The 107th World Series gets underway tonight at Busch Stadium. Ron Washington’s Rangers — still smarting from their five-game loss to the Giants in last season’s Fall Classic, and the loss in free agency of pitching ace Cliff Lee – played well throughout the year and come in as solid favorites. Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals went on a torrid streak in September, winning 18 of 28 and rescuing what had been a disappointing season to snatch the wildcard on game 162.
In honor of Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway, let’s compare the teams by playing match-up:
Napoli has been a beast at the plate in 2011, particularly in the second half (1.171 OPS), showing now-miserable Angel fans and their manager, Mike Scioscia, what he could do when given a chance to play every day. While Napoli is capable behind the plate, Molina is deemed a defensive stalwart with a reputation for coming through at the plate in big games. (e.g., His career postseason slugging percentage is 40 points higher than his regular season number.) Advantage: Rangers
Moreland is a capable bat against right-handed pitching. The 35-year-old Young enjoyed a solid season at the plate while helping out with infield duty when teammates got injured. On the other hand, Pujols is, well, Pujols. Advantage: Cardinals
Kinsler is a poor man’s Rickey Henderson, a lead-off hitter with power, speed, and the ability to draw a walk. Punto had some key plate appearances against the Brewers, while Theriot, who played shortstop for much of the season, will start against the southpaws. Advantage: Rangers
Freese’s monster NLCS earned him MVP honors but he had a fairly pedestrian second half. Beltre, who last winter signed an $80 million deal over five years to play for the Rangers, was banged up for much of the season but still managed to hit 32 home runs and play expert defense. Advantage: Rangers
Andrus gets on base a fair amount but has little power; much of his value comes from playing outstanding defense. Furcal’s best years are in his rearview mirror but being dealt from the Dodgers to the Cards at the trade deadline must have felt like like receiving a shot of B12. Advantage: Rangers
If the term “underrated superstar” had its own Wiki page, Holliday’s photo surely would appear. Hamilton is an above-average fielder and baserunner who happens to hit a ton. Murphy is a serviceable corner outfielder increasingly being platooned. Advantage: Cardinals
One day every baseball fan in Missouri may regret trading an unhappy Colby Rasmus at this season’s deadline, but for now Jay has been an upgrade. Gentry is a capable defender and a speedster who is likely to play against lefties. Advantage: Rangers
Like Freese, Cruz’s Superman performance in the championship series masked a decent but certainly not outstanding season. Future Hall of Famer Berkman was a tremendous pick-up for the Cardinals, posting a .547 slugging percentage in 145 games. Advantage: Cardinals
Craig showed off considerable power in limited duty this season and might even snare a start against C. J. Wilson tonight. Advantage: Rangers
Bench: The Rangers sport depth with outfielders Gentry and Endy Chavez and catcher Yorvit Torrealba. St. Louis welcomes back the versatile Skip Schumaker, who had been sidelined with an injury. Otherwise, the bench is rather thin on talent, with infielder Daniel Descalso and catcher Gerald Laird available. Advantage: Rangers
Starting Rotation: C. J. Wilson (2.94 ERA, 3.41 xFIP), Colby Lewis (4.40, 4.10), Matt Harrison (3.39, 3.85), and Derek Holland (3.95, 3.76) vs. Chris Carpenter (3.45, 3.31), Jaime Garcia, (3.56, 3.31), Kyle Lohse (3.39, 4.04), and Edwin Jackson (3.79, 3.33)
Both rotations got lit up during their respective LCS and few will be surprised if this best-of-seven affair features offensive fireworks. The Rangers feature three talented southpaws but St. Louis hits lefty starters as well as righties (.768 vs. .765 OPS). Wilson, who will become a coveted free agent after the Series, improved both his strikeout and walk rates, a byproduct of more batters swinging at pitches outside of their strike zone. The Cardinals played the entire season without injured star Adam Wainwright, but got another excellent season out of their other ace, Carpenter, and a very good one from Garcia. Advantage: Cardinals (barely)
Relief Corps: Neftali Feliz (1.80 K/BB), Mike Adams (5.29), Mike Gonzalez (2.43), and Alexi Ogando (2.93) vs. Jason Motte (3.94), Octavio Dotel (3.65), and Mark Rzepczynski (2.35), and Fernaondo Salas (3.57)
Both teams seriously upgraded their previously dreadful bullpens at the trade deadline, most notably with Adams and Dotel, and performed exceptionally well in the last round. The addition of regular-season starter Ogando makes the Texas contingent borderline fearsome. The Redbirds could not protect late leads until Motte took over closer duties toward season’s end. (His team won 13 of the last 14 games in which he pitched.) Advantage: Rangers
Manager: Everyone on the Rangers loves Washington, but he is not known as being one of the more astute tacticians. (Remember: this is the guy who intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera when there was no one on base, a decision that would have cost him dearly had Cruz not gunned down a jiggly Miggy at the plate from deep right field.) LaRussa is not winning any popularity contests around the league, but over 33 years as a skipper in The Show, his in-game decision-making has worked more often than not. Advantage: Cardinals
Intangibles: Ha! I don’t do grit, passion, and hustle.
Outcome: The Cardinals will put up a helluva fight, but it won’t be enough. The Rangers will win its first-ever World Series in six games, with Young earning MVP honors.