Game's next wave of talent thrives in Classic
From Bogaerts to Wacha, rookies blend skill with fortitude on biggest stage
BOSTON -- We just saw an amazing World Series. It was a Series that featured an amazing array of improbable and quirky plays.
More memorable for me was the coming-out party for some of baseball's most prominent and exciting future stars. Names like Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Xander Bogaerts could become household names.
When Koji Uehara took the ball for the last inning of the clinching Game 6, Fenway Park was shaking -- and I'm not kidding.
When the stories have all been written and the book is closed on 2013, here is what I will remember from the Red Sox's fascinating World Series championship.
Rightfully so, David Ortiz was the Most Valuable Player of the Series. He was in a zone few players have entered. The baseball must have looked huge coming to the plate. In Game 6, the Cardinals refused to pitch to Ortiz while the game was still in doubt; he proved that he could hit pitches thrown in every corner of the zone. He hit the ball to all parts of the field and swung at strikes -- not bad pitches.
Jon Lester and Uehara may have been considered for Series MVP honors, but one of the unsung heroes was catcher David Ross. When he entered the Series, Ross was a true shepherd to his pitchers. He navigated them through opposing lineups with care and precision. Ross calmed his starters down when an inning could have spiraled. He knew how to call a game for his staff. He knew how to receive pitches. Ross was a difference maker.
Boston's Game 6 starter, John Lackey, attacked the Cardinals' lineup. He didn't nibble. Lackey came after hitters and regularly hit the targets Ross set up for a low strike zone. He used his fastball to set up a remarkable sequence of offspeed pitches that had the Cardinals out in front of many pitches. He was a horse.
Shane Victorino, whose three-run double in the third inning turned the momentum in Boston's favor for good, concentrated and drove the ball to the gaps. He had enough patience and plate discipline to take control of at-bats from the opposing pitcher. That proved to be a key component of his success in clutch situations.
Bogaerts served notice that he is in the Majors to stay. He can hit, and he can hit for power. Bogaerts plays like a winner.
Rook runs out of gas
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Lester, who started Games 1 and 5 for Boston, used a masterful mix of pitches to get swings and misses, and he twice gave his team a chance to win, using a cutter both ways against hitters. How can a hitter be comfortable not knowing which way the ball is headed? That was Lester at his very best.
Uehara, Boston's closer, used his two pitches to near perfection. He can overpower a hitter with a moving fastball and finish him off with a split-finger pitch that just drops out of sight. Generally, if a hitter makes contact, he pounds the ball to the ground. Uehara is in total control and may be capable of pitching both the eighth and ninth innings if needed.
Prior to Game 6, I was concerned about Jacoby Ellsbury's ability to hit a curveball. He had been out in front, lunging at the curve or just letting it go for called strikes in the first five games of the World Series. He has to drive the ball to be successful. Ellsbury can beat any team with his speed. He's a tough out at the top of the batting order, and he showed up in Game 6.
Wacha, St. Louis' starter for Games 2 and 6, became a star in front of the world this postseason. He used a fastball, changeup and curveball to disrupt the balance and eye levels of hitters. But for some reason, Wacha backed off the changeup in Game 6. The right-hander went to his curve more often, and it didn't work well. His velocity didn't seem as high in Game 6, either. It just wasn't Wacha's night. He looked spent.
St. Louis second baseman Matt Carpenter has a live, active bat. He can drive any pitch to any part of the field. Carpenter has a short, measured stroke that is ideal for a park with big gaps. He can hit anywhere in the order as a very tough out, and he showed his strength and ability the entire season.
Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran can beat the opposition from either side of the plate. But he's much more lethal when hitting left-handed. Beltran still has quick hands and strong wrists.
Yadier Molina is currently the best catcher in baseball. The Cardinals backstop frames pitches -- bringing them to the strike zone -- better than anyone. He can block pitches and has very quick feet and a strong arm. For a big guy, Molina is nimble and lithe.
Outfielder Matt Holliday has a knack of hitting in big games. There are times that he tries to put the Cardinals on his shoulders and he lengthens his swing, but Holliday knows his limitations and seeks and finds pitches he can drive.
The Cards suffered because first baseman Allen Craig was not anywhere close to 100 percent physically. In fact, he couldn't run. Craig puts the bat on the ball and finds the holes and the foul lines. He takes pitches where they are thrown and makes contact.
Rosenthal has the type of arm that can be used as either a starter or reliever. Capable of throwing his fastball at 100 mph, Rosenthal sometimes sees his pitches straighten out when he tries to throw too hard. The St. Louis right-hander is probably more effective working at 95 mph, where the ball moves more.
Martinez has the type of stuff that can make him a top-of-the-rotation starter or a reliever at the back end of a bullpen, but he still has to learn how to pitch more than throw.
The 2013 World Series was as much a showcase of the future as the present, with top-flight young players gracing the Red Sox and Cardinals as they prepare to defend their league championships.