Bob Nightengale and Paul White, USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY - The random nature of baseball's playoffs often blindsides regular-season juggernauts. Not this year. The 109th World Series, starting Wednesday in Boston, pits the 97-win Red Sox against the 97-win St. Louis Cardinals, the first time since 1999 each league is represented by teams with its best records. And these are two franchises loaded with tradition, smarts, resources and passionate - some might say entitled - fan bases.
So who has the edge? USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale and Paul White make the case for each pennant winner:
The Red Sox will win because...
Their games are short (really!): The bullpen has become the not-so-secret weapon. Closer Koji Uehara was the ALCS MVP with a win and three saves. He, Junichi Tazawa and lefty Craig Breslow have combined to allow two runs and 13 hits in 19 innings this postseason. Uehara, since July 1, has pitched 58 innings in 45 appearances, allowing two earned runs and 17 hits while striking out 65 and walking two.
Their games sure do feel long: The Red Sox have seen more pitches than any other team this season. They pride themselves on working deep counts and eventually wearing down the opposing pitcher, no matter how good he is. They got Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers out of a no-hitter after six innings because of a pitch count. They won two ALCS games when they had been stifled for six innings by Detroit's Max Scherzer, but turned around those games once they got to the bullpen. The Red Sox are fully confident they can win a battle of the bullpens with anyone and even more confident they'll get the chance to face their opponents' relievers.
The AL won the All-Star Game: Nowhere is home advantage more important than in Fenway Park. No National League team won a World Series game there in 2004 and 2007. Come to think of it, no NL team won a game anywhere in either of those series. This season, NL teams were 2-8 at Fenway. It's quirky and gets in the heads of pitchers as well as outfielders. If it's not the Green Monster making left fielders, center fielders and even shortstops change the way they play, it's the low walls and funky corners in center and right (ask Torii Hunter how easy it is to flip out). There's a reason the Red Sox hit 205 doubles at home, 48 more than any other team.
They fight fire with fire: Word is the Cardinals are bringing the heat, as in some impressive young flamethrowers. Beware: The Red Sox have torched the fastball better than any other team on any type of pitch. According to Fangraphs.com, Boston's offense is a positive 103.9 runs against the fastball (zero is average). That's not only tops in the majors, but 33% better than any other team. Three of their four ALCS victories came in games started by Detroit's hard-throwing Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.