Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The 107th World Series

US Presswire photo
Busch Stadium hosts Game 1 of the Fall Classic tonight.
This World Series matchup -- Texas vs. St. Louis -- is being billed as a huge surprise, but maybe it's not as big a shocker as we want to believe.

After all, the Rangers were the defending American League champs. And though they lost Cliff Lee over the winter, we knew they had a really talented roster and the potential to repeat. And though the Cardinals lost co-ace Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery back in spring training, we knew this team still had the game's greatest player in Albert Pujols, another big-time slugger in Matt Holliday, another ace in Chris Carpenter and one of the best managers this sport has ever known in Tony La Russa.

The point here isn't that we should have picked someone other than the Phillies or Yankees, but rather that the two teams that did reach the Fall Classic actually deserve to be here. Whichever club emerges triumphant over the next week, it won't be a fluke.

Which club will that be? Let's break down the series and make a prediction. Also, make sure to submit your pick in the poll to the right of the screen. Based on the submissions so far, looks like this is going to be a close one...


Game 1 -- Tonight, 8:05 p.m., Texas (Wilson) at St. Louis (Carpenter)
Game 2 -- Tomorrow, 8:05 p.m., Texas (Lewis) at St. Louis (Garcia)
Game 3 -- Saturday, 8:05 p.m., St. Louis (Lohse) at Texas (Holland)
Game 4 -- Sunday, 8:05 p.m., St. Louis (Jackson) at Texas (Harrison)
Game 5* -- Monday, 8:05 p.m., St. Louis at Texas
Game 6* -- Oct. 26, 8:05 p.m., Texas at St. Louis
Game 7* -- Oct. 27, 8:05 p.m., Texas at St. Louis
* - if necessary

They couldn't in either League Championship Series, but somehow overcame the lack of good starting pitching with superb relief work. While the bullpen is a strength for both the Cardinals and Rangers, those guys have got to be feeling overtaxed at this point. And if they aren't already, they will be once they've played five World Series games in six days. So it's imperative that one of these starters put forth a good outing, maybe even a great one. Chris Carpenter seems the most likely candidate to do that, but don't give up on C.J. Wilson just yet. The Rangers' No. 1 starter may have a gem in him tonight.

Will it be Albert Pujols, the soon-to-be free agent who could raise his stock even higher (if that's possible at this point)? Or will the Rangers not let the big guy beat them, pitch around him and instead take their chances with Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman? Will Josh Hamilton shake off his postseason rust and slug his first home run of the month? The darling of last year's October run, Hamilton has been mostly quiet so far during these playoffs. He's been battling a sore groin, which hasn't helped, but he's still a dangerous threat who could break out at any point.

We saw David Freese do it for the Cardinals in the NLCS, and we saw Nelson Cruz explode for the Rangers in the ALCS (not that Cruz really constitutes a "role" player). Who will be the surprise hero of this series? Perhaps Yadier Molina, who often seems to get overlooked in the St. Louis lineup. Or maybe Adrian Beltre, who lifted Texas in the ALDS with his three-homer game but was silenced by the Tigers in the ALCS.

Here's a remarkable stat: Tony La Russa is about to manage a World Series in four different decades. Seriously. He led the Athletics to three straight series from 1988-90 and now the Cardinals in 2004, 2006 and 2011. Pretty incredible. La Russa's managerial mastery is no secret, and he's been brilliant in his postseason. But the guy always seems to be on the brink of over-thinking the situation by one move too many. La Russa needs to trust the instincts he's honed over four decades, but he can't let himself over-manage. Ron Washington, meanwhile, doesn't get enough credit for his managerial style. Yes, he had a bad World Series last year against the Giants. But he's come back strong this month, especially when it's come to utilizing his very deep bullpen.

These really do appear to be two evenly matched teams. Each have reached this point playing a similar brand of baseball, eschewing a century of common sense that has always said pitching wins championships. Can one of these two actually win a World Series via offense and bullpen domination? Perhaps, but it sure seems unlikely that can happen. Somebody needs to come up with a big-time start. The obvious choice is Chris Carpenter, but quietly there's concern in St. Louis about the state of his elbow. C.J. Wilson, meanwhile, wants to prove his suspect postseason so far has been a fluke and that he can come up big in a big moment (this wouldn't be a bad time for the pending free agent to do just that). If the Rangers can get a quality start out of Wilson and one of the other members of their rotation, they've got the lineup depth and bullpen depth to outlast the Cardinals in this series. As great a story as St. Louis has authored over the last two months, this looks like a tired bunch that might not be able to hold on much longer.
PREDICTION: Rangers in 6


natsfan1a said...

I don't do predictions, but I voted for STL because I'm going to keep rooting for them. I grew accustomed to rooting for the Rays against Texas, so rooting against them this year came naturally to me. At least they seem to have toned down that claw/antler nonsense. (Also, that "little Ron Washington kid" still kinda creeps me out. :-))

Go, Cards! Go, sQurrel!!

Eugene in Oregon said...

