The 107th World Series is being touted as a battle of the bullpens.
No starting pitcher on the Texas Rangers or St. Louis Cardinals lasted more than five innings in any game in their respective League Championship Series.
Fortunately for these clubs, their relievers have been outstanding, enabling them to advance to this year's Fall Classic set to begin Wednesday night in St. Louis.
Bolstered by the addition of Alexi Ogando, who won 13 games as a starter in the regular season, the Rangers' relief corps posted a microscopic 1.32 earned-run average in their American League Championship Series triumph over Detroit.
Similarly, the Cardinals' pen, aided by strong performances from Jason Motte, Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas and ex-Blue Jays Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski - recorded a tidy 1.88 ERA in the National League Championship Series.
Heading into Wednesday's opener (8:05 p.m. ET), both teams will have had at least two days to rest, but it will be difficult for their bullpens to replicate their dominance.
Starting pitching and offence will likely decide which club hoists the World Series trophy. And with Chris Carpenter, 7-2 in 12 post-season starts, the Cardinals own the best big-game pitcher in the series.
The Rangers, on the other hand, possess five players that belted 25 or more homers this season, one of them being Nelson Cruz, who hammered a record-breaking six round-trippers in the ALCS.
This year's Fall Classic should be a close series between two teams that have only competed against each other once in Interleague play. In 2004, the Cardinals won two of three games in a series in Arlington, but the Rangers did beat Carpenter in their only victory.
This World Series represents the Cardinals 18th trip to the Fall Classic. They have won 10 previous titles. In contrast, this is only the Rangers' second trip to the World Series. They were defeated in last year's Fall Classic by the San Francisco Giants.
Here's a detailed breakdown of the series:
Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Home Field Advantage: Cardinals
Regular Season Records: Rangers - 96-66 (1st in American League West); Cardinals - 90-72 (2nd in National League Central, wildcard)
Past Playoff History: None
Injuries: Rangers - RP Mark Lowe (strained left hamstring, day-to-day), SP Brandon Webb (right shoulder, out for season); Cardinals - SP Adam Wainwright (right elbow, out for season), Skip Schumaker (strained right oblique, day-to-day)
Prediction: The Rangers are hungry for redemption after last year's World Series loss to the Giants. Outfielder Josh Hamilton summed it up best when he told reporters, "We wanted to win last year. We expect to win this year." While both the Rangers' and Cardinals' bullpens have been effective, the Rangers' relief corps - featuring Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Mike Adams, Scott Feldman and Darren Oliver - is more reliable than their Cardinals counterparts.
But the Rangers' starting rotation, which boasts four pitchers who had 14 or more wins during the regular season, has only one quality start in the post-season. Ace southpaw C.J. Wilson (0-2, 8.04 in three 2011 post-season starts) needs to be better, especially facing Carpenter in the series.
Fuelled by Cruz's bat and a 15-run outburst in the final game of ALCS, the Rangers' offence has come alive. Hitting .162 heading into Game 6 of the ALCS, Michael Young found his batting stroke with three hits and five RBIs in that contest, and with Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, the Rangers boast a surplus of power. Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus also provide Texas with a running game that the Cardinals don't have.
After upsetting the Phillies and Brewers, the Cardinals are playing their best baseball at the perfect time. Anchored by Albert Pujols, NLCS MVP David Freese, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, the Cardinals have a formidable offence, but it's devoid of speed, and from top to bottom, the Rangers' lineup is superior.
However, by ousting the Brewers on Sunday, the Cardinals have been able to set up their rotation so that Carpenter will start Game 1 and potentially two more contests in the best-of-seven series. This bodes well for St. Louis because the Rangers don't boast a starter with Carpenter's October resume. But the Cardinals' other starters (Kyle Lohse, Jaime Garcia and Edwin Jackson) won't strike fear into the Rangers, and you have to wonder when the bubble will burst for their overworked, overachieving bullpen.
Though sometimes painful to watch (28 pitching changes in the NLCS, anyone?), Tony La Russa's micromanaging usually works in the post-season. The legendary bench boss clearly out-managed Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke in the NLCS.
It's also important to note that three key players - Carpenter, Pujols and Yadier Molina - remain from the Cardinals' 2006 World Series-winning squad and have assumed leadership roles on this year's club. Their experience could prove invaluable.
But armed with a deeper rotation, a more potent offence and the lingering bitterness of their 2010 World Series loss, the Rangers should be able to beat the Cardinals. The games will be close, but I believe there will be one more ginger ale celebration for the Rangers before the end of October.
Rangers in 6
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