(SportsNetwork.com) - The St. Louis Cardinals take aim at their second World Series title in three years, as they kick off the 109th edition of the Fall Classic against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday at Fenway Park.
These teams haven't met in interleague play since 2008, but are certainly no stranger to one another in the World Series, as this will be the fourth time these teams have faced off and the first since 2004 when the Red Sox, of course, ended their 86-year drought with a four-game sweep.
St. Louis beat Boston in the World Series in 1946 and '67.
You can't ask for a more balanced matchup, as both teams topped their respective leagues with a 97-65 mark. Actually, there home/road splits were almost identical, as well, with the Red Sox going 53-28 at home and 44-37 on the road, while the Cardinals were 54-27 and 43-38, respectively.
It's also the first time since 1999 (Yankees and Braves) that the best teams in each league will be facing off in this round.
"You hear some of the things that they say," Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny said of the Red Sox, "and it's a lot of similar things that have been preached in our clubhouse. That it's about team; it's not about us individually. And grinding out at-bats and playing tough, playing hard, playing all the way through nine. Those are the things that I believe set good teams apart."
St. Louis is back in the Fall Classic for the third time since 2004 after beating Pittsburgh in five games of the NLDS, then taking out the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games of the NLCS.
Hoping to get them out to an early advantage in this series, the Cardinals will turn to right-handed ace Adam Wainwright in Game 1. Wainwright, the NL wins leader in the regular season with 19, has been terrific this postseason, going 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three starts. His only loss came in NLCS Game 3 against the Dodgers, as he allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings.
"The guy that sets the tone for our club, especially our pitching staff," Matheny said of Wainwright. "It's fitting that he'll be out there."
Wainwright has three straight postseason starts of at least seven innings, with one or no runs allowed. Only three pitchers in history had more such consecutive starts in the postseason: Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Christy Mathewson.
Offensively the Cards are paced by perhaps the best postseason hitter of this generation in Carlos Beltran, who has 37 RBI in 45 playoff games with an incredible 1.173 OPS.
This, though, will mark his first-ever trip to the World Series.
Beltran is only hitting .256 this October, but has driven in 12 runs in the Cards' 11 games.
As a team, the Cards are hitting a mere .210 in the postseason, but always seem to come up with a hit when they need one.
"During the regular season, we went through ups and downs and we stood together," Beltran said. "We did it as a team, actually. It was fun just being able to watch the veteran guys try to help the younger guys -- being able to see the younger guys coming along and just coming here and do their job. It feels great."
St. Louis' struggling offense may get a boost, as first baseman Allen Craig is expected to be added to the roster. Craig hasn't played since Sept. 4 due to a a Lisfranc fracture to his left foot.
Craig, who has yet to do any defensive work, will likely serve as the team's designated hitter. He finished the year leading the Cardinals with 97 RBI and a .454 batting average with runners in scoring position.
What a difference a year makes for the Red Sox, who last year finished with 93 losses and ended the year in last place in the AL East. So, out with the old and in the new, as the team hired John Farrell away from Toronto to be their new skipper.
All Farrell did was put himself atop most people's AL Manager of the Year ballots, as he guided the Red Sox to a 28-game turnaround and led the club to its first AL East title since their World Series championship season of 2007.
The 97 wins were also the second most for the team since 1978.
Boston's regular season prowess has carried over to the postseason, as it needed only four games to upend the wild card-winning Tampa Bay Rays before eliminating the Detroit Tigers in six games in an exciting ALCS.
"We've got to win four more games," righty Clay Buchholz said. "But the way this team jelled and meshed right away in Spring Training, obviously every team in Major League Baseball has a goal to make the World Series and the playoffs from the start. Everybody here just believed it, and the numbers this year, they speak from themselves. The way guys grinded out at-bats throughout the season, passing the torch to the next guy -- it's what this team's about."
Offensively the Red Sox are still led by 37-year-old designated hitter David Ortiz, who put forth his seventh 30-homer/100-RBI season and hit .309 to boot. Ortiz is only hitting .200 this postseason, but may have changed the course of the ALCS with his game-tying grand slam in Game 2 against the Tigers.
Ortiz, though, was just 1-for-15 after that pivotal blast.
Boston was criticized for giving outfielder Shane Victorino a 3-year, $39 million deal this offseason, but the Flying Hawaiian was one of the team's top performers this season, hitting .294 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI, 82 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.
Not to mention Victorino has had a penchant for coming up big in the postseason, as he has driven in 38 runs in 56 playoff games. Victorino propelled the Red Sox past the Tigers in the clinching game with a grand slam of his own in the eighth inning that put them ahead.
Farrell, of course, was the Red Sox pitching coach under Terry Francona, and his impact was immediately evident, especially among the starting staff which saw their ERA decrease by nearly two runs from the prior season.
Nobody benefited from having Farrell back more than Game 1 starter Jon Lester, who was a miserable 9-14 in 2012, but bounced back to go 15-8 this past season, while pitching to a 3.75 ERA.
Lester is 2-1 this postseason with a 2.33 ERA.
"Jonny Lester is just the epitome of a fighter, of a bulldog," teammate Jake Peavy said. "He's our No. 1. He's a horse. He's our guy."
The biggest reason Boston is this position, though, may be its bullpen, specifically ALCS MVP Koji Uehara, who has been the best closer in the league since assuming the role after injuries to both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey.
Uehara, whose ERA was the best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more innings, also posted a mind-blowing 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings - the lowest WHIP in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50 innings, surpassing by a considerable margin the 0.61 standard set by Dennis Eckersley in 1989.
He also hasn't walk a batter in his last 30 appearances and has pitched to a 0.61 ERA in his save chances.
It's been more of the same for Uehara here in the postseason, as he has saved five games to go along with a 1.00 ERA. The only run he allowed was a walk-off home run in his ALDS Game 3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
St. Louis has won 11 World Series with its last coming in 2011 against Texas. Boston, meanwhile, has won seven titles, but hasn't won since sweeping the Colorado Rockies in 2007.
The winner in Game 1 has gone on to win nine of the last 10 and 20 of the past 24 World Series.