I'll root for the Cardinals, but I objectively believe Mark Z. has called it correctly: Rangers in six -- or maybe even five if their pitchers can avoid giving away too many first inning runs. I'd love to proved wrong, but the Rangers just have too much offensive depth (even if they have to let their pitchers bat in St. Louis) in a post-season where the 'year of the pitcher (redux)' has suddenly become the 'October of the early three-run homer.' And while I hate to fill Cassandra's role, I fear (and expect) that the Cardinals bullpen will simply implode at some point given the way LaRussa is using them (not that he's had much choice).

All of that said, the Cards do have home field advantage (perhaps they'll give Clippard a fractional WS share if they win? maybe not a championship ring, but at least a tiny cardinal charm for his charm bracelet?) and that may still count for something.

Steve M. said...

I love it, Mark Z. and Nolan Ryan in agreement: Rangers in 6.

Can CJ Wilson finally step up on the biggest stage? So far, he hasn't shown much and even if he doesn't show much the irony is he will still be the prized Gem in Free Agency if CC stays with the Yankees.

Legends are made in October!

N. Cognito said...

Pulling for Senators II - the team I rooted for as a kid. In the WS, I also always root for the team that has never won it or won it less recently.
I've never forgiven Bob Short (never will), but I can't hold his failings as a human being against this team.
If the Senators II do win and their fans become insufferable (see Red Sox fans, 2004-present), I'll root against them from then on.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Got to go for the Cardinals, as much as I don't like Tony LaRussa. I have to root for the Florida based Spring Training team over those desert people. Plus it's impossible to side with "W" on anything.

MicheleS said...

I lived in TX for years, know many Rangers Fans and have a sister that is a Rangers season ticket holder. And growing up a Cubs fan, there is NO WAY I am rooting for the Cards! Plus I am tired of LaRussa.

Go Rangers!!

NatinBeantown said...

I'm almost always an NL guy. But I really, really want the Rangers Revolution to succeed and overthrow the modern conventions of pitcher handling. With continued success (again among the leaders in team ERA this year), the whole league will follow suit. Nolan Ryan will have single-handedly reformed pitching in the big leagues.

Since teams have started treating them like they're made of glass, injuries have only gotten worse. It warms my heart to see Ranger pitchers out there long-tossing the day after throwing 120 pitches.

Go Rangers! Boo pitch counts!

Slidell said...

I have watched more than one game this year with a starter blazing his way through the lineup, get pulled after the 7th solely because his pitch count had gone over the "magic number" 100, then see his relief blow the lead and the game.

NatinBeantown said...

In other news, it was only a matter of time before Mr. Harper got things going in the AFL. Mark reported Monday that "He went hitless in his first 15 at-bats with the Scottsdale Scorpions and enters this week sporting a .111 average (3-for-27) with three RBI, two walks and five strikeouts."

In the last 4 games, Harper's gone 6-for-16 with 2 doubles and 5 RBI, for a tidy .375BA/.444OBP. That lifts his overall average to the Mendoza line in a hurry. Last night he went 3-for-4 with 2 BB.

Mark and many others were well aware of the slow-start tendencies and have expected a breakout at some point. I will definitely enjoy the national columnists who haven't paid attention who try to call Harper a bust when he has a slow start in his MLB debut, only to watch him go off on NL pitching for the following few months.

natsfan1a said...

Re. Harper: not to take eyes away from the Insider, which remains my top choice for all things Nats, but Amanda Comak of the Times' Nationals Watch is currently featuring eyewitness accounts from the AFL.

Wally said...

Well, I guess that I'll root for Texas because of how much I dislike TLR. Otherwise I would be rooting for STL.

Here is some Rendon news from a BA chat currently going on:

@Jaypers413 (IL): Any recent word on whether or not Rendon will get to see any action in the AFL?

John Manuel: Sounds like the Nationals expect to assign Rendon to the AFL sooner rather than later but wanted to make sure he was 100 percent.

baseballswami said...

Slidell - I would have to disagree with you. I think the rant of the season has gotten to be pitch counts and pitchers being pulled at 100 -- what I see happening is pitchers being pulled ( nats and other teams) at the least sign of runners getting on by walk or hit and not being allowed to get out of their own jam -- and I mostly see pitchers being pulled because offense has been low and teams are hoping that a pinch hitter will get on base. I don't think I have seen a pitcher pulled that is pitching well and whose team has a comfortable lead.

Jim Hoy said...

I'm trying to follow Tom Boswell's lead and forgive the Rangers for leaving us so long ago. It helps that none of these players were born then, and no one who makes any decisions was with the team 40 years ago.

Also, I AM GOING TO GAME 3. I live in Texas, and bought a ticket off of StubHub. So... my first World Series. Actually, I don't care about the Rangers OR the Cardinals, but when in Rome...

Just to repeat: I AM GOING TO GAME 3!!!

Steve M. said...

Wally, that is interesting stuff on Rendon. I thought we wouldn't see him at all in the AFL and would have to wait until Spring Training.

If he makes it to Scottsdale, their regular season ends on November 17th and there are 25 games remaining on the schedule from now until 11/17.

