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BOSTON -- It is with humility and some degree of embarrassment that I come to you now, as a representative of all of the pundits who wrote off the Boston Red Sox in March (pretty much everyone), to tell you why they will be riding duck boats through the streets of Boston and onto the Charles River in less than a fortnight's time.
It takes more chutzpah than courage to pose as someone who can tell you, at this stage, why the Sox will beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. But since we are now at the point of having a 50-50 chance of being right, we'll gladly accept those odds and share the, um, wisdom, we have accumulated over the past six months of watching the Sox and tell you why they will, indeed, prevail.
Here are our top four reasons why the Sox will be champions:
1. Right does not equal might: The Cardinals will be throwing an all right-handed rotation at the Red Sox in the Series. Ask the Detroit Tigers how that worked out, even though their right-handers included Cy Young past, Cy Young future, an ERA champion and a 14-game winner who averaged fewer than two walks a game. "I don't know if the Red Sox are going to face a better collection of four guys in a rotation than they just faced,'' one major league scout said this week. "That's not a good matchup for the Cardinals.''
Boston's left-handed batters hit over .300 collectively against right-handers this season. The entire lineup led the majors in on-base percentage and slugging against right-handers. The Tigers' starters were magnificent, and yet the Sox figured out a way to win. They're good that way.
2. Ninja closer: Koji Uehara finds it pretty funny that American audiences bought into the existence of the gyroball, the unhittable mystery pitch Daisuke Matsuzaka supposedly was bringing with him from Japan when he signed with the Red Sox to great fanfare before the 2007 season. "I don't think anybody believed that,'' he said recently. But they did, he was told. "The Japanese people are clever,'' he said with a laugh. "They never believed that.'' Turns out that Uehara is the one with the unhittable pitch, a split-fingered fastball that catcher David Ross has dubbed "The Invisiball." Uehara led all major league relievers this season (40 innings or more) in ERA (1.09), walks plus hits/divided by innings (0.565), strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.22), opponents' batting average (.130), opponents' on-base percentage (.163) and opponents' on-base plus slugging percentage (.400).
|Good luck to the Cardinals trying to rally against sure-thing closer Koji Uehara in the ninth inning.|
Except for one walk-off hiccup to Jose Lobaton of the Rays in the division series, Uehara has been just as untouchable in the postseason: five saves and a win in eight appearances, one earned run in nine innings, 13 strikeouts and no walks.
"In a good way, I would like to reverse that old thinking that velocity is everything,'' he said through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto before the playoffs started.
He'll never have a better chance than this, matching up against Cardinals rookie closer Trevor Rosenthal, whose fastball averaged 97.3 mph this season and regularly tops 100 mph. Rosenthal was 9 years old, by the way, when Uehara won 20 games as a rookie for the Yomiuri Giants and won Japan's Sawamura Award, Japan's version of the Cy Young Award. Just sayin'.
3. ESP > PECOTA: The acronym for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, PECOTA is a favorite measuring stick of sabermetrics fans. It's a system for forecasting player performance that was developed by Nate Silver, who became a national phenomenon when he nailed presidential election returns on his FiveThirtyEight.com site, and has returned to sports with ESPN.
You can choose any stat you want, and Jonny Gomes, a classic platoon player, should not be playing instead of Daniel Nava against right-handers in the postseason. Except this one: In games started by Gomes in the American League Championship Series against right-handers, the Sox went 4-0.
"We have a different feel and a different personality on the field when Jonny is in the lineup," manager John Farrell said. "Call that a hunch, call it whatever you might. That's what it boils down to.''
Sox ownership generally doesn't approve of managers playing their hunches. Grady Little listened to his gut instead of following his computer printouts 10 years ago when he left Pedro Martinez in against the Yankees, and John W. Henry couldn't get rid of him fast enough. But Farrell is on a roll. He bet big on Gomes and won, and parlay that with his decision to start rookie Xander Bogaerts over Will Middlebrooks, he's drawing all high cards in October.
4. MVP, deferred: Mike Napoli, then with the Texas Rangers, was well on his way to winning the World Series MVP against the Cardinals in 2011 until he sustained a hideous ankle injury sliding into second base in Game 6, and the Cardinals staged a miraculous comeback to win that game and the clincher the next night. Two years later, Napoli gets his chance to complete some unfinished business. He warmed up for the task by hitting a ball last week in Detroit that David Ortiz said was the hardest-hit ball he's ever seen. And this time, Napoli is bringing his big-boy beard to the party. Alert air-traffic control at Logan and Lambert.