clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cardinals vs. Red Sox Game 5: Every World Series team is defined by luck

The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox have exceeded their own expectations all year, but only one team can keep doing it.

This is David Freese hitting in the World Series. That's exciting.
This is David Freese hitting in the World Series. That's exciting.
H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Every World Series team is unrepeatably good. I'm trying that one on instead of "lucky," because I'm not actually suggesting that the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox aren't largely responsible for their own success so far. I'm only suggesting that, having set themselves up for this kind of success, they have reached the World Series in part because they've executed their plan while also having a string of months in which it went—thanks to their efforts and to chance in whatever proportion you care to name—nearly as well as possible.

World Series teams are filled with career years. The Red Sox got the Jarrod Saltalamacchia year the Braves were excited about six years ago; they got a big bounce-back season from Stephen Drew; they got 160 games from the great Dustin Pedroia and 134 from Jacoby Ellsbury, and a 160 OPS+ from their 37-year-old DH. Daniel Nava, a 30-year-old fourth outfielder, had an OBP of .385. John Lackey returned from purgatory and Clay Buchholz went 12-1 and Koji Uehara has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of two cherries and a 7.

All those things were possible going in. All those talents had been visible in some form at some point. But they lined up—again, this is luck and it's design and for the players it is extraordinarily hard work—and happened at once, and that's how you win 97 games most of the time.

The Cardinals shook a Charlie Gehringer season out of their backup third baseman. They watched as Matt Holliday not only avoided breakdown but got stronger as the season progressed. They got the best season of Adam Wainwright's career, and a perfect rookie year from Shelby Miller, and on-the-spot pitching from Edward Mujica and Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist and Michael Wacha and even John Axford that was much better than they could have expected five times out of 10.

Isolated like that both these teams seem unstoppable, fated—but it sounds so good mostly because the career years are necessary to offset the sudden, abrupt attrition that happens to every team every year. Wacha (among others) had to replace Jaime Garcia; Mujica had to replace Jason Motte. Clay Buchholz was 12-1, but it was in 16 starts.

Anyway. The Cardinals hit .330/.402/.463 this year with runners in scoring position, and .236/.297/.356 when trying to get runners into scoring position in the first place. That's been bouncing around all year, since the splits first showed themselves, and depending on who you are and what time it is it's a source of pride or dread. It really happened—the batters really beat the pitchers in those at-bats, or at least got balls past defenders—and it probably doesn't tell us a lot about what will happen tomorrow, which has always been the problem with these stats.

On Monday the Cardinals went 0-4 with runners in scoring position. Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter struck out in the third, and Pete Kozma flew out before Matt Adams struck out in the eighth, and that was it. The game was frustrating mostly because that was all the chances the Cardinals had—but it was also frustrating because we'll remember this team for all the times they took advantage of those spindly-legged rallies. You can hate that Pete Kozma is the Cardinals' starting shortstop and harbor a wish that he really is a warlock at the same time.

The Red Sox bunched doubles together in the first and baserunners in the seventh, and the Cardinals couldn't take advantage of Matt Holliday having the hardest-hit ball all night. Lucky and unlucky, definitely. But when it's two teams left out of 30 you can be sure there are unrepeatable, perfect moments supporting the entire series, stretching down 170 games on each side.

The Cardinals will need a few more of them to win on Wednesday—they'll need some hits with runners in scoring position, and they'll need Michael Wacha to get out of a few jams. Before that, though, they'll just need to hit.