MLB: World Series-St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox

Just about every pundit or World Series preview agreed on the big issues. The Cardinals’ starting rotation was better than the Red Sox starting rotation, given the way Michael Wacha has thrown the ball and taking Clay Buchholz‘s injury concerns into consideration.

Most also conceded the Red Sox defense was better than the Cardinals defense. The Red Sox shift and switch players and devote man-hours and assets and go out of their way to grab extra outs where ever they can while the Cardinals….well they sure score a lot of runs, don’t they?

In a tale-of-the-tape list post, it makes sense to break these factors off into different sections. The need for content is significant, and dispensing binding letter grades or check marks is Serious Business.

When the lights come up and the bunting hangs just so around the venerable grounds of Fenway Park, these two component work in concert to become run prevention – and one side cannot exist without the other. As Adam Wainwright, the postseason warrior and ace of the Cardinals staff who witnessed the power of poor defense up close and personal. The Cardinals defense gave away bases, outs, and runs in undoing an otherwise decent outing by Wainwright as the Red Sox bested the Cardinals 8-1 to take a 1-0 series lead.

The biggest defensive misplay of the night was the double play that wasn’t, the neighbourhood play initially ruled an out before the umpires put their heads together to get a call right on the field. It was one in a series of bootings and general poor play by the Cardinals infield.

People love talking about “the Cardinals Way” as it is certainly an enviable concept worth replicating. But nobody should ever confuse the Cardinals model of plucking line drive hitters and good ball players from the ether with an ideology of flawless fundamentals and impeccable execution.

The Cardinals are not the Twins – they’re actually successful, rather than dogmatic in their adherence to a nebulous idea of what it means to play “a brand” of baseball. It’s in their character to kick it around a little bit, just as they’ve repeatedly moved player to new positions around the diamond because the organization likes how they hit. Defense only matters so much in the shadow of the arch – it’s a means to an end. A strikeout-heavy pitching staff serves as a natural remedy for their considerable defensive shortcomings.

The Cardinals played a sloppy, poor game tonight just as they played sloppy baseball when they lost Game Three of the NLCS to the Dodgers. On the mound for St. Louis that night? Adam Wainwright. Boston pounced on the Cards early gifts and rushed out to a 5-0 lead – one that easily could have been even worse were it not for a rare flash of brilliance by the visiting team’s defenders.

Beltran limited the potential damage but the cumulative damage was done. Done by bad defense by St. Louis and good Red Sox hitters capitalizing on their gracious guests’ gift-giving. Adam Wainwright would go on to say he was terrible on this night, as that is what a “leader” will almost always say. Maybe the final stat line flatters him a little (5 IP, 3 ER, 4K, 1BB) or maybe more of his runs should be unearned. As always, defense and pitching are inexorably linked – it is impossible to know how Wainwright’s night looks with a little more help from his defenders (or even a little less).

With the runs on the board, it was up to Jon Lester, who was more than equal to the task. Jon Lester was great on this night – mowing down the Cardinals who seemed befuddled and overmatched at every turn. Everyone can agree shutdown innings are a pretty silly concept but when you string seven of them together in a row, you’re on to something. Lester kept the Cardinals from making anything of their fourth and fifth inning rallies, never of which didn’t seem built on well-struck balls or extra base hits.

Thanks to Jon Lester, the Red Sox are on to something all right: an early series lead. As for the Cardinals, well, they have plenty of time to recover from this forgettable start. It’s only one game, after all! The need not worry about another left-handed start — their greatest nemesis this season — until it is time for Lester to start again in Game Five. They won’t likely play worse than they did tonight, Cards fans can only hope. They bounced back after playing a poor game against the Dodgers, will the Red Sox give them the same opportunity?