AP Sports Writer
A position-by-position look at the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox going into the World Series, starting Wednesday night at Fenway Park:
Cardinals: Matt Adams. Though he looks like a beer league softball player, Adams can really hit. Quick hands and a sound swing helped him post 17 homers and 51 RBIs in only 296 at-bats, impressive numbers for a rookie who has filled in admirably since cleanup man Allen Craig was injured in early September. Adams is prone to strikeouts, however, and can be vulnerable against left-handed pitching. Defense is not a strength.
Red Sox: Mike Napoli. After a hip condition showed up during his physical last winter, Napoli settled for an incentive-laden, one-year contract with the Red Sox after the sides had agreed to a $39 million, three-year deal. But the former catcher stayed healthy at first base and fit perfectly in Boston with his ample beard, patient approach and powerful swing. A proven postseason hitter, Napoli had two big homers in the ALCS against Detroit but also struck out 11 times in 20 at-bats.
Edge: Red Sox.
Cardinals: Matt Carpenter. Catalyst for the NL's highest-scoring offense, Carpenter had a breakout season that earned him his first All-Star selection. He led the majors in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55), making the leadoff man a surprise MVP contender. Carpenter held his own at second, too, after switching from third base in spring training. Just coming out of a slump, he started to find his stroke in the NLCS against the Dodgers.
Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia. The heart and soul of the gritty Red Sox since their 2007 championship, Pedroia plays with a dirty uniform and an all-out gusto that translates into leadership and wins. It also inspires a string of clichés about the 2008 AL MVP. But there's no denying how good he is -- regardless of size -- and how crucial this mighty mite has been to Boston's success.
Cardinals: Pete Kozma. A light-hitting glove man, Kozma has a knack for feisty at-bats in October. But his true value is on defense, where he really shines. He'd better, because Kozma isn't much of a threat at the plate. Daniel Descalso also sees playing time at shortstop.
Red Sox: Stephen Drew. The brother of two big leaguers (J.D. and Tim) from a baseball family, this Drew has plenty of talent himself. After hitting .253 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs in his first season with Boston, he slumped to 3 for 35 (.086) in the AL playoffs but kept playing superb defense.
Edge: Red Sox.
Cardinals: David Freese. A hometown favorite in St. Louis, Freese was the NLCS and World Series MVP when the Cardinals won it all two years ago. Coming off a mediocre regular season, he's hitting .189 with four RBIs this October. Still, he remains a threat. Descalso is often a late-inning sub for defense.
Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts. A premier prospect, Bogaerts was called up in August and hit .250 in 44 at-bats over 18 games. But late in the ALCS, he replaced slumping Will Middlebrooks in the starting lineup and it's easy to see why. The 21-year-old rookie from Aruba shows a sharp eye and pop at the plate, with poise and patience beyond his years. Can he keep it up on the World Series stage?
Cardinals: Yadier Molina. Baseball's best defensive catcher has turned into quite a hitter, too. Molina batted .319 with 44 doubles and 80 RBIs this season, not to mention his gifted handling of St. Louis' young pitching staff. No wonder he's a top MVP candidate. Possessing a rocket arm, Molina threw out 19 of 45 attempted base-stealers this year. The Red Sox like to run, so that could be an intriguing matchup.
Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia. A switch-hitter with power, "Salty" is another hairy member of Boston's beard brigade. He strikes out an awful lot, but when he gets a hold of one he can hit it a long way. And he probably hasn't received enough credit for the job he's done with an eclectic Red Sox pitching staff. David Ross also gets the occasional start behind the plate.
Cardinals: Matt Holliday. A six-time All-Star, Holliday is a streaky hitter who nevertheless puts up consistent power numbers by the end of each season. He remains a legitimate thumper in the middle of the lineup, though his defense can be shaky. That could come into play at Fenway Park with the Green Monster right behind him.