The two League Championship Series are in the sweet spot right now: It's essentially impossible to predict what's going to happen. The Cardinals have a 3-2 lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS heading back to Busch Stadium, but L.A. will throw Clayton Kershaw in Game 6, as close to a sure thing as anything this postseason. (Which is to say: He has one loss already.) The Red Sox and the Tigers are tied 2-2, and you can tell how close that series is by noticing how supposedly "doomed" each team is when they lose. (After the Tigers lost Game 3, the general consensus was that losing a Justin Verlander start 1-0 was a death knell. After Wednesday night's win? Detroit's pitching staff is unsolvable! The Red Sox are toast! The baseball postseason drives everyone a bit batty.)
It's a crapshoot these next few days, and we all get to watch. To think, by the end of the weekend, we'll know who's in the World Series. That seems so close, and yet so far away. To whet your appetite for what, regardless of teams, is going to be a terrific 109th World Series, I thought I'd take a look at each potential matchup and rank them in order of desirability. We'll go over each one, with the advantages and disadvantages not just for each team involved, but for the casual fan looking for the most compelling series possible.
4. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Detroit Tigers
Advantage for the Cardinals: The Tigers have the sort of top-heavy lineup that the St. Louis bullpen can match up well against late in the game. Also, Detroit's bullpen is still a bit shaky. The Cardinals have struggled all season against left-handed pitching, but everyone in the Tigers' rotation is right-handed. We won't be distracted by the two teams' managers being best friends this time.
Advantage for the Tigers: The Cardinals' bats are frozen right now, and facing Justin Verlander/Max Scherzer (a St. Louis-area native)/Anibal Sanchez/Doug Fister is hardly a prescription for warming them up. The Cardinals' rotation is fine, but nothing compared to what Detroit can throw out. The Tigers don't strike out that often, an advantage against a team as plodding defensively as the Cardinals. There's also the revenge factor: The Tigers just lost the World Series to the Cardinals seven years ago. Though it's worth noting that there are only two Tigers -- Verlander and Omar Infante -- remaining from that team, even if manager Jim Leyland surely hasn't forgotten it. Lack of nightlife in either city's downtown minimizes potential distractions.
Fan verdict: This is easily the least desirable matchup for the casual fan. It feels like we just saw this Series. And remember, most people spent that whole Series complaining about the matchup. Tigers fans might enjoy having the chance to make up for 2006, but most people aren't eager to relive that dull, ugly Series again.
3. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox
Advantage for the Cardinals: This is sort of a perfect matchup for St. Louis. The Cardinals' rotation, particularly if manager Mike Matheny finally unleashes Shelby Miller (and don't hold your breath), lines up nicely with Boston's, particularly if the Cardinals can win Game 6 of the NLCS and allow Adam Wainwright to start Game 1. The bullpen is definitely better. And if Allen Craig can return from his injury to DH -- as looks increasingly possible -- the Cardinals' lineup can equal Boston's in depth. (At Fenway, it'd look like: Carpenter/Beltran/Holliday/Craig/Molina/Adams/Freese/Jay/Kozma.) Plus, over the last few years of postseason success, the Cardinals have vanquished every demon but one: Getting the Red Sox back for ruining their otherwise perfect 2004 season. It's the last notch on the bedpost.
Advantage for the Red Sox: The Cardinals rotation isn't that scary, and all those advantages above are minor ones. Besides, the Sox will have home-field advantage, and the one thing the Red Sox haven't done during this last decade of success is win a World Series at Fenway Park. (Both the Cardinals' World Series wins finished at Busch.) The Cardinals are the team most likely to give them that opportunity. They beat them once at their park; time to beat them at theirs. Also: real opportunity to see Ben Affleck throw out the first pitch in the Batman cowl.
Fan verdict: I'll confess: I personally find this the most exciting matchup on the board, though I'm a bit biased in that regard. But it's impossible to deny the exhaustion factor that the rest of America has with the Cardinals right now. For all the reasons given for the disdain espoused in the direction of Cardinal Nation this postseason, there's no simpler one than: Everyone's sick of watching them every October. If the Cardinals make the World Series, they will have played at least 43 postseason games over the past three seasons. Cardinals fans certainly haven't seen enough of them, but the rest of the planet has.
2. Detroit Tigers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Advantages for the Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw potentially available to pitch three games, with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu around for the other four. Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier presumably will be a bit healthier after a few days' rest. Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez are starting to heat up. There is nowhere for Jim Leyland to smoke in Los Angeles.
Advantages for the Tigers: That rotation can take advantage of a lineup with some holes in it; the cerebral approaches of the Tigers' starters could carve up an overaggressive Dodgers team. The Tigers would be the team everyone in America was rooting for.
Fan verdict: Of the four possible matchups, this is the one with an obvious underdog. The Tigers may have the better team, but they're the franchise that's perceived to have suffered the longest. (They've also gone 29 years without winning a championship, four years longer than the Dodgers.) Anything with Puig is automatically going to be entertaining. It also might be fun to see Mary Hart shiver for nine innings.
1. Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Advantages for the Red Sox: Home-field advantage. A Fenway Park crowd that's guaranteed to be extremely unwelcoming to Yaisel Puig in right field. The opportunity to boo Gonzalez and Carl Crawford every time they come to bat. Affleck in a cowl.
Advantages for the Dodgers: That rotation, again; Clayton Kershaw and the lack of a DH for three games could take David Ortiz out of this Series entirely. Gonzalez and Crawford will be awfully excited to stick it to a team and fanbase that only sees them as failures. That Mary Hart always stays to the last pitch of every game, bless her heart.
Fan verdict: Two big-time, big-city franchises, playing in iconic ballparks. The two teams just a year ago took part in one of the wildest challenge trades of all time. Vin Scully saying "Saltalamacchia." This one's a no-brainer.
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