Wednesday, October 19, 2011

World Series Preview

Well, talk about unexpected World Series matchup, but we have the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals. The second year in a row that a World Series between two teams who have nicknames that are used in other sports (NY Rangers, Arizona Cardinals). For the Rangers, they've made it here on the back on the balance in their lineup and their bullpen, which has been particularly dominant, especially when you remove any appearance by Koji Uehara. The Cards, on the other hand, haven't really had a formula, as Tony La Russa seems to be able to make every move work. They also have had a great postseason by Albert Pujols, and the bullpen has done the job when called upon, which has been early and often for La Russa. Here's the top storylines of the series.

1. Will anybody watch this Series? No matter how much you like baseball, it's something that needs to be asked after another year of low LCS ratings. If baseball marketed their stars well, Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Neftali Feliz would be enough to get casual eyeballs to this series. Now, the only way you'll see casual fans is if the series goes 6 or 7 games (preferably 7). Since 2004, the only series to go 6 games is the Yanks and Phillies in 2009. So, let's hope for a long series.

2. Will Nelson Cruz continue his feast of famine approach to hitting? Do we see the Cruz who was 1 for 15 against the Tampa Bay Rays, or do we see the man who dominated the Tigers series with 6 HR's, 13 RBI's and a .364 average. If the latter, the Cards are in plenty of trouble. If it's the former, then the top of the Rangers lineup will have more pressure to hit, especially in St. Louis.

3. How much will DH/no DH make a difference for either team? It's a question that comes up in every World Series. Judging from Ron Washington's Game 1 lineup, expect plenty of Michael Young at first and Mitch Moreland doing pitch hitting. For the Cards, the answer for who plays in Texas is easy, as Allen Craig will play the outfield and I'll assume it's Lance Berkman who's in at DH. With Craig, the Cards have a guy who's a pitcher must be careful.

4. Can the Cardinals bullpen match the Rangers? Biggest question mark for the Cards. The Rangers, aside from Koji Uehara, are outstanding in the bullpen. The Cards have pitched above and beyond, but now it gets serious. The Rangers, though slightly, are a better hitting team than the Brewers and the masterful job Tony La Russa has done with his bullpen will say a lot if it continues.

5. How does the likes of Hamilton, Kinsler, Andrus, etc. handle their second straight World Series appearance? Last year, the Rangers made the World Series on the back of Cliff Lee, then he lost in the World Series, and no one really picked up the slack in the five game loss to the Giants. Now, Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus are all a year old and wiser. Adrian Beltre and Matt Napoli have added some pop in the Rangers lineup, an obvious need. C.J. Wilson has a payday to play for and his start could mean the difference from 15 million a year and 18 million (probably won't make a difference, but go with me). They were favored last year, how do they handle being favored this year?

6. Will Chris Carpenter pitch 3 games? Simple question, answer isn't as much. One reason, because we would need a Game 7 to happen. The main reason is because Carpenter is fighting some injury issues. Right now, it's Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson scheduled to pitch. So it probably doesn't allow Carpenter to start 3 games. But in a Game 7, win or go home, you're telling me Tony La Russa won't call upon a former Cy Young winner in a big spot? I don't think so.

7. Is this the last we see of Albert Pujols as a Cardinal? Pujols has been great this postseason, best one from him in quite a few years (I'd say 2005 for him). We all know he's getting paid by someone, but will it be the Cardinals? I really don't think the choice is difficult. Jon Paul Morosi wrote this on the pending free agency of Pujols:
When the season began, there was a credible exit strategy for Pujols: If the Cardinals finished out of the money, and if manager Tony La Russa left for the White Sox or elsewhere, then Pujols could take stock of the situation and say, “Well, maybe it’s time.”

He can’t do that now. The Cardinals are in the World Series for the third time in his illustrious career. La Russa isn’t going to the White Sox, and he’s probably not going anywhere at all. Pujols is hitting in the best lineup in the National League, one that is deeper now with the emergence of NLCS MVP David Freese. As Laird said, this team should be as good — and maybe even better — next year.
I really don't see Pujols burning his bridge in St. Louis, win or lose. The Cards will pay and Pujols will stay.

8. Will Nolan Ryan be proven right about his "Rangers in 6" prediction? No, I have the Cardinals winning a thrilling 7 games, with Matt Holliday as your MVP, since I hardly mentioned him until now. For those watching, enjoy a great series. For those not, enjoy watching the Colts and the Jaguars on primetime football games this week.

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