Rangers vs. Cardinals: here's how it looks
10/19/11 08:39 AM
By ED BARK
Fox wanted the Yankees against the Phillies. Or absent that, the Yankees vs. anybody.
But what the network wants most of all is a seven-game World Series. There hasn't been one since 2002, when the Angels beat the Giants. And from a drama and a revenue standpoint, that's when things really rev up -- even if it's the Fresno Flashers facing the Youngstown Vindicators.
Instead Fox will have the Texas Rangers in their second consecutive World Series vs. the tradition-rich St. Louis Cardinals, in their 18th. And this one has an excellent chance to go the full distance.
Beware, though. The Cards will be much tougher to beat than the Milwaukee Brewers would have been. Uncle Barky's native state nine was error-prone and well-stocked with goofballs. And rookie manager Ron Roenicke would have been in his first World Series ever after piloting the Brew Crew to the National League Central Division title.
Here are some other talking points as the Rangers and Cards prepare for Game 1 of the Series, with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. (central) on Fox.
DAMN THAT ALL-STAR GAME -- It at first seemed really cool to have baseball's mid-summer showcase mean something. Since 2003, the winning league has been awarded home field advantage in the World Series. And in each of the Rangers' two appearances, the American League has been on the short end of that stick.
I'd still be OK with this idea if baseball restricted the All-Star roster size and didn't require at least one representative from each team. Steve Swisher, All-Star? Yeah, he once was, because that's the best the crummy Chicago Cubs could offer in 1976.
Even worse, the modern-day All-Star game is reduced to a battle of scrubs and high-powered relievers during the key closing innings. It's long been impossible, for instance, to envision a scenario in which starter Ted Williams hit a walk-off home run to win the 1941 All-Star game for the American League. Or in which starter Stan Musial hit a 12th inning home run to win the 1955 game for the National League. Why? Because both storied Hall of Famers would have been out of the game long before then under the current approach. When the stakes are this high, the All-Star game should be played for keeps, with rosters at maximum strength and key starters staying on the field.
The old system alternated home field advantage between the two Leagues. That's a little antiquated, too. But it at least would have given the Rangers an even shake during the team's first two World Series appearances.
WIN AT LEAST ONE OF YOUR FIRST TWO ROAD GAMES -- Maybe the Giants would have beaten the Rangers anyway had the World Series started in Texas instead of San Francisco. Instead the Rangers got down 2-0 and never really recovered, losing the Series in five games. Would Texas have won both games had the Series started in Arlington? Perhaps not. But I definitely think they would have won at least one. And under the 2-3-2 system, just a single win in San Francisco would have returned the Series to Texas for a 6th and possibly 7th game.
The Rangers can't afford to replicate last fall and go down 2-0 to the Cardinals before heading home. If that happens again, their chances are very slim. Making pitchers hit in the National League park doesn't help the Rangers either. St. Louis has been doing it all year while the Rangers have very limited experience in inter-league regular season road games.
WATCH OUT FOR THE WEATHER
It's another reason why the Brewers would have been an appreciably easier opponent. Miller Park has a retractable roof, and Major League Baseball officials, not the team, make the decision on whether it will be open or closed. Milwaukee has scheduled lows of 42 and 40 on Wednesday and Thursday. Which means the roof would have been closed, negating the weather element and greatly helping the Rangers.
ACES IN HAND -- The Rangers' opening game starter, C. J. Wilson, again has been pretty awful in the post-season. The Cardinals' Chris Carpenter pitched a complete game 1-0 shutout on the road in the deciding fifth game against the vaunted Phillies. I hope that Wilson somehow will be at his best when just about everybody is betting against him. Because that's what he's facing Wednesday night, when a Rangers win would give the team a super boost.
THE LA RUSSA FACTOR -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is widely considered a baseball genius, and doesn't dispute that assessment. This will be his sixth World Series, three with the Oakland Athletics and now three with the Cards. The guy knows what buttons to push. He's baseball's equivalent of zen master Phil Jackson. But Jackson's Lakers didn't fare so well against the Dallas Mavericks in their post-season face-off this year. And La Russa has lost three of the five World Series in which he's managed. So maybe Washington will find a way to teach him a few things. No one is a bigger cheerleader for his team than "Wash." No manager is less demonstrative or more inscrutable than La Russa. Their matchup should be fascinating.
WHO'S GOT THE BETTER OFFENSE? -- The Rangers are a top-to-bottom scoring machine -- at home. On the road they can get a little weak-kneed. Their 14 runs for the three ALCS road games in Detroit fell short of the 15 runs they piled up in the clinching Game 6 win at home.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals put up 30 runs in their three road games against Milwaukee, reaching double digits twice in 12-6 and 12-3 poundings of the Brew Crew at Miller Park. And they have the game's most formidable presence in Albert Pujols.
The Rangers' Nelson Cruz, who slugged a record six home runs in the ALCS, can't possibly stay that hot in the World Series. Or can he? Texas certainly has plenty of guys to pick up the slack, but they'll have to find a way to pound the ball in cold weather conditions against the formidable Cards.
BULLPEN VS. BULLPEN -- Both teams run the risk of wearing these guys out. Whoever wins, these are going to be lo-o-o-ng games. And a war of attrition perhaps favors the Rangers.
PREDICTION -- Although the above talking points seem to weigh against this, I'm going to pick the Rangers to win in seven games because I just can't bear to pick against them. Texas doesn't want to become the Buffalo Bills, getting to the promised land and then losing time and again. So now is the time to bring the first ever World Series championship to North Texas. The Cardinals already have 10 titles, the most for any National League team. They've won enough.
Now how about your thoughts, baseball fans. I'm sure there are other bases to cover.