At the risk of getting too meta, here's what most World Series previews are:
Team X has the better stats, but Team Y has been hot in the postseason so far.
David Eckstein was literally the 2006 World Series MVP. I have no idea what's going on around here.
You can sub in Pat Borders for Eckstein if you're feeling froggy. But you know what's going to happen in the World Series: Good players will play poorly, bad players will play brilliantly, and a whole mess of players will play how you expect. Then over a stretch of four to seven games, everyone pretends that we've answered some sort of riddle about which team is better.
If the Red Sox played the Cardinals in April, there would be different results than if they played in October. If they played this series last week, the results would be different. Maybe one team sweeps last week, but loses in five games this week. Maybe one team throws a no-hitter last week, but gives up 29 earned runs this week.
This entire game is silly and meaningless. You have to get out while you still have a chance. Do you hear me? RUN.
But if you're still here, let's ask a different question. Forget the question of who would win in a best-of-seven series between the Cardinals and Red Sox. The sample is too small. There will be an Eckstein. There will be a Borders. The question is automatically silly. Let's instead ask something else.
In a best-of-163-game series, which team do you take?
It's a fancier way of asking which team is actually better, but there's a little more to it than that. Now you're factoring in injury-prone players over a long season. You're looking at which players had unrepeatable seasons, and which players might actually be better than they showed.
Alright, it's a fancier way of asking which team is actually better. But really think of a 163-game series for this exercise. It's fun. Until you realize how sick of these two teams you would be. I think the Giants played the Padres 163 times this season, actually …
The Red Sox have a lot of hitters I'd take the under on next year. Mike Carp isn't suddenly peak Adrian Gonzalez. Daniel Nava is probably more Brennan Boesch than a three-win player. I'll buy one of Mike Napoli or Stephen Drew making it through the series intact, but both of them is a minor miracle.
I can't say the same about the Cardinals. Take a look at their main contributors this year:
The only player that I can point to with substantial distrust is Matt Carpenter, just because he's 27 and was never projected to be an MVP candidate. But even then, it's not like he's anything other than a fantastic player. The rest of the Cardinals hit about as well as you'd expect, so you don't even have to get into their ludicrous average with runners in scoring position.
But there's a problem with the Cardinals' army of above-average hitters: They don't hit a lot of home runs. They hit just 125 this season, fourth-worst in the majors and more than 50 fewer than the Red Sox. So while it's helpful to look at the players like Nava and Carp on the Red Sox, they also have David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino. The players doing the things you'd expect for the Red Sox are pretty danged good. Over a best-of-163-game series, those four are a magnificent head start, especially when you consider defense.
Easy. If we're taking this thing 163, I'm going to stay the heck away from John Lackey and Clay Buchholz. Both of them had nice seasons, and both of them fought through injuries. Those don't mean any thing for the next week. Heck, they might even help them, considering they haven't thrown as many innings as some of the Cardinals' pitchers.
But give me the youth and relative resiliency of the Cardinals, with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, and Lance Lynn. That's not even including Shelby Miller, who was outstanding before his workload was curtailed. The 2012 Red Sox were bad in part because Jon Lester and Buchholz weren't good. The 2013 Red Sox were good in part because both of those pitchers helped. I'm not sure what that means, but I trust the Cardinals more. Even if I hadn't heard of Michael Wacha seven months ago.
Heck, I don't know. But over the equivalent of a full season, I'd expect the Cardinals' youth and depth to do better.
Here's the biggest discrepancy between a best-of-seven series and a best-of-163-game series. Both teams are stacked with good relievers, right? At least one of those relievers will completely implode this series. Just completely ruin a game for his team. I already feel bad for him.
Over a long, long series, I'd trust the Red Sox a little more, if only because I'm more familiar with Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Craig Breslow than I am with Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, and Oscar Martinez (or Seth Maness)
But bullpens are jerks over a full season, with good players imploding and random players showing up and succeeding without warning. It doesn't matter if it's a best-of-seven, best-of-163-game, or best-of-3,433-game series. There's no way to take two seemingly good bullpens and predict which one is better.
Technically, this should be a part of the previous two categories, as our perceptions of the pennant-winning pitchers has an incredible amount to do with their pitching. But this is a good place to drop in a note that the Cardinals' defense is quietly atrocious. It's easy to overlook because Yadier Molina is a golden god behind the plate. David Freese is pretty good, and Pete Kozma ain't in there for his hitting.
But the outfield defense is probably the worst in baseball, and the right side of the infield features a second baseman learning on the fly and a pair of lumbering galoots.
The Red Sox have to worry about Jonny Gomes and Napoli, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn't compare to Molina, but the rest of the defense is good or better.
I go back and forth, but I think the Cardinals take this one, 82 games to 75. These are evenly matched teams that could easily go all the way to Game 163, but that seven-game swing doesn't mean anything with a small sample of 157 games. It's just a guess.
Which makes the attempt to guess at a best-of-seven series seem even more pointless than it did two hours ago.
Back in the 1970s and early '80s, the League Championship Series were best-of-five series. It seems insane now, something that important in such a short series. Now that we're used to best-of-seven, it would be really hard to go back.
So just try best-of-163 once. I'm telling you, it'll open your mind. Answer my letters, Bud. Answer them. Don't hide behind an activist judge and his restraining orders. Answer the letters.
Other predictions for the actual World Series:
Cardinals in six
Jon Jay is Series MVP
Michael Wacha gets two wins despite a 5.80 Series ERA
Some sort of animal gets on the field during Game 5
Every game will sell out
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For more on the Cardinals, please visit Viva El Birdos