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Two best in World Series? A rarity lately, till Cardinals-Red Sox

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

BOSTON -- The best team in the National League is headed to the World Series. The best team in the American League is going, too.

There's no need to pretend this year. There's no need to remind anyone that in a short series, anything can happen.

That's all still true, but in the short series that just finished, the team that won was the same team that was the best over 162 games.

The Cardinals had the best record in the National League this year. The Red Sox had the best record in the American League.

Now they meet.

Having the best team in each league emerge from the playoffs doesn't guarantee a great World Series. In fact, the last time it happened was in 1999, and the result was a hardly-memorable four-game Yankee sweep of the Braves.

But yes, the last time it happened was in 1999. It really is that unusual.

In nearly two decades since baseball added wild-card teams to the October menu in 1995, the best team in the National League -- the team that won the most games over 162 games -- has made it to the World Series just five times (with this year's Cardinals the fifth one). The best team in the American League has made it eight times (the Red Soxare the eighth).

It's been 14 years since the World Series matched the two teams with their league's best regular-season records. In fact, that's only happened twice in 18 postseasons in the wild-card era -- in 1995, with the Braves and Indians, and in 1999, with the Yankees and Braves.

There's nothing wrong with this. Playoffs in all sports aren't designed to determine the best team. They're simply designed to determine a champion (not the same thing), and to provide some excitement along the way.

Plenty of World Series over the last two decades have been more exciting than the 1995 and 1999 editions. Plenty of worthy champions have been crowned.

Still, it feels like something special when a team that proved the best over a long season ends up playing for the title. It feels doubly special if the two teams that proved themselves over 162 games get there.

As Scott Miller wrote after the Cardinals' 9-0 win over the Dodgers Friday night, "The best team in the National League is going to the World Series, and it's just that simple."

As I wrote after the Red Sox's 5-2 win over the Tigers Saturday night, "The Red Sox were the AL's best team all year, and they were the best team this week."

The matchup is fascinating. Both teams have big stars, young (Xander Bogaerts and Michael Wacha) and old (David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran). Both teams have productive farm systems and committed fan bases.

Both teams found closers as the year went on, and while Koji Uehara was so good that he became the ALCS MVP, the Cardinals 100 mph bullpen that leads up to Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth is deeper and more dependable.

Both teams feel like they're having a special season. But it's not the type of feeling that just got going in September or October. These teams have been great all year.

The 2013 Cardinals are the first NL team since the 2004 Cardinals to own the best record over 162 games and also win the pennant. The best regular-season team has advanced more often in the American League, but not since the 2009 Yankees.

The Cardinals are in. The Red Sox are, too.

The best in the NL. The best in the AL.

Enjoy it. History tells us this doesn't happen often.

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