BOSTON — They hit better than the Rays. Their bullpen is better than the Tigers. And they are not just going to let you steal any base you want.

The St. Louis Cardinals arrived Tuesday at Fenway Park, looking confident and ready to take on the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, which begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Boston, which beat both the Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers with a game to spare, is facing a formidable foe.

This is a team that won the World Series in 2011, came a game short of reaching the 2012 World Series and is back in 2013.

“We reloaded,” said Allen Craig, one of the Cardinals’ sluggers. He spoke specifically about the young pitching and the addition of outfielder Carlos Beltran.

“Bringing in Carlos is probably the biggest factor. We lost Albert (Pujols to free agency) and Carlos stepped in. He’s been a huge boost to our team.”

Boston also brought in new players who boosted the club.

And here the teams are, both with league-best 97 wins.

Jon Lester will start for Boston on Wednesday, Adam Wainwright for St. Louis.

Can the Red Sox win a third title in 10 years?

Sure. Here’s how:

Leading off. When Jacoby Ellsbury gets on base, good things happen. He has 10 runs in 10 games this postseason.

Conversely, St. Louis leadoff batter Matt Carpenter led the majors with 126 runs, recording a .392 on-base percentage. The Cardinals are good at knocking in runners. The best defense against that is keeping the Cardinals off the base.

  Hit a homer. No better offensive strategy than to belt one out of the park. Three of Boston’s four wins in the ALCS came directly or indirectly from homers (by David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino).

Conversely, St. Louis features six players with 11 home runs or better, paced by Beltran (24) and Matt Holiday (22).

  The bridge to Koji. In an ideal game for Boston, the starter would go seven innings. Then lefty Craig Breslow and right-hander Junichi Tazawa could match up in the eighth and Koji Uehara close out in the ninth.

But in Boston’s last three playoff games, the starters have gone three, 51/3 and five innings. Right-hander Brandon Workman has worked well as the fourth reliever but there’s not a lot of confidence after that.

Conversely, St. Louis has a young, fastball-firing bullpen paced by setup man Carlos Martinez and closer Trevor Rosenthal.

  Another Lackey masterpiece. When the Tigers threw ace Justin Verlander at the Red Sox, Boston countered with John Lackey, who shut out Detroit. Now Lackey pitches Game 2 against the Cardinals and their young gun, Michael Wacha (1.23 ERA in three postseason starts). If Wacha handcuffs the Red Sox, they will need Lackey to do the same to St. Louis.

Grind at-bats. Both teams like to see a lot of pitches. Boston can be a master at it, driving a pitcher out of the game. The more relievers the Red Sox see, the better their chances. The Cardinals are thinking the same thing.

Turn two. Stephen Drew and Dustin Pedroia can be lethal with their double-play turning. St. Louis is adequate in the field. Boston has the edge.

Wise baserunning. The Red Sox, fourth in the majors in stolen bases, aren’t going to run wild on St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. But hit-and-runs, first-to-third on singles and a lot of little things may make a difference. The Cardinals ranked 29th in stolen bases.

Pinch hit. Boston has some players ready to go off the bench. The Red Sox ranked seventh in pinch-hit average (.244). St. Louis was 23rd (.202).

Adjust. These teams know little about each other. They will be feeling each other out from the first pitch.

“This game is about making adjustments and adapting,” St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny said. “The good players do it quickly. The great ones do it even quicker.”

And one great team will win four games in this series.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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