Rangers-Cards: Let's get it on
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Amazingly enough the 107th World Series will still get underway on Wednesday in St. Louis even though the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies won't be involved.
Instead it will be the business as usual Texas Rangers taking on the never- say-die St. Louis Cardinals in what may be the least anticipated Fall Classic since, well, the last time Tony La Russa's club was involved back in 2006 when his team beat the Detroit Tigers.
But I have news for you if you are one of those planning on skipping this set because it lacks fan appeal; you will be the one missing out because despite what you may be reading, this series really isn't so bad after all.
On one hand you have the Rangers, who are back in the World Series after losing to the San Francisco Giants in five games last year. From start to finish they were probably the most consistent team in the American League and cruised to another American League West title.
And if you are into some poetic justice how about the fact that they return to the Fall Classic without the services of left-handed ace Cliff Lee, who left the team as a free agent this past winter to sign with Philadelphia only to wear the goat horns for his team in their NLDS loss to the Cardinals.
Without Lee, lefty C.J. Wilson assumed the role as staff ace and delivered, as he won 16 games during the regular season. He has been abysmal, though, in these playoffs and has pitched to an 8.04 ERA in three starts.
In fact all of Texas' starters have been bad, with the group combining for a 6.59 ERA in the Rangers' ALCS win over Detroit.
It has been Ron Washington's bullpen that has gotten them through here in October, as 13-game winner Alexi Ogando has been lights out in helping get the ball to Mike Adams and closer Neftali Feliz.
Collectively, that trio has given up just four runs in 24 1/3 innings.
But what really makes these Rangers go is their lineup.
From 1-through-9 Texas is stacked with former MVP Josh Hamilton leading the way, along with the likes of Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and the incredibly underrated Michael Young.
Just how deep is the Rangers lineup? Well Cruz, who just set an ALCS record with six home runs and 13 runs driven in, bats seventh.
Then there are the Cardinals, who were 10 1/2 games out of a playoff spot as late as August 25, had to go 23-8 to close the season and only secured the wild card when the Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Braves with a dramatic extra inning win on the final day of the season.
Tony La Russa broke his own NLCS record by making 28 pitching changes.
And what did the Phillies get as repayment? A shocking five-game series loss to the gritty Cardinals in the NLDS.
A familiar foe in the Milwaukee Brewers awaited the Cardinals in the NLCS, but the result was the same, as the Cardinals again defied the odds and took the NL Central champions out in six games, becoming the 10th wild card winner to reach the World Series.
Carrying eight relievers, La Russa made use of each and every one of his arms, as the Cardinals became the first team to win a postseason series when their starters failed to go more than five innings in any of the six games.
St. Louis' bullpen, which ranked 21st in the majors in the regular season with a 3.95 ERA, pitched in just over 54 percent of the team's innings -- the fifth-highest percentage ever for an LCS -- and contributed a 1.58 ERA. La Russa also broke his own NLCS record by making 28 pitching changes.
Nowhere near as potent as the Rangers lineup, the Cardinals, though, have resembled an American League team this postseason and lead all playoff teams with a .288 average and 62 runs scored.
And oh yea, they did that damage against far better pitching that they will see in this series.
La Russa gets contributions from up and down his lineup. That much was evident against the Brewers, as unheralded third baseman David Freese collected 12 hits in the series and walked away with MVP honors.
Of course it is an attack that is led by three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols, who is still the best hitter on the planet and could be playing his final series in a Cardinals uniform.
A free agent at series end, Pujols hit .478 against the Brewers with a pair of home runs and eight RBI and proved that he still has the ability to change the course of a series.
Everything on paper suggests that the Texas Rangers should win this matchup going away.
They have a better lineup than the Cardinals, aside from Chris Carpenter, they have an edge in the starting pitching department, and while their bullpens have proven to be equal here in October, I'd still rather go with the Rangers' group if push came to shove.
But, with that said, there is something going on with this Cardinals team.
Everyone counted them out in the final week of the regular season, everyone counted them out against the Phils in the NLDS and not many people gave them a chance against the Brewers in the NLCS.
But here they are still standing.
If La Russa's 2006 team was the worst team to ever win a World Series, this group might be a close second. Call me crazy, but I think the Cardinals get another title.
Prediction: CARDINALS in SIX