World Series ready to get underway

Albert Pujols is surrounded by a crush of media the day before the World Series starts.

Leaf through every publication’s preseason World Series predictions and you’ll find mostly Red Sox-Phillies in their projections. In other words, nobody was ready to go out on a limb and forecast the Cardinals would open the Fall Classic against the Rangers.

Two months ago, the Rangers might not have been such an outlandish pick. While the Red Sox and Yankees were dueling for AL East supremacy, Texas was quietly getting ready to clinch the AL West.

“On November the first we committed ourselves to trying to get back here because we knew we had the potential in the clubhouse to do it,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “A lot of times people say a lot of things that they like to do, and they don’t usually live up to it. But the character inside my clubhouse, they lived up to it. Each and every day they just tried to be the best baseball team on the field that day, and it worked out for us.”

As for the Cardinals, two months ago they were in the midst of losing 10-of-15 games, a stretch that dropped them 10 ½ games behind NL Wild Card-leader Atlanta. Starting with an 8-4 victory over the Pirates on Aug. 25, the Cardinals won 23-of-32 games then knocked out the Phillies, who helped St. Louis clinch a playoff berth, in the playoffs.

“This is in the improbable, incredible, overwhelming,” St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa said after the NLCS. “They’re all special. This one here has its own mark, because coming from that far back is historic I think.”

Texas became the fourth AL team to make consecutive World Series appearances since divisional play began on the strength of a lineup featuring five 20 home run hitters, including Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre. Cruz just concluded one of the greatest individual playoff performances by hitting .364 with six home runs in 13 RBI in the ALCS, while Beltre advanced Texas to the ALCS with three home runs in the ALDS clincher.

The Cardinals advanced with some help from ex-Ranger Cliff Lee. Lee’s departure from Texas to Philadelphia was among the reasons for the Phillies being favorites, but in Game 2 of the NLDS he blew a 4-0 lead and the Cardinals advanced with a 1-0 performance by Chris Carpenter in Game 5.

In the six-game NLCS against the Brewers, the Cardinals slugged their way to an 18th World Series appearance and third pennant under LaRussa. David Freese batted .545 while hitting three home runs and Albert Pujols batted .478 with two home runs.

Starting pitching often sets the tone for World Series champions with last year’s Giants being the most recent example. This series appears to be one that will be decided by the team that can keep its lineup hot.

Position by Position

Catcher

Texas: Mike Napoli. Last winter, Napoli was traded twice in five days, going from Anaheim to Toronto and Texas. Now Ranger fans constantly chant his name and with good reason. He hit 30 home runs in less than 400 at-bats and then hit .316 in the first two rounds, including the go-ahead hit in Game 4 of the ALCS.
St. Louis: Yadier Molina. Met fans still haven’t forgotten his home run in the NLCS five years ago. In 2006, Molina was a .216 hitter, but now Molina brings an even better bat to go along with his standout defense. After hitting .305 during the regular season, Molina batted .333 in the NLCS. Molina also batted over .400 during St. Louis’s World Series victory over Detroit in 2006.
Edge: Texas

First base
Texas: Michael Young/Mitch Moreland. Young will get the start in St. Louis and has moved all over the infield in his decade in Texas. After asking for a trade, Young batted a career high .338 and drove in over 100 runs. He also busted out with five RBI in the nine-run inning in the ALCS clincher.
St. Louis: Albert Pujols. Pujols is a three-time MVP that will hit the free agent market shortly after the World Series ends. Free agency has not fazed him and may have even driven up his price after he batted .419 in the first two rounds. In two previous World Series appearances he batted .267.
Edge: St. Louis

Second base
Texas: Ian Kinsler. Besides being a two-time 30-30 guy, Kinsler gets on base and his career-high 89 walks compensated for a .255 average. Kinsler batted .292 in the ALCS and drove in three runs in the series clincher.
St. Louis: Skip Schumaker/Nick Punto/Ryan Theriot. St. Louis uses three players without much power at second base. Schumaker missed the NLCS with a strained muscle on his right side, but was 6-for-10 in the NLDS. Punto is 3-for-21 in the playoffs, while Theriot is 7-for-20. Only Theriot is a natural right-handed hitter and since Texas will start three lefties, figure on Theriot getting the bulk of time at second.
Edge: Texas

Shortstop
Texas: Elvis Andrus. One of the several benefits to the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade, Andrus has outstanding range despite his 25 errors. He also can do a lot of small-ball-type things. Andrus is hitting .240 in the playoffs but had two hits in the ALCS clincher.
St. Louis: Rafael Furcal. Like Andrus, Furcal was part of the Braves organization and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2000. Furcal batted .255 in 50 games and then hit .204 in the first two rounds.
Edge: Texas

