Well…this was unexpected. Look back to the beginning of the season, and you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who predicted a St. Louis Cardinals-Texas Rangers World Series matchup.
The Cardinals were down Adam Wainwright, one of their two aces, and didn’t have infield stability or health. They had the weight of Albert Pujols’ impending free agency hanging over their heads. They were counting on Lance Berkman to man the outfield, something he hadn’t viably done in several seasons.
The Rangers were missing Cliff Lee, the ace who had helped them into the playoffs and the World Series the year before. They were counting on Adrian Beltre to live up to his pricey free-agent contract. They needed continued health from slugging stars Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz.
These were not teams widely projected for World Series berths. The Red Sox, with a vaunted offense, and the Phillies, with an equally impressive starting rotation, were both more popular candidates. But we now stand less than 24 hours from the World Series, and it’s the Rangers and Cardinals who’ll duke it out in the Fall Classic.
My own, highly inaccurate predictions are already a matter of internet record, but I’m going to take a stab at it again with only a maximum of seven games left. Here’s what I think will go down in the World Series:
The Cardinals have a monster middle of the order, with the switch-hitting Berkman, sweet-swinging Matt Holliday and hot-as-blazes David Freese to complement Albert Pujols, who is quite possibly the best right-handed hitter since Aaron or Mays. What’s around that middle of the order is less appetizing. Rafael Furcal offers speed and some good contact skills, but he’s not somebody you count on in a big spot. Yadier Molina has regressed some at the plate as well. Guys like Nick Punto and Jon Jay are too inconsistent to provide Tony La Russa with perpetual production. And if Berkman slides to the DH spot in Texas, the Cards might not have the big bat off the bench to fill his spot.
The Rangers are stocked with big-time bats. Hamilton and Cruz are major mashers, Beltre and Mike Napoli have lots of power too, and even Ian Kinsler, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland can pop their fair share out of the ballpark. Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon lack the same power, but have decent contact strokes and terrific speed. This lineup is deep and talented, and that gives the Rangers the edge here in my book. ADVANTAGE: RANGERS
The Cardinals have lots of talent and lots of questions surrounding their starting rotation. Chris Carpenter has been the definition of an ace in this postseason, but his elbow issues may keep him from being fully effective in the World Series. Lefty Jaime Garcia has gotten knocked around a bit in the playoffs, and Edwin Jackson has been inconsistent too. Kyle Lohse is always a little too prone to giving up homers. If Carpenter, Jackson and Garcia can be at their best, the Cardinals will look good. But the starters only got into the sixth inning once in the NLCS against the Brewers.
The Rangers have some rotation questions as well, but surely not as many. C.J. Wilson is a solid starter who has struggled in the postseason this year, and Colby Lewis has the strong strikeout ability to battle dangerous hitters like the Cardinals sluggers (though his home run stats are cause for concern). Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are both terrific young talents who can go deep into games, though Harrison’s strikeout numbers leave a lot to be desired. The overall consistency and depth in the Texas rotation is what tips the scales towards them. ADVANTAGE: RANGERS
St. Louis has gotten some solid performances out of the pen this year. Marc Rzepczynski has proven effective as a lefty specialist, Lance Lynn can bring the heat, and Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan are solid late-inning options. Fernando Salas has had an excellent breakout season as the closer, although his 11 decisions and 80% save conversion rate are not confidence-inspiring.
Texas made crucial trade-deadline moves to shore up their bullpen, and Mike Adams and Koji Uehara have delivered in spades. Darren Oliver and Darren O’Day both provide good situational outings as well. Ultimately, Texas’s bullpen efforts hinge on closer Neftali Feliz, who has been inconsistent this season, but still has overwhelming raw stuff. While Texas has improved its bullpen, I still like St. Louis to close down games after their terrific bullpen efforts in the NLCS. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS
The Cardinals have some questions on defense, and they start with Rafael Furcal at shortstop. He’s extremely athletic, but very erratic, and will throw the ball away or muff the play altogether from time to time. Berkman has performed well in the outfield this year, but nobody’s mistaking him for Brett Gardner. Molina is still among the best behind the plate, though, and Pujols is a fantastic defensive first baseman.
Texas also has questions at shortstop, where Andrus has tremendous ability but, like Furcal, tends to make mistakes. Mike Napoli is just OK as a defensive catcher, which may come into play when St. Louis hosts and the DH vanishes. Borbon, Hamilton and Cruz are a speedy triumvirate, but Hamilton and Cruz can make some iffy decisions. Beltre is an all-world third baseman, and Kinsler has terrific range at second base. ADVANTAGE: RANGERS
St. Louis has a great team, and their run this year has been a terrific story. Still, the Rangers seem too deep to fall to this team. Rangers in 6 games.
Still, I’ve been wrong before…