Today the Notebook introduces the key players on both Texas & St. Louis, as well as doing a complete preview, as the World Series begins tonight at Busch Stadium (8 PM ET, Fox).
INTRODUCING THE TEXAS RANGERS
C: Mike Napoli—With 30 home runs he’s the power threat you can’t ignore in this lineup. With a sparkling .414 on-base percentage, he does more than hit home runs. What a deal it was for Texas to get him from division rival Los Angeles in the offseason.
1B: Mitch Moreland—I really like this kid, but there’s no denying he tailed off badly at the end of the season and hits at the bottom of the lineup or is sat down. If the Rangers were to get a surprise contribution from someone who’s got the talent, this 26-year old is it.
2B: Ian Kinsler—One of the game’s underrated offensive second baseman, although with two straight World Series appearances, he’s at last getting the exposure. He hit 32 home runs this season and got on base consistently. His role as leadoff hitter will be vital for getting the Texas offense rolling.
3B: Adrian Beltre—If you haven’t watched him play before you won’t see too many swings that are harder, to the point that Beltre ends up down on one knee. Fittingly, he’s got power and as his 3-home run game in the clincher against Tampa Bay showed, they can come on bursts. The problem is that when he’s not going deep he tends to disappear from the offense.
SS: Elvis Andrus—The 23-year old who admired Derek Jeter coming up has now usurped Jeter as the one who’s consistently on the World Series stage. Andrus’ primary attribute is his glove, but he does have a .347 on-base percentage, did his best offensive work after the All-Star break and is a serious threat to steal if he gets on.
LF: David Murphy—A very promising lefthanded hitter, but like Moreland, his bat did tail off in the second half of the season. The stats aren’t great, but Murphy’s ability makes him a good candidate to do damage against St. Louis’ righthanded pitching.
CF: Josh Hamilton—The 2009 MVP had another big year this year. A complete package of hitting for power, getting on base and defense.
RF: Nelson Cruz—The hero of the LCS win over Detroit, he’s the same complete package as Hamilton and he showed his defensive ability when he gunned down Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera at the plate to win Game 4. He made every big play in the last series and has shown that kind of talent and production throughout his career.
DH: Michael Young—He’ll be at first base during the DH-less games played in St. Louis and the veteran hitter still does everything well, from hitting for contact, being patient and driving the ball for power.
SP: C.J. Wilson—He’s the ace of the staff, although he’s not a #1 in the same sense we would think of Justin Verlander. Wilson is more a solidly consistent lefthander, who pitched very well in the second half of the season, but has been a little rocky in three playoff starts this year.
SP: Colby Lewis—A reliable horse who’s averaged 13 wins a year the last two seasons and has an average ERA in the high 3’s in that same timeframe. That’s a good number for pitching in Texas’ hitters ballpark and he’s had good postseason success over the last two years.
SP: Derek Holland—He got the chance to be a full-time starter this year and made the most of it with 16 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA. His last outing was rocky, as he was the starter in the clinching game against Detroit, but didn’t make it through five, even after being staked to a 9-2 lead. On the flip side, he got the team’s biggest postseason win when he quelled Tampa Bay’s momentum in Game 2 of the Division Series.
SP: Matt Harrison—Like Holland, this is his first year getting full-fledged starter innings and like Holland he cashed in his opportunity with 14 wins. The depth of the Texas rotation is this team’s biggest strength and that points directly to the #4 man right here.
RP: Alexi Ogando—A starter during the regular season, he got off to a blazing start and looked like the replacement for Cliff Lee, so good is his stuff. He really struggled after that and was the odd man out for the postseason, but he’s been dynamite in the bullpen so far in the playoffs and has become an X factor for Ron Washington, a reason the manager has been so quick with the hook for his starters.
RP: Mike Adams: The veteran setup man was acquired from San Diego at the trade deadline and with a 1.47 ERA he’s one of the best in the business.
CL: Neftali Feliz: A young closer with electric stuff, Feliz is another X factor for the Rangers. With 32 saves and a 2.74 ERA he’s a reliable finisher, but he has had some very rough stretches during the year. Obviously if he has another one, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the team does the first eight innings.
INTRODUCING THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
C: Yadier Molina—The youngest in the Molina Family of catchers, the 29-year old has become one of the game’s best. He hit over .300 this year and has good power to the alleys with a .465 slugging percentage. A first-rate handler of pitchers and defender to go with it.
1B: Albert Pujols—What else I am going to write here that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? The game’s best player and one of the best ever. A clutch postseason performer, good defender and class act all the way around.
2B: Ryan Theriot—A pesky hitter who gets on base, this is the kind of hitter who drives an opposing team crazy in a big series. He didn’t have a good year in 2011, but has a .350 on-base percentage in the postseason.
