge? I’d go with the Cardinals, however slightly, based on the strength of Wainwright-Wacha and bullpen depth. And of course me writing this post about all the good pitching in this series means we’re probably looking at a bunch of 9-7 and 10-8 slugfests.

  1. dlhouse18 - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Cards have the edge

    • El Bravo - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:37 PM

      yep

    • dickclydesdale - Oct 21, 2013 at 9:05 PM

      The cardinals rookies of Wacha & Kelly are overmatched in the MLB championship series. Notice how I don’t call it the world series because its not. You don’t call the super bowl the world bowl so don’t do it in baseball! I hate the red sucks but I am an expert when it comes to scouting teams. Give them credit for getting the cards to the final round but epect this to be a short series, maybe even a sweep with boston strong. Boston is a dump with white trash drop a bomb on fenway!

      • jarathen - Oct 22, 2013 at 7:12 AM

        You seem like a lot of fun.

      • eldeano99 - Oct 22, 2013 at 12:08 PM

        Yawn…

  2. coloradogolfcoupons - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    Wacha…Martinez…Rosenthal. Young power arms, and fresh. They overpowered the Dodgers, and look un-hittable The cards 5th pitcher, Shelby Miller, would probably be starting game 3 or 4 if he was on the Sox. Their middle and long relief options, set-up, all better. Rosenthal is the key. Uehara has been untouchable. If Rosenthal matches him, Cards win. They can hit good pitching, and Beltran will probably hit 4 more homers. Looking forward to this more than most recent WS.

  3. rickdobrydney - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    Then again, that fine Cardinal staff will be pitching in that bandbox masquerading as a major league park—- its bound to get in their heads—

    • mjdkid100 - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:10 PM

      Yea it’s really not fair that the Cards have to pitch there but the Sox dont….

      • mjdkid100 - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:13 PM

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/parkfactor/_/sort/HRFactor

        BUSCH
        Left Field — 336 feet (102 m)
        Left Center Field — 375 feet (114 m)
        Center Field — 400 feet (122 m)
        Right Center Field — 375 feet (114 m)
        Right Field — 335 feet (102 m)

        FENWAY
        Left Field: 310 ft (94.5 m)(With a 37 foot high wall.)
        Left-Center Field: 379 ft (115.5 m)
        Center Field: 389 ft 9 in (118.8 m)
        Deep Right-Center: 420 ft (128 m)
        Right Center: 380 ft (115.8 m)
        Right Field: 302 ft (92 m)
        Backstop: 60 ft (18.3 m)

  4. Gordon - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:39 PM

    I think we’re missing the broader issue here. And that is…who has the better fans?

    Discuss…

    • cohnjusack - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      The Cubs. They scrap together a winning season once a decade, haven’t won a title in something like 300 years and they still always get at least pretty good attendance. Cubs fans are everywhere and vocal about it. Sure, they’re bitter, antagonistic, and generally walk around with dark bags under their eyes after crying themselves to sleep again, but their continued existence in large quantities makes them the best fans in baseball.

      • blues1988 - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:10 PM

        i’d have to completely disagree with that. i have lots of friends who are cubs fans and i go to chicago a lot and rep cardinals gear. most of the time when people see me wearing it they say something to the affect of “we don’t even care about baseball it’s all about the hawks and the bears.” i actaully had someone talk shit about my cardinals jersey to point out that chicago doesn’t care about baseball any more. i feel like most people in chicago just lost all hope. sad really because i enjoy the cubs/cards rivalry.

  5. aceshigh11 - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    Not even a matter of debate.

    The Cardinals.

  6. lawrinson20 - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Cards have the edge, if you’re looking only at the above numbers and not thinking in context. All those sterling ERAs and FIPs look good, until you consider how many national league pitchers and bunts are included. Look, also, at the teams’ respective records when playing against teams from the other leagues. The Sox record is significantly better.

    And, sure, Wacha and Wainwright might be fantastic. But, the Sox just won a series 4-2 against the Tigers who fielded Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez. I’m thinking the Sox are confident they can beat ANYONE after facing those guys.

    • cohnjusack - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      xFIP is league and park adjusted.

    • cardinalcrazy - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      Just curious, who do you think is better, Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez or Greinke, Kershaw, and Ryu? Obviously, they both are very impression, and a hitter wouldn’t want to hit against any of them. But my point is it’s not like the Cardinal’s had a walk in the park against a feeble pitching staff in LA.

    • paperlions - Oct 21, 2013 at 5:08 PM

      The Red Sox won that series against the Tiger’s bullpen, not against their starters.

  7. begoodharry - Oct 21, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    You’re overlooking how dominant Craig Breslow has been. Give the man his props. I’d put the Red Sox bullpen up against the Cardinals any day.

  8. walterwhite1976 - Oct 21, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    Red Sox in Six. The Cardinals bullpen may be deeper, but the Red Sox have been more battle tested. Verlander and Scherzer proved they were better than Greinke and Kershaw. Plus, the Red Sox have the “X” factor. Xander Bogaerts. And the Starting pitching is better in Boston as well.

    • spudchukar - Oct 22, 2013 at 9:47 AM

      It is possible the Red Sox could win the WS in 6. But not for the ridiculous analysis you cite. How is the Sox bull pen more battle tested? They pitched 15.5 innings to the Cards 12.5. That is one inning per reliever, and that isn’t going to make one more “battle tested”.

      But more importantly, how was it that Verlander and Scherzer proved they were better than Greinke and Kershaw. Because they faced Boston, and not St. Louis.

      Get out of the “east coast bubble” dude, just because you don’t know the Cards’ rotation, doesn’t mean yours is superior.

  9. wardmanone - Oct 21, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    Who and why would you talk or even reference the cubbies they drawn well from other team fans not their own who is the simpleton who is expert on baseball on key games Kelley Wacha did you see any of 2 prior series. But you are expert no doubt about it keep it coming because you really make some excellent points

  10. jimranes - Oct 22, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    Let the games begin. As a Red Sox fan, win or lose, they are a fun to watch. They love to play ball and they never give up. We may have the superstar players, except for Big Papi, but we have an excellent team. The last time we played the Cardinals, we swept them. I don’t expect this will happen again. The odds makers have the Red Sox as favorites….I see them as the underdog although the Sox scored 70 more runs during the season than St. Louis. The Cardinals are a great franchise and the best team in the National League and they will play the best of the American League. In the WS, intangibles may come into play. PLAY BALL!

  11. jimranes - Oct 22, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    BTW…I meant to type, “We may not have the superstar players….” Gomen.

  12. tominma - Oct 22, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    The talking heads will go on and on until Wednesday. Gleeman gives edge to Cardinals.. Las Vegas installed the Red Sox at basically 57-43% probable winners. Yews. the Cards have excellent starting pitching, but they are so YOUNG and aren’t battle tested in the post season. The Sox staff are wily ole vets with playoff experience. And those BEARDS!! That’s the deciding factor. Red Sox in 7 by whisker! After last year, I would be fitting if Boston won this thing.

    But games are played on the field and not by the talking heads who write stuff for a living OR old men like me looking one last hurrah for the home ball team. This should be a helluva series.

    PS…… At least once, a Cards pitcher is going to make a perfect pitch and Big Papi is gonna slam it out of the park!!

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