2011 World Series Preview: Texas Rangers Vs. St. Louis CardinalsAndrew Perna. 19th October, 2011 - 10:55 am
It was just a few weeks ago that the St. Louis Cardinals needed a win and a loss by the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the regular season just to sneak into the postseason. Now, they have home-field advantage in the World Series against the Texas Rangers, who ran away with the AL West title.
I have not exactly been superb with my predictions this October (3-3) and forecasting the World Series is often the trickiest of baseball assignments. Typically, the teams have rosters that are constructed rather differently as they employ dissimilar styles of play.
However, in this case the Cardinals are built in many ways like an American League club, with an above-average offense and few stolen bases, but the typical penchant for sacrifice hits.
The Rangers and Cardinals did not play this season and they could not be more different in terms of their histories. St. Louis has 10 World Series titles in their trophy case, while Texas has yet to win one and only made its first Fall Classic appearance twelve months ago.
Texas has an offense that looks much more dangerous on paper, but they were not that much better than St. Louis over the course of the 2011 season.
The Rangers had an OPS of .800, second to only the Boston Red Sox, and not too much better than the Cardinals (.766). St. Louis had the highest OPS of all National League teams and they did so with a high batting average and patience at the plate.
St. Louis had 162 home runs, or one per game, while Texas clubbed 210 in the regular season and has hit long balls at almost exactly the same rate in the playoffs. The Rangers have hit 13 home runs in 10 games, including six by Nelson Cruz and three by Adrian Beltre.
Aside from the homers, the Cardinals have actually hit better than the Rangers in the postseason in terms of every percentage. They have also suddenly become a threat on the bases, stealing seven bags in 11 postseason games. Tony La Russa and his club stole a total of 57 bases over the entire season.
In the regular season, Texas averaged more runs per game (5.3 to 4.7), but the gap has been reversed in the playoffs with St. Louis having the edge (5.6 to 5.5).
The crazy thing about the length of the regular season and then the open season we have seen in the playoffs as of late is that it has been more important to perform above-and-beyond in October than to do so consistently over a 162-game season.
It makes sense, but it is still mind-boggling in a way. We will see more stories like this one in the future with the Wild Card field increasing. The benefits of winning your division are dwindling.
Back to the offensive matchups -- the key to the series may be a single pitch. The Tigers threw a steady diet of inside fastballs to Cruz in the ALCS and he responded by clubbing a record number of home runs. He may be the biggest concern for the Cardinals, but he hits seventh for the Rangers.
Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Beltre are all capable of getting red-hot and hurting the Cardinals in a major way.
St. Louis has a nice one-two-three punch of Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, but the hitters that come before and after do not immediately instill fear in opposing pitchers.
If the Cardinals are going to win their eleventh World Series, guys like Rafael Furcal, NLCS MVP David Freese and Yadier Molina are going to have to step up and help match the firepower and depth of the Rangers.
The Cardinals (3.74) had a slightly lower ERA than the Rangers (3.79) in the regular season, but Texas got more innings from their starters, struck out more batters and walked fewer men.
The numbers have not been much different in the playoffs, with Texas (4.11) posting a lower ERA than St. Louis (4.18). Opposing hitters are hitting .241 against the two teams, while the Rangers have more strikeouts and the Cardinals have issued fewer walks.
Baseball is all about matchups, though, and there is a lack of data between these two clubs. Strangely enough, Cardinals right-hander Edwin Jackson, who I criticized in my NLCS preview, is the one starter with an appearance against the Rangers this season.
Pitching for the White Sox, Jackson lasted 5 1/3 innings against Texas. Suffering the loss, Jackson allowed 11 hits, four earned runs and walked three batters against six strikeouts. The Rangers hit .407 against him on May 16.
Unfortunately for Ron Washington and Co., we will likely only see Jackson once in this series.
With a few days off and the decision of La Russa not to start Chris Carpenter again late against the Milwaukee Brewers, both teams have been able to line up their rotations for the biggest series of the season.
We will see C.J. Wilson/Carpenter in Game 1, Colby Lewis/Jaime Garcia in the second game and then Kyle Lohse and Jackson in the third and fourth games for the Cardinals. The Rangers have yet to firm up exactly who will start in which game after the first two contests, but we will see some combination of Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.
Relievers played a huge role in the NLCS, making St. Louis comfortable with their bullpen heading into the World Series.
The Cardinals were not supposed to qualify for the playoffs, while the Rangers have been primed for October since mid-July. As true as that is, is means absolutely nothing with the World Series upon us.
Texas is the better team on paper, but St. Louis has beaten better teams twice (Philadelphia and Milwaukee) already this month. There is an additional fold for the Cardinals at this point though, with Pujols perhaps playing in his final handful of games with the only franchise he has known (win-or-lose).
We have seen many a series end epically this postseason with Alex Rodriguez striking out swinging against the Tigers and Ryan Howard grounding out and crumpling to the ground with an Achilles injury against the Cardinals.
It would be fitting if Pujols somehow played into the final out of this series -- whether it be via a title-winning hit or run scored, game-ending out made or even the final putout at first base.
Unfortunately, I just do not see that happening happily for The Machine and St. Louis.
Rangers in Six
The Rangers will win their first-ever World Series with Michael Young, who was mentioned in countless trade rumors this spring, taking home MVP honors.
There will be a bittersweet feeling for Young though, as the last two World Series MVPs (Edgar Renteria and Hideki Matsui) changed teams after lifting the hardware.