3B: David Freese—An immensely talented young hitter, he showed the nation what he can do in the NLCS against Milwaukee when he won series MVP. He’s been doing that consistently for his two years in the big leagues and injuries are the only thing that’s ever slowed him up.
SS: Rafael Furcal—He was hurt most of the year and then got healthy at the trade deadline and the Cardinals picked him up from Los Angeles. The numbers aren’t good, but it does seem like that every time I watch him he gets a big hit or makes a big play. I’m still trying to figure out if he’s really that good, or if this some kind of retribution for me criticizing his acquisition back in July.
LF: Matt Holliday—A complete hitter in every way, and after a late-season finger injury that resulted him missing most of the Division Series win over Philadelphia, Holliday seems to be regaining his strength just in time.
CF: John Jay—The #2 hitter in the lineup behind Furcal, he has good speed and is a good defender. It’s imperative that Texas keep him off the bases before the big guns in the lineup come up.
RF: Lance Berkman—He won Comeback Player of the Year, by posting MVP numbers and defying those of us who thought he wouldn’t last running around in right field all year after spending most of his career at first base. Another hitter with plenty of October experience, having played on Houston’s best teams, including a 2005 NL pennant winner.
SP: Chris Carpenter—The ace of the staff, a Cy Young winner (2005) and author of the memorable 1-0 win over Roy Halladay and Philadelphia to clinch the Division Series. Don’t forget though, he’s had some shaky stretches this season, his elbow may be flaring up again, and his numbers are not appreciably better than any of the Texas starters when you factor in that Carpenter doesn’t deal with DH-filled lineups.
SP: Jaime Garcia—He’s capable of being an ace, but has gone through some struggles. He’s going to pitch two home games in Game 2 and a possible Game 6 and if the dominant Garcia appears in the Series, he’s good MVP candidate.
SP: Kyle Lohse—For the first two months of the season he pitched some of the baseball of his career. Lohse tapered off after that, but still stabilized enough to become a reliable middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. With 14 wins and a 3.38 ERA he’s in line for Game 3 and perhaps for a Game 7.
SP: Edwin Jackson—A nice acquisition at the deadline, Jackson can be very up and down, but he’s been steady for Tony LaRussa. He came up with huge starts in Game 4 against Philadelphia when the season was on the line, and Game 2 against Milwaukee when the Cards had lost the opener. Conversely, he got an early hook in Sunday night’s home-run fest where St. Louis wrapped up the pennant.
RP: Fernando Salas—He spent much of the year in the closer’s role and saved 24 games with a 2.28 ERA. The six blown saves were too much for LaRussa to stomach and he’s been moved out of the job, but he’s still a solid arm in a very deep pen.
RP: Octavio Dotel—A veteran pickup at the deadline, Dotel has been a big part of the postseason run. He’s won two games and has a 1.35 ERA in seven appearances. Bullpens in the playoffs are a lot about who gets hot, and Dotel is hot right now.
CL: Jason Motte—He just got the closer’s job late in the season and has melded right into the role, with a 2.25 ERA and he’s 4-for-4 in closing his save opportunities in the playoffs.
WORLD SERIES PREVIEW
Now let’s take these individual pieces and see how it comes together to form a complete team, based on ability to get on base, hitting for power, starting pitching and bullpen.
GETTING ON BASE: Each team’s power hitters are also patient, so the basepaths should never be truly empty, but certainly both teams would prefer to be in spots where the opposing pitcher has to come in to their big guns and that only happens if the table-setters are doing their job. A slight edge to Texas here because of Kinsler, and I think what happens with Rafael Furcal and John Jay at the top of the St. Louis lineup will go a long way to settling this Series.
HITTING FOR POWER: There’s just a ton of muscle on hand in this Series, and a lot’s going to depend on who’s hot. I lean St. Louis with the edge though. The Pujols-Berkman-Holliday trifecta has one more bat than the Hamilton-Cruz dynamic duo, and Freese gives the Cards another hot bat. And in the end it’s tough to deny a power edge to any team that has Pujols in its lineup.
STARTING PITCHING: This Series gets its drama right here, because I see these rotations as pretty well dead even. Carpenter has more of an ace quality to him than anyone Texas has, but the Rangers #3 and #4 spots have been more consistent than St. Louis. And in neither case is even that small distinction really clear.
BULLPEN: Both teams go very deep and both managers made extensive use of their relief corps during the playoff run. We can expect to see quick hooks unless a starter is absolutely on their game. The presence of Ogando, a pitcher with starters’ durability and closer’s stuff, makes Texas the stronger side here.
PREDICTION: I was originally going to pick Texas without a second thought, but the more I thought about it, the less sure I became. I’m still going to stick with the Rangers in a very closely fought six-game series. And if St. Louis can extend it to a seventh game, the Cards would win it home. But the official Notebook call is Texas in 6 thanks to a deeper pen and I think they’ll handle the St. Louis leadoff hitters.