This is one of those times when getting it straight from the horse’s mouth just seems right. In Dodgers first base coach Davey Lopes, you have someone who meets the criteria of gleaning insight into what exactly makes the Red Sox and Cardinals tick.
Lopes’ credentials are unparalleled when it comes to weighing in/opining on the two World Series combatants. The East Providence native and La Salle Academy alumnus was part of a Los Angeles organization that recently got pushed aside by St. Louis in the National League Championship Series.
While Lopes openly admitted that it’s tough to read too much into the brief three-game series Boston played at Dodger Stadium in late August – “They didn’t even face our two top starters” in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw – he did see enough to arrive at a logical conclusion: The 2013 Fall Classic has an excellent chance to go the distance.
“Both teams are dominated with pitching, and that’s the name of the game. They’ve got good quality starters and relievers. Plus, both teams like to work the count and have the pitchers throw a lot of pitches,” said Lopes when reached at his California address Tuesday. “The one difference that could come into play is that the Red Sox have more speed, but the Cardinals do an excellent job of holding runners on. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
“This is a very good matchup because you have two well-balanced clubs,” Lopes continued. “You would think that there are going to be plenty of low-scoring games because of the pitching, but you never know.”
Talking about baserunning is a topic Lopes is quite comfortable with. As the Dodgers’ first base coach, his primary calling card is to decipher and pick up how quickly a pitcher releases the ball to the plate. After seeing the Cardinals for an extensive stretch, Lopes is well aware that the members of the St. Louis pitching staff are a conscientious bunch when the opposition is lurking on the basepaths.
“Their starters and relievers are good and quick to the plate, so that can kind of neutralize speed. Both teams can go from first to third, but the Red Sox have two premier base stealers in (Shane) Victorino and (Jacoby) Ellsbury. When you have guys who can steal second and third, it makes the pitchers think a little bit more. They have a certain impact because they can cause havoc,” noted the 68-year-old Lopes, who has spent more than four decades in Major League Baseball. “Conversely, St. Louis has the best catcher in baseball in Yadier Molina. He’s the guy who makes that team go. He controls the whole game. Not only in terms of pitching, but during the course of the game, you’ll see him move the outfielders around.”
The Red Sox hitters earned major points by hanging tough with Detroit’s vaunted starting pitchers during the ALCS before taking full advantage of the Tigers’ shaky relief corps. As Lopes noted, such a strategy may be mitigated given the luxury of strong bullpen arms that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has at his beck and call.
“I’m sure Boston is going to approach it the same way hitting-wise, but if St. Louis has to go to the bullpen, they have guys who are very suited to do the job,” Lopes pointed out. “They have a number of guys you need to get past before reaching (recently appointed closer Trevor) Rosenthal.”
Lopes was asked to put himself in Boston manager John Farrell’s shoes about the decision that awaits him once the World Series shifts to St. Louis this weekend. Without the services of the designated hitter in a National League ballpark, Farrell will have to decide whether to trot out David Ortiz at first base or stick with incumbent Mike Napoli.
Either way, the Red Sox’ offense will be devoid of a significant run producer at the start of the games inside Busch Stadium.
“They’re both big bats,” Lopes acknowledged. “If they go strictly on the fact that all of the Cardinals’ starters are right-handed, then they’ll go with Ortiz at first. It’s a tough choice because David always seems to come up with the big hit at the right time and does his part in keeping that club loose, but I’m sure Mr. Farrell will make the right decision.”
One player who Lopes will closely monitor is Victorino. The two enjoyed a strong player-coach relationship for several years in Philadelphia.
“I wish him the best of luck, ” Lopes said prior to divulging his “what were you doing?” when Victorino struck for a grand slam that in essence sealed the Tigers’ ALCS fate. “It was kind of weird. I was watching something else [Saturday night] and I happened to flip the channel and there it was. The ball was on its way to the plate and then he hits a home run. I never saw him get so animated after hitting a homer. Obviously, there was a lot of emotion, but it was great to see.”
Lopes politely refrained from saying which team would win the World Series and in how many games. From his perch, it’s as close as the flip of a coin.
“I just know that they’re both pretty good,” he remarked. “You could pick either team and no one would say that you’re crazy.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03