World Series 2013: Xander Bogaerts, Michael Wacha prove the future is now

Jim Rogash

The core of the World Series teams might be made up of veterans, but you can see the shape of the next great squads forming as well.

Looking at the rosters and the 2013 numbers for the Red Sox and Cardinals -- 2013's league representatives in the World Series -- paints a picture of how these clubs got here and who is responsible. On the Cardinals, it was just who was expected back on Opening Day, with Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran, and Matt Holliday powering the lineup with the help of relative newbie Matt Carpenter. The 31-year-old Adam Wainwright, two years removed from Tommy John surgery as 2013 kicked off, led the rotation in ERA, innings, starts, and strikeouts. On the Red Sox, it was the contributions of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz -- you knew who had the potential to be productive Red Sox, and they delivered on that promise.

There is more to both rosters than the familiar faces, however, and they are here for more than just the ride. The next wave of both the Cardinals and the Red Sox has begun to trickle in, and will serve as a reminder that these two clubs will likely continue to be successful models of excellence through the rest of this decade. Brandon Workman and Felix Doubront are in the Red Sox bullpen for now, but both could be significant contributors in the rotation in the future. Will Middlebrooks, similarly, is riding the bench due to the current cramped roster construction, but could be an important part of the lineup going forward, and even in the right match-ups in this series. On the Cardinals side, you've got NL Rookie of the Year contender Shelby Miller biding his own time in the bullpen, along with 23-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal, and 21-year-old reliever-for-now Carlos Martinez -- all of these players have a role to play now in order to help their respective clubs to victory, even if they aren't center stage.

There are two rookies in particular who stand out, however, and are absolutely vital to their teams' success: For the Red Sox, top prospect Xander Bogaerts, and for the Cardinals, emergency replacement turned key postseason contributor Michael Wacha. Bogaerts earned a call-up prior to September in order to keep him eligible for the postseason, but rarely played in September despite his apparent talent: when the Red Sox needed a boost in their American League Championship Series lineup, though, Bogaerts got the call for Games 5 and 6, and delivered. Wacha, similarly, wasn't initially handed a job, but circumstances dictated a rotation spot for the promising young arm, and a strong finish to the regular season earned him a playoff start in the NLDS over fellow rookie Shelby Miller, who had spent the entire year with the Cardinals successfully. Wacha would go on to hold the Dodgers scoreless in each of his two NLCS starts, besting the National League's top hurler, Clayton Kershaw, on both occasions, earning himself series MVP honors.

20131018_jla_ac1_142Photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

There will be at least one game where 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts steps in to face 21-year-old Michael Wacha on baseball's greatest stage. Wacha has started just nine regular season games in the majors while appearing in 15, throwing 64-2/3 innings. Bogaerts, similarly, has appeared in 18 games, logged 50 plate appearances, and has 57-1/3 innings in the field in the bigs. Wacha dominated opponents with a 2.78 ERA, a strikeout per inning, and a near no-hitter before the playoffs, and he's been even better in October, with one run allowed in 21 innings, just eight hits given up, and 5.5 times more punch outs than free passes. Bogaerts wasn't quite as successful in his short time in the regular season, but also didn't get many chances. As is, .250/.320/.364 from a 20-year-old in his first taste of big-league life is certainly holding his own, and the .500/.727/1.000 he's batting in his six playoff games is amazing even in a minuscule sample.

Wacha thrived while facing a pitcher you would be fair in saying he had no right defeating, and he did it twice, first putting the Cardinals further ahead against the Dodgers, and the second time clinching the NL pennant for his team. Bogaerts, similarly, was called upon to pinch-hit in Game 4 of the ALDS, and drew a walk that led to a game-tying run, looking like an old pro in the process. He followed that up with another walk that led to an insurance run, and the Sox clinched. In the ALCS, Bogaerts started Game 5 at third place in lieu of the slumping Middlebrooks, becoming the youngest Red Sox player ever to start a game, besting a record previously held by some guy named Babe Ruth. All Bogaerts did was go 1-for-3 with a walk and a double, scoring a run in a game the Sox won 4-3. In Game 6, Bogaerts started again, with similar results: he drew a pair of walks, hit a key double, and scored two runs in the process en route to a 5-2 Red Sox victory and the American League pennant.

The key roles these two are playing are impressive for any age, never mind for two who haven't even truly found themselves or their careers yet. Wacha vs. Bogaerts is the kind of match-up prospect mavens and ravenous fans, just months ago, believed would occur years down the road, when they're both grizzled veterans at the core of championship-caliber clubs. They're a little more baby faced and inexperienced than that, but if no one told you as much, you would never know it from their performance, and now we get to see these two forces of youthful nature face off on baseball's greatest stage.

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