THE GAMES WILL BE HIGH-SCORING AND LENGTHY, AND THE RANGERS WILL FINALLY WIN A TITLE
The Cardinals' unique path through October 2011—they've relied more heavily on the bullpen than any postseason team ever—would not be possible without their offense. Holding leads in the middle innings despite middling performances by their rotation has made turning games over to the pen a viable strategy. The Cardinals have averaged 5.6 runs per postseason game, a huge number when you consider that they've faced no starting pitcher with a regular-season ERA above 3.83. That production is a tribute to the high quality of the middle of the lineup, with Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, but also to the length of the order. The Cards' ability to generate offense from any spot was a key differentiator in their wins over the Phillies—who got nothing from their bottom half—and the Brewers, who got just a little more than that. The lineup's AL-style depth is, even more than their vaunted bullpen, their greatest asset in trying to beat an AL team.
That AL team does some damage itself. The Rangers were third in the league in runs, third in OBP, second in slugging and homers. They are scoring 5.5 runs per game this postseason, and although it seems as if Nelson Cruz is driving in all of those, the Texas lineup also has enviable top-to-bottom lineup balance. The Rangers have gotten a lot of publicity for their desire to push starting pitchers to work deep into games during the regular season, but that strategy has reversed in the postseason. No Rangers starter has faced a batter in the seventh inning in the playoffs. Ron Washington, like Tony La Russa, has shuffled relievers late in games to get the matchup he wants.
The Red Sox and the Yankees may be long gone, but this World Series could be a tribute to the type of games they play: lots of runs, lots of pitching changes, lots of late nights. La Russa, having faced down lefthanded sluggers Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder in the first two rounds, is going to go after Josh Hamilton with his LOOGYs, including the ageless Arthur Rhodes, who was a Ranger as recently as July. Washington is going to want power righthanders Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz taking on the heavily righthanded Cardinals lineup. For both teams the model for the next four wins is the same as it was for the first seven: Get a lead and get the game to the pen.
The mound is where the Rangers have a slight edge. Their rotation, led by lefthander C.J. Wilson, is a bit better than the Cardinals', and it matches up well with St. Louis. The Cardinals were able to take advantage of a Brewers staff heavy with fly ball pitchers, and no NL team hit fly ball pitchers better this season than did St. Louis. The Rangers' starters, save for righthander Colby Lewis, are ground ball pitchers who should do a better job of neutralizing the Cards' power. In a matchup of teams that can score runs and go deep into the bullpen, it will be the starting pitching that, for once in this crazy October, makes the difference.
RANGERS IN SIX.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (WILSON)
GROUNDED BIRDS The Cardinals feast on fly ball pitchers, but Wilson and the other Texas starters should keep them in check by inducing ground balls.