The 10 most intriguing matchups of the World Series:
1. The Red Sox vs. National League rules
There will be no designated hitter in the middle three games of this series, in St. Louis, and that will create a minefield of problems for the Red Sox. David Ortiz is the team's best hitter, Mr. October Walkoff, and he's also the team's worst defensive player. He'll play first base in the biggest games of the year, after having played only 34 games at first during the regular season. So any throw in the dirt and any situation in which he must throw the ball is going to be an adventure. Regular first baseman Kevin Millar could move to the outfield, creating even more defensive liability.
And in the late innings, Red Sox manager Terry Francona will have some tough decisions to make. With a one-run lead in the eighth inning, would he pull Ortiz out for Doug Mientkiewicz? What if the game is tied late?
2. The giveaway vs. the takeaway
Boston's season turned when the Red Sox swapped shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and replaced him with Orlando Cabrera, who is a much more adept infielder. And Boston is, in general, a decent defensive team, with perhaps a more aggressive approach to positioning than any club in the majors other than the Atlanta Braves. But the Red Sox starting alignment has its holes -- Manny Ramirez in left field, the arm of center fielder Johnny Damon, the range of right fielder Trot Nixon, the quickness of second baseman Mark Bellhorn, the overall play of Millar (who has, nonetheless, been much better than anyone expected this postseason).
But St. Louis' defense probably will be the most consistent force in this series, an element that will make an impact in every game. Third baseman Scott Rolen is arguably the best to ever play his position, shortstop Edgar Renteria is a Gold Glove shortstop, center fielder Jim Edmonds is the master of the highlight play, and Mike Matheny may be better at blocking balls in the dirt than any other catcher.
The Red Sox won't match the St. Louis defense, which might be the best ever. But they have to avoid giving anything away, either.
3. The St. Louis starters vs. the pitch count
None of the Cardinals' starters are overpowering, blowaway type pitchers, and the Red Sox hitters -- patient, battling through tough at-bats -- could wear them down in a classic water-torture manner, getting into the St. Louis middle relief in the fifth or sixth innings.
The pitchers who gave Boston trouble this year came in two styles: Those who pounded the strike zone and did not allow the Red Sox to work the count (Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber in Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS) or power pitchers who had the ability to hammer hitters inside, particularly Manny Ramirez.
4. Curt Schilling vs. The bunt
Schilling said he was surprised the Yankees didn't try to bunt on him, to force the Red Sox right-hander to move and field his position with his stitched-up ankle. The Cardinals won't make the same mistake -- and it will be interesting to see if Schilling adopts the Nolan Ryan Doctrine for dealing with bunts, perhaps throwing high and inside to Albert Pujols. And Schilling acknowledged that he was hurting in the midst of Game 6; there is no guarantee that he can get through two more starts this October and remain effective.
5. Ray King vs. David Ortiz
Mr. King, meet Mr. Ortiz; Mr. Ortiz, meet Mr. King. They will face each other once per game, in all likelihood, the tough lefty specialist against the tough lefty slugger. Lefties batted .150 with no homers in 113 at-bats against King during the regular season, and with Steve Kline a major question mark, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa must save King for Ortiz, whose average against lefties was 76 points lower during the regular season. Remember, too, that Ortiz has seen very little of lefties in the last few weeks, slamming that walkoff homer off the Angels' Jarrod Washburn and getting some looks at the Yankees' Felix Heredia.
6. The Cardinals vs. American League rules
La Russa has pieced together a roster tailored for the NL, with finely honed role players and athletic pitchers, like Woody Williams and Jason Marquis, who can hit and run. But they do not have a good candidate for a designated hitter; while the Red Sox roll out Ortiz in the four games played in Fenway Park, the Cardinals might counter with John Mabry, who had 13 homers in 240 at-bats during the regular season, or Roger Cedeno, who had 14 extra-base hits and a .375 slugging percentage. A natural advantage for the Cardinals will be squandered.
7. The Red Sox vs. the other guys
Pujols may turn out to be one of the greatest hitters in major-league history, Edmonds is probably going to do some damage -- ditto with Larry Walker -- in the same way that Michael Jordan was always going to score his share of points. What you have to do is limit the supporting cast: You can't let Tony Womack hurt you, or Matheny, and while Reggie Sanders is a good player, he can be pitched to and must be shut down. If those guys find a way on base, the Red Sox will probably be heading for big trouble.
8. Tim Wakefield's knuckler vs. the elements
Jason Varitek will bear witness to this: Wakefield's knuckler in Game 5 of the ALCS Monday was ridiculously good. And if you don't believe Varitek, who couldn't catch the thing, then ask the Yankees, who couldn't hit it. Wakefield starts Game 1 and, presumably, Game 5, and if his knuckler is moving as well again, it doesn't matter how many future or borderline Hall of Famers the Cardinals have in their lineup; no team will consistently have good swings against a good knuckler.
9. The managers vs. their choices
Francona is going to have to try to find some way to navigate through the rough St. Louis lineup. You don't want to have to pitch to Pujols, but working around him means dealing with Edmonds and Rolen. Along the same lines, La Russa may want to approach Ortiz differently than the Yankees did. The Yanks generally pitched to the big slugger and eventually got burned because of it.
Something to remember: the Red Sox have left-handed relief specialist Mike Myers in their bullpen, but Walker is 7-for-12 in his career against Myers, Edmonds is 3-for-11 with six strikeouts. It isn't much better with Boston's other left-hander, Alan Embree -- Walker is 3-for-6, Edmonds 2-for-7 with a home run.
10. The baseball against the calendar
This series is pushing up against November, which means it's probably going to be cold, it's going to be uncomfortable (especially for Pedro Martinez, who often has trouble getting loose in frigid temperatures), and it could be that we'll see the players bundled up in everything short of ski boots.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.