The 109th World Series kicks off Wednesday night in Fenway Park between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. On the surface, this pairing appears to be the most predictable matchup for the Fall Classic. Instead of those underdog Pittsburgh Pirates or scrappy Oakland Athletics shocking the baseball world, the two teams with the best records in their respective leagues are left competing to become World Champions.

While we all love a good long-shot to cheer for, this Cardinals-Red Sox matchup still offers a number of amazing storylines. Both of these storied franchises have overcome adversity in recent seasons and managed to build pennant winners.

Travel back to Dec. 8, 2011. After spending the first 11 years of his career in St. Louis, three-time National League MVP Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. His departure sent shockwaves through not only St. Louis, but the baseball world. And for many, it’s still strange seeing Pujols in an Angels uniform after years of watching him in Cardinal red.

Under Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Cardinals were awarded a compensation pick in the 2012 first-year player draft. With that pick, St. Louis selected Texas A&M righty Michael Wacha.

Fast forward to 2013, and after a stellar performance in the postseason, Wacha has become a household name. The rookie was named the 2013 NLCS MVP after shutting out the Dodgers in 6 2/3 innings in Game 2 and seven innings in Game 6. The 22-year-old, 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three postseason starts, is scheduled to pitch Game 2 at Fenway Park Thursday night.

“Obviously, the decisions that are made are never easy,” GM John Mozeliak told Casey Stern and Jim Bowden on an NLCS postgame show. “You sometimes want to see things work out, but they don’t. But having said that, we were opportunistic. We took what we had and made it work. When you think about all those changes that happened after ’11, losing our manager, losing our pitching coach, but then to still come in here and be where we are today, it’s just a tremendous feeling.”

That same 2011 is a season that many choose to forget in Boston. During the previous offseason, the Red Sox signed star outfielder Carl Crawford and acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres. The season started with lofty expectations, so much so that the Boston Herald’s front page on Opening Day featured both Crawford and Gonzalez with the headline “Best Team Ever!

Things didn’t go according to plan. The Red Sox entered September with a nine-game lead in the American League East, but finished the month 7-20, and became the first team in MLB history to miss the postseason after leading the division by that many games heading into the final month. The historic collapse cost skipper Terry Francona, who won World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, his job, and general manager Theo Epstein left Boston to become the Chicago Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations.

Boston hired Bobby Valentine to fill the manager vacancy in 2012, but had similar results. So the team traded away beloved third baseman Kevin Youkilis and orchestrated a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers that sent Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to L.A. for Ivan DeJesus, James Loney, Allen Webster and nearly $220 million in salary relief. Valentine was relieved of his duties as manager after one year. In his place, former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was hired, and the Sox brought on Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and reliever Koji Uehara.

The franchise still centers around second baseman Dustin Pedroia and DH David Ortiz, but Napoli contributed by hitting .300/.333/.700 with a pair of homers in the ALCS. Victorino followed a season in which he hit .245 with a breakout year in Boston — and also belted that go-ahead grand slam in Game 6 against the Tigers. And what can you say about Uehara? One of the best relief pitchers in baseball this season, the Sox closer, pitched to a 0.57 WHIP in 74 1/3 innings, a record for a pitcher with 50 or more innings. His dominance in the ALCS (6 IP, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K) also earned him MVP honors.

“We were just trying to put together the best team that we could and try to build something that was more emblematic of what the Red Sox were all about,” GM Ben Cherington told Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on an ALCS postgame show. “We have a remarkable group of people in this clubhouse.”

An underdog story? Not so much. But looking back at recent history, who can say they expected this year’s World Series matchup.

MLB Network Radio will have comprehensive coverage of the World Series with pregame shows three hours before first pitch and analysis after the final out.

Throughout the World Series, you can get the live play-by-play of both clubs, plus the National broadcast:

  • Cardinals call on MLB Network Radio, Sirius channel 209 and XM channel 89
  • Red Sox call on Mad Dog Sports Radio, SiriusXM channel 86
  • National call on ESPN Radio, SiriuXM channel 84

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