After being written off altogether a little over a month ago, then given little to no chance against the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies, then playing as underdogs to the Milwaukee Brewers, the St. Louis Cardinals now find themselves hosting Game One of the World Series against the Texas Rangers this Wednesday night.
The odds were not good that these two teams would be here. Even before the season, both had to forge ahead after losing the services of their ace pitcher. The Rangers were spurned by Cliff Lee, who went to Philadelphia, while the Cardinals were left with serious doubts after Adam Wainwright fell to an elbow injury days before spring training began. And if that wasn’t enough, both teams had to deal with the potential fallout of clubhouse leaders Michael Young and Albert Pujols going public with their dissatisfaction with the teams front offices.
Still, through 162 games and into playoff time, both teams relied on timely hits, steady power and a deep and efficient bullpen to advance to the final series of 2011.
Combined postseason statistics
In the 11 games against the Phillies and the Brewers, the Cardinals combined to hit .288/.345/.448 in 430 total plate appearances. The Cardinals had some major question marks at the start of the postseason, due to a late-season hand injury to Matt Holliday. But, after pinch-hitting in Game One of the NLDS, Holliday came back, looks healthy and has helped the Cardinals’ 3-4-5 hitters produce a combined .354/.422/.580 in the postseason.
In the 10 games against the Rays and Tigers, the Rangers’ combined offense was .259/.330/.434 in 390 plate appearances. ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz completely disappeared against the Rays (going 1-for-15 with five strikeouts) but more than made up for that against the Tigers by clubbing six home runs in his next 24 plate appearances.
The struggles of both teams’ starting pitchers have been widely discussed. The Rangers are still waiting for the 2011 regular season version of C.J. Wilson to show up. He leads a staff that has posted a 5.34 ERA after both series. A bright spot: In 49.2 innings pitched, Texas’ starters have 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Projected lineups and pitching match-ups
Warning: the following tables have been posted based upon the author’s speculation and/or ignorance. In no way do these reflect or represent the official decisions made by both the St. Louis Cardinals or the Texas Rangers.
|Game One||C.J. Wilson*||Chris Carpenter|
|Game Two||Colby Lewis||Jaime Garcia*|
|Game Three||Matt Harrison*||Kyle Lohse|
|Game Four||Derek Holland*||Edwin Jackson|
(*indicates left-handed pitcher)
Nothing is official as of this writing but it’s probable that the Rangers will go with C.J. Wilson for Game One with Colby Lewis bumped to being the Game Two starter because he’s pitched better on the road this season.
I have Derek Holland and Jackson set to face off in Game Four but that could easily be flipped for the Matt Harrison-Lohse match-up. There is some talk that Jake Westbrook could be added on to the World Series roster. Both manager Tony La Russa and Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan have stressed the importance of countering the Rangers offense in Arlington by having them face more groundball pitchers in Games Three, Four and Five.
This could also force the Cardinals to move Jaime Garcia (54.9 percent career groundball rate) to Game Three starter while Kyle Lohse (41.8 percent career groundball rate) gets bumped up to the second game. Adding Garcia to start Game Three in Texas could also force manager Ron Washington to stretch the lineup a bit more, since Michael Young will probably remain the first baseman with Yorvit Torrealba making an appearance at DH. This will also force David Murphy’s bat out of the game for some time but, defensively, the Rangers will upgrade with Craig Gentry moving to center while Josh Hamilton shifts over to left field.
|1||Ian Kinsler||2B||SS||Rafael Furcal**||1|
|2||Elvis Andrus||SS||CF||Jon Jay*||2|
|3||Josh Hamilton*||CF||1B||Albert Pujols||3|
|4||Michael Young||DH/1B||RF/DH||Lance Berkman**||4|
|5||Adrian Beltre||3B||LF||Matt Holliday||5|
|6||Mike Napoli||C||3B||David Freese||6|
|7||Nelson Cruz||RF||RF(@ AL)||Allen Craig||7|
|8||David Murphy*||LF||C||Yadier Molina||8|
|9a||Mitch Moreland*||1B (@ AL)||2B||Nick Punto**||9a|
(*indicates left-handed hitter; **indicates switch-hitter)
Assorted keys to success
The Rangers’ hitters could benefit from the Cardinals’ lack of strikeouts, especially from their starting pitchers. If the Rangers can work to make consistent contact, things could move in a positive direction for their offense.
For the Cardinals, Lance Berkman will need to get hot, especially against left-handed pitching. Berkman hasn’t shown much power since Game One of the NLDS, but he has made consistent contact. Prior to this season Berkman didn’t look like a viable option as a right-handed hitter (in 2009-10 he hit a combined .270 wOBA against lefties). This season, he seemed to make the proper adjustments, posting a .353 wOBA and a 126 wRC+ against southpaws. With three lefties in the Rangers rotation, Berkman looks to be doing a lot of hitting from the right side of the plate during this series.
The DH could bring an advantage to the Cardinals since it should allow Allen Craig a few more plate appearances. This will also help the Cardinals’ defensive scheme since it’ll be expected that Berkman will DH in Texas while allowing Craig to play in right field.
The 3-4-5 hitters for the Rangers have had their ups and downs during this postseason. Josh Hamilton has shown some consistency at the plate but the combined 16 strikeouts between Young and Adrian Beltre against the Tigers could become problematic if adjustments aren’t made (although it should be noted that they combined for only three strikeouts in the ALDS.
Finally, this should prove, once again, to be a battle of the bullpens. Both teams are incredibly deep in this department and with each team having four or five capable set-up men as a bridge, things could come down to whoever has a bad game or makes a mistake.