Steve M. said...

Jim Hoy, congrats and give us some in-game posts from Texas!

Steve M. said...

slidell/baseballswami, that's how baseball has changed over the years with pitcher management. With starters capping at a max of 33 starts and 200 to 240 innings, complete games are a rarity.

When a pitcher throws a complete game, a lot of times his next start is a disaster.

In that illustration I chimed in on about Lolich vs. Verlander, Lolich went 4 straight seasons pitching over 300 innings in a 4 man rotation and went as high as 360 innings. He also went to the post-season.

This year in this post-season, other than Halladay, the pitchers looked like they are tired and the Managers are strategizing with their bullpens.

The Braves made it into an art form this year of getting their starters into the 6th inning and then the bullpens would take over and look what happened, they got tired bullpen arms in mid-September.

It will be interesting to see what Carpenter can do. He is over 254 innings in 2011 right now before he throws a pitch tonight. In 2005, Carpenter pitched 262 full innings.

CJ Wilson is at his career high with over 238 full innings before he throws a pitch tonight and his post-season this year has not been Ace. 14 ER in 17 2/3 innings so far.

Joe Seamhead said...

I'm hoping for it to be the second Alamo. To heck with Texas! They stole our team. I haven't forgotten, nor forgiven.

Scooter said...

Nice job, Jim Hoy, and congratulations to you! Clearly, you are as intelligent as you are handsome and powerful.

Hey, I seem to have lost your email address. Drop me a line, okay? We'll catch up! You busy Saturday?

Steve M. said...

Mark, can we do some Fall cleaning on the Blogroll on the left and add NatsNQ and Tatusko's blog and take out some that don't update anymore.

Are there any Nats Players that regularly blog out there beside Tatusko in AAA?

Wally said...

Steve M - I agree that the Rendon comment was a surprise, I thought that the AFL was out for him. We'll see if Manuel has it right, but it seems inconsistent with the reports that we have had on him.

BA also rated the Nats with the #1 draft this year. I don't take those rankings very seriously (and this one appears heavily influenced by their love of Rendon, especially), but it should help add to the positive buzz in the offseason.

Mark, if you do update the blogroll on the left, I would vote for Nationals Baseball by Harper.

Section 222 said...

I'll be rooting for the Cards (somewhat halfheartedly), but i think the Ranger will win. I'll guess (and hope) that it will take 7 games to reflect the LaRussa advantage.

Haven't seen any discussion of who the Cards will use to DH in Arlington, or who on the Rangers will ride the bench when the games are in St. Louis. Is it obvious, or are these tough and potentially very significant decisions for the respective managers? I've always thought that AL teams have an advantage in their own parks because their DH is often one of their best hitters, while the NL teams have to start someone who is usually a reserve player.

Scooter said...

222, I would assume that Michael Young will play first for Texas, and I think that pushes Moreland -- who often hit 9th -- to the bench.

As to the Cards, I think Berkman is their ugliest defender. I don't know enough about their outfielders to say who would get in in his place. Matt Holliday could also DH, I think, because I'm sure some body part of his will be sore -- seriously, what is up with that poor guy this year? He can't buy a break.

Another_Sam said...

Natsjack -- well said. I'm with you.

Just wonderin' said...

Just to mess with Texas' heads, don't you think LaRussa might let his pitchers DH for themselves AND also bat them 8th in the order?

jd said...

It's amazing how little I care about the WS. I became satisfied when: Boston, Atlanta, Philly and the Yankees all went down in quick succession. Texas is the better team but my gut feeling is that LaRussa will out manage Washington big time. Will that be enough to win? I don't know.

Steve M.

'The Braves made it into an art form this year of getting their starters into the 6th inning and then the bullpens would take over and look what happened, they got tired bullpen arms in mid-September.'

I made a comment mid summer that I thought Fredi was managing in a very mechanical way; like he discovered something magical that was working and he wasn't changing the script no matter what. I thought this may bite him in the ass eventually and I'm afraid I was right.

I like managers that don't put tags on pitchers and understand that you can maximize your win probability by using the best pitchers in the proper circumstances (Tony Larusa).

baseballswami said...

I don't usually like LaRussa but one thing I do like is that everyone is part of the team and does what they are asked to do.I like it that everyone in the bullpen is expected to be ready for any situation and just suck it up. He also does not play people because he likes them and is loyal to them. I think the Brewers manager made a mistake in going with Marcum who had clearly been bad for a while, just because he was good in the regular season. Last year the Giants actually left a couple of their popular guys off their post-season roster and ended up winning. I guess it's just not the time to lead with your heart, but be a little more calculating.

Nats Fan in Annandale said...

Mark, may I suggest Matt Antonelli's blog, IF the Nats resign him.

JaneB said...

Lucky Jim Hoy!

Go Cards. The National League is The One True League.

Dawn said...

Don't know if it's too late to throw in my two cents, but here goes; the Texas Rangers finally should win their first World Series in franchise history, they are due.
Hard to count out a LaRussa managed club though, pesky birds those Cardinals.

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