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

The World Series is over and the Boston Red Sox are your deserving champions. Maybe deserved isn’t the right word. By having the best record, they weren’t entitled to go all the way and claim the title. The Red Sox earned it. They earned the title of best team in baseball this year, from April to October.

Before the hot stove season kicks off and hot contract takes fill our lives, a few lingering thoughts about the just concluded World Series and its final game.

What Makes a Great Series?

The 2013 World Series is now officially in the books. Was it a great series? I’m sure Red Sox fans would argue yes but what of the impartial observer? How does this series rate among the past decade?

By virtue of not being a sweep, it jumps ahead of the previous two Red Sox championships, as well as last year’s edition and the 2005 series between the White Sox and Astros, which may or may not have actually taken place.

The 2006 Cardinals triumph and the Phillies 2008 win only went five games, so they slide down the list. The Giants five game beat down of the of the Rangers moves up because it’s my damn list, dammit. The Phillies in six games BUT that series didn’t feature many particularly close games AND the Yankees held a three games to one lead, so the drama was decreased (Cliff Lee notwithstanding.)

That leaves 2013 and 2011. Not many seven game sets feature the drama and back-and-forth of the 2011 Rangers/Cardinals battle, so this Red Sox title has to settle for second best among the most recent Fall Classics.

It wasn’t the best or most crisply played (though the comedy of errors subsided after the first few games) and it wasn’t the most dramatic (no extra inning games) but it was contested by two evenly matched teams. It was fun, as fun as any six games between two detestable teams can possibly be.

Not that either fanbase cares, at all, about the still-warm corpse of the 2013 World Series’ aesthetic qualities. Red Sox fans are too busy celebrating and Cardinals fans can’t be bothered.

How the Red Sox Got to Michael Wacha

Before the game yesterday, I suggested the Red Sox might find success against the dominant Cardinals starter by aggressively going after him early in the count, specifically the first pitch.

Wouldn’t you know it, the Sox did indeed take early hacks at Wacha’s fastballs. Dustin Pedroia went after a first-pitch fastball in his first plate appearance of the game, pulling a near-homer just foul. Overall, the Sox swung at four first pitches during the first trip through the order.

Once the lineup turned over, Wacha threw more curveballs, staying away from his bread-and-butter change up. The Sox gameplan was clear – first pitch fastballs were the way to go, as they didn’t offer at a single breaking ball to start the at bat. The only first pitch fastball they saw the second time through the order? Stephen Drew‘s home run which all but ended the game.

Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs looked at the various ways the Sox hit Wacha around, noting how willing (and able) they were to pull the big righties stuff. As the series started, I thought taking Wacha the other way might be a good plan of attack, given his propensity to stay on the outside part of the plate. The Red Sox showed that matching strength with strength is often the best strategy – do what it is you do best

Baseball is Weird

Baseball — and as an extension of that, life — is weird.

Take a bow, Jim Joyce

Who doesn’t love criticizing umpires? The eternal target for rage and scorn don’t make matters easy for themselves thanks to their closed knit aloofness and wagon circling around some of their worst behaviors.

But last night, Jim Joyce had a tremendous night behind the plate. The first way to prove this is to note how little was said and written about him since the game ended last night. As you can see below, the ump famous for his loud strike calls had a great game calling balls and strikes.

jim joyce game 6 rhh

jim joyce game 6 lhh

What, maybe one or two pitches out of place? A couple low strikes called (remember – the marks here indicate the center of the ball, so in reality the pitches appear even closer.) On top of this top notch zone, Joyce also made a great call at home plate in the third inning.

Every once in a while, it feels good to give respect and praise to an umpire for a job well done. Great stuff last night from Jim Joyce, one of the best in the business.

A Lack of Urgency

Did the St. Louis Cardinals lose this series because of Mike Matheny? No, they didn’t. Mike Matheny didn’t stop hitting altogether and then stop hitting situationally. But Mike Matheny might have done more to help his charges along the way.

Results-based thinking I know but Matheny’s hook always seemed to come a little too late. Playing for their playoff lives, a quick hook seems a lot more palatable than a slow one. There is no good time to yank your best starter, but if the ever popular “he ain’t got it” sentiment flies through the dugout, something must be done.

Rather than proactively do something, Matheny left Michael Wacha in after he gave up three runs in the third inning and then a leadoff home run in the fourth. Two more base runners and the game was officially getting away from St. Louis. Instead of getting his converted starter Lance Lynn in with a clean slate to begin the inning, Lynn enters the game with two outs and everything riding on a single plate appearance. Mike Napoli singles, game essentially over.

As discussed yesterday, there is only so much Matheny can do. Making a pitching change a little earlier? The Cardinals scored a grant total of four runs over the final three games of the series, all losses. Only in Game Six did they actually threaten and put runners on base. In the end, the team that made their bones hitting situationally was unable to deliver when it mattered most. That’s the difference between opportunistic and talented – one tends to be a lot more reliable.

Mike Matheny will learn from this season. The Cardinals are not assured a return performance in the World Series next year as not all their young players will march forward, developmentally. Bumps lie in the road ahead. But that is okay, because Oscar Taveras lies ahead, too. And Matt Carpenter going back to third base so Kolten Wong can play second and Future Yankee David Freese fetching a tidy trade reward will keep the Cardinals machine right on chugging.

The class of the National League aren’t going anywhere – considering their budget and insane organizational depth, they’ll be right back in the thick of things in 2014. Reaching two World Series in three years (and going to Game 7 of the LCS between those appearances) hints at the stunning quality of the Cards organization.

They will address whatever needs they want in their typical, understated way. GM John Mozeliak will show up at the Winter Meetings, keep a low profile and stroll away with the player he needs. The nonchalant Cardinals Way – when you only need a few items from the grocery store, you tend to avoid the junk.