The (What in the) World (is happening in St. Louis) Series
Hey, remember five years ago, when the St. Louis Cardinals limped into the postseason at 83-78 and proceeded to win the World Series?
(Mets fans, you don’t have to answer that question. It’s tough, I know. But at least you can watch to see if Endy does it again against those you-know-whats.)
Well, this year’s Cardinals, whose 90 regular season wins are once more the fewest of any postseason team, are back on baseball’s second-most hyped up stage (only because fans can’t vote for which teams make it). This year’s World Series matchup between the Rangers and the Cards features two teams who, on paper, had to have everything go right for them to make it this far. And, for the most part, they did.
The Rangers got through both the regular season and the postseason mainly on the strength of their offense. C.J. Wilson did go 16-7 in the regular season with a 2.94 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 223.1 innings, but even with those numbers, it’s tough to really call him an “ace.” His postseason has been awful, allowing fewer than six runs in only one of his three postseason starts – and he only went 4.2 innings that game. He doesn’t have the kind of raw stuff that, say, Justin Verlander has, or even Doug Fister or Max Scherzer. But those guys are surely making a beeline for not-Detroit as the colder weather fast approaches, while Wilson is getting ready to rock and roll tonight in St. Louis.
To be fair, the Rangers have gotten some clutch performances from the rest of their pitchers, and their bullpen has been as good as ever this October. But the main cogs in that Texas machine are the rest of the starting nine, those of much firepower from every position not called left field (but everybody loves Endy. Besides, it’s been more David Murphy than anyone else, and he can hit just fine). They have a harder hitting catcher, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, center fielder, right fielder and designated hitter than the Cardinals do. The only caveats are if Michael Young can rememebr how to hit, if Adrian Beltre can be healthy over at the hot corner and if Nelson Cruz continues to be the monster that he is and not the shrimp that he was until the ALCS.
Regardless, George Bush’s boys should still have the upper hand over the Cards. Then again, the Phillies certainly had the upper hand in the NLDS, too. With a juggernaut rotation that formed when Cliff Lee jilted – guess who! – the Rangers for the City of Brotherly Love and Abrasive Fans, the Phils were supposed to have the upper hand over everyone, in fact. But the Cards took down Halladay, Lee and Oswalt, also killing the deadly Utley-Howard-Pence combo in the process. They won the series that, frankly, they shouldn’t have.
Then came the Brewers, they who steamrolled their way through the second half in a way that no one saw coming and were unstoppable at home. Surely, obvious Manager of the Year winner Ron Roenicke’s bunch should’ve stomped out their division rivals. Yet the Cards’ seemingly meager offense handed Shaun “We Really Should’ve Kept Brett Lawrie” Marcum and the Brew Crew their two worst home losses of the year and three “happy flights” later, the Cards are sending the second coming of Chris Carpenter to the mound in Game 1. Despite their record, the Cards even have home field advantage – because this time, it counted.
The Cardinals are unstoppable right now, and their fearless leader, Tony La Russa, may be the best there ever was. There is something to be said about the work done this postseason by La Russa and his right hand man, Dave Duncan, who is no doubt the best pitching coach in the game. La Russa got more innings out of his relievers than his starters and made 28 pitching changes over six NLCS games. And he won. I think that speaks for itself.
On paper, the Rangers ought to take this series in four or five games, but the game’s not played on paper. I, for one, expect the Cards to win in five, just as I was told they did when it was just too painful for me to watch in 2006.