Third base
Texas: Adrian Beltre. When Lee decided to leave Texas, general manager Jon Daniels looked to improve an offense that batted .190 during the World Series. Despite missing time with a hamstring injury, Beltre performed well during the first year of a five-year contract. Beltre batted .359 after the All-Star break and though he cooled off in the playoffs, he hit three home runs in the ALDS clincher.
St. Louis: David Freese. Before busting out in the NLCS, Freese was a third baseman that had two ankle surgeries last year and missed 51 games this year with a hand injury. He drove in four runs in Game 4 of the NLDS before being named the NLCS MVP. Freese is a St. Louis native, who was acquired for Jim Edmonds three years ago.
Edge: Texas

Right field
Texas: Nelson Cruz. Cruz dominated the ALCS when the Tigers threw him mostly inside fastballs. That enabled him to set major league records for home runs and RBI in a postseason series. Besides having a lethal bat, Cruz has a pretty good arm. Just ask Miguel Cabrera.
St. Louis: Lance Berkman. Berkman signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals and then put up numbers like his best Houston years. His .301 average with 31 home runs and 94 RBI earned him a contract extension and NL Comeback Player of the Year honors. Berkman’s range is limited due to being 35, but his bat more than makes up for it.
Edge: Even

Centerfield
Texas: Josh Hamilton. Hamilton is already an AL and ALCS MVP in his comeback from drugs and alcohol. Though he missed six weeks with an arm injury, Hamilton hit 25 home runs and is hitting .293 in the postseason, though he has yet to homer.
St. Louis: Jon Jay. Once Colby Rasmus was dealt to Toronto, centerfield became Jay’s job. Jay batted .297 during the regular season but just .216 in the playoffs.
Edge: Texas

Left field
Texas: David Murphy. Murphy joined the Rangers four years ago in a trade with the Red Sox for Eric Gagne. Though he gets overlooked, Murphy batted .412 in the ALCS and is hitting .391 in the postseason.
St. Louis: Matt Holliday. Holliday batted .294 in the 2007 World Series for the Rockies, but made a key error in the 2009 NLDS in Los Angeles. After being limited due to a finger injury in the series against Philadelphia, Holliday went 5-for-10 in the final two games of the NLCS and batted .435 overall.
Edge: St. Louis

Designated hitter
Texas: Michael Young. Young likely will be the DH for the games in Texas, though the Rangers could improve their outfield defense by using Hamilton there. Napoli might also see some time if Yorvit Torrealba catches.
St. Louis: Lance Berkman. The three games in Texas allow the Cardinals to keep Berkman’s bat in the lineup while upgrading their defense. Allen Craig would replace Berkman in right and that could be a plus especially since he batted .315 against lefties.
Edge: Even

Starting Pitchers
Texas: C.J. Wilson is not as dominant as Lee was, but won 16 games during the regular season. Wilson has an 8.04 ERA in the postseason and gave up three home runs in Game 5 of the ALCS. Colby Lewis will start Game 2 and has pitched better than Wilson. He pitched the series clincher against Tampa Bay and also started Game 3 of the ALCS. Holland was a 16-game winner but struggled in two ALCS starts, allowing seven runs and 11 hits in 7 1/3 innings. Harrison won 14 games and the lefty pitched five innings of Game 4.
St. Louis: Chris Carpenter is among the reasons that St. Louis is still playing. He was 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in September and then pitched a three-hitter to close out the Phillies. Jaime Garcia won 13 games this season, but has a 5.74 ERA postseason ERA and failed to get past five innings in both LCS starts. Kyle Lohse won 14 games in the regular season with a 1.37 ERA in September, but also has struggled this postseason with a 7.45 ERA in two starts. Edwin Jackson was a midseason pickup from the White Sox, but like everyone else not named Carpenter has faltered this postseason.
Edge: Even

Relief Pitching
Texas: Neftali Feliz has been lights-out with a 1.17 ERA and four saves in seven postseason appearances, but the arms leading up to him are pretty good. Midseason acquisitions Mike Adams and Mike Gonzalez have pitched well during the postseason, while Koji Uehara allowed home runs in each of his three postseason appearances. Regular season starter Alexei Ogando also has been dominating with 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings, while Darren Oliver and Scott Feldman have combined to allow one run in 12 2/3 innings.
St. Louis: From a pitching standpoint, this is why St. Louis is here. The Cardinals made nearly 30 pitching changes in the NLCS and the group of Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn and Fernando Salas were effective in getting the game to closer Jason Motte. Motte throws hard and has allowed one hit in eight innings while converting three four-out saves.
Edge: Texas

Prediction: Cardinals in 7


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