All You Need To Know Ahead Of World Series Game 1

The Boston Red Sox host the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in Game 1 of the World Series. The teams are evenly matched and many expect a tight series. We'll see if playing in an American League park — and having a designated hitter — offers an advantage to either team.

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The World Series begins tonight at Boston's Fenway Park, where the Red Sox face the St. Louis Cardinals. Now, both teams have won two World Series in the last decade. NPR's Mike Pesca is covering the series for us, and he joins us now. Hey there, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.

CORNISH: So the Red Sox, of course, are not the hapless Sox of yore. They went from worst to first after a disappointing season last year. Now, can we officially, officially, consider them a comeback story?

PESCA: They're going to say that. That's their narrative. I'm not going to get in the way of it. But, you know, last year was a disaster for a lot of reasons. But mostly it was horrible luck. You know, they had almost 1,500 days combined of missed games because of injuries, which sets a record from when they started keeping injuries. And they had a bunch of players on their payroll who were magically lifted off their payroll when the Dodgers offered this amazing trade.

The Red Sox are saying, look at us. Look at how far we've come. If that motivates them, fine. They really were a pretty good team who was beset by horrible injuries last year, and they've gotten on the good side of luck this year.

CORNISH: And what's the story with the Cardinals?

PESCA: The Cardinals don't have those kinds of wax and wanes, though they do have a Wainwright. They're just great. They're just so consistent from top to bottom. The whole organization, most of their players are home grown. They're the model of baseball excellence. Sometimes the fans chirp a little bit about that, but, you know, you have to hand everything to them. Everything that they've accomplished has totally been earned. And most franchises would like to model themselves on what they've put forth.

CORNISH: And you mentioned Wainwright, Adam Wainwright, of course, is pitching for the Cardinals tonight against Jon Lester for Boston. Who holds the edge?

PESCA: It's tough to say. These are the aces and I think, on paper, Wainwright is the better pitcher. Although Fenway Park is, of course, a notoriously tough place to pitch in, especially if you're not used to it. The crazy thing about Wainwright is usually after you pitch a lot of innings, you maybe see a little bit of decline in the velocity of your fastball. Wainwright has (unintelligible) in his back pocket because his fast ball has jumped a mile per hour in the post season.

But still, if you add everything up, you know, Lester's been amazing this post season. You can't really give the edge. I've seen odds, not, you know, Las Vegas odds, but, you know, advance number-crunching statistical odds that put it at a 52 percent chance of winning for the Cardinals and a 48 chance of winning for the Red Sox. And that's just in Game 1 when the Cardinals have their best pitcher going.

CORNISH: Now, anything else we should watch for? I know, of course, tonight, they start in Fenway, which is an American League park, so that means the Red Sox should have the edge, right? I mean, I don't know, David Ortiz will be their designated hitter and not have to play the field.

PESCA: That's true. And so if we look ahead to the middle three games, if there are three games in St. Louis, that will be a little bit rough if they put Ortiz at first base, which they're expected to do. So usually, in a World Series, because of the rules, which is when they play in the American League Park if you have the DH that the American League team has an advantage.

But the weird thing about this game and this series is that Allen Craig is coming back. He hasn't played since September 1st. He's not really that healthy. But because of the designated hitter, he's not going to have to play the field. He gets to bat. And he just absolutely crushes lefties. John Lester is a leftie. So it's an odd thing where overall the DH rule helps the Cardinals, I would say, in this part of the series, more than it helps the Red Sox.

The other thing I'd say is I really do wish they'd find a way to make these games go faster. There was a one-nothing game that lasted almost four hours, which set a record for one-nothing games. A lot of the Boston pitchers just take a lot of time and the hitters step out of the box, and I do think it's hurting the game of baseball.

I mean, I'm not one of these who are saying that football has totally eclipsed baseball. Baseball is doing very well by a lot of measures. Red Sox fans and Cardinal fans are crazy. But if you want to hook the casual kid who's watching in Colorado or Seattle or, you know, Florida, just these slow paced games are not the way to do it. Come on. Let's get on the ball, guys.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mike Pesca, with a preview of Game 1 of the World Series. Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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