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Your Official HardballTalk World Series Preview

Oct 18, 2011, 9:22 AM EDT

Ron Washington

Boston beats Philly in six games. Mark it down.

Oh, wait.  The accepted narrative was upset weeks ago. None of the 45 ESPN experts — and to be honest, none of us here — picked the Rangers to face the Cardinals back in the spring. It made some amount of sense to pick against the Cards given Adam Wainwright‘s injury.  We probably all need to think hard about why we picked against the defending AL Champions. I suppose it was because we all thought Cliff Lee was God and that without him Texas was toast. Or maybe we should just fall back on the old “you can’t predict baseball” thing and call it a day, hmmm?

But even if we can’t predict baseball, we can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Rangers and the Cardinals have in store for us during the World Series.

The Teams

Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

The Matchups

Game 1 Wednesday in St. Louis: C.J. Wilson vs. Chris Carpenter
Game 2 Thursday in St. Louis: Colby Lewis vs. Jaime Garcia
Game 3 Saturday in Texas: Edwin Jackson vs. Derek Holland
Game 4 Sunday in Texas: Kyle Lohse vs. Matt Harrison
Game 5 (if necessary) Monday in Texas: TBA vs. TBA
Game 6 (if necessary) next Wednesday in St. Louis: TBA vs. TBA
Game 7 (if necessary) next Thursday in St. Louis: TBA vs. TBA

That’s all sort of up in the air, of course. At least beyond Game 1.  And if we’ve learned anything in the playoffs so far it’s that the starting pitching with these guys is anyone’s guess, both in terms of who will be doing it what we can expect from them. Both the Rangers (6.59 ERA)  and Cardinals (7.03 ERA) starters were awful, and both managers had quick hooks and relied more heavily on their bullpens than any successful playoff teams I can recall. So it would seem that if someone — anyone — can actually come through and pitch a solid seven inning game for once, their team would have a distinct advantage.

Another thing we know: the Rangers are lefty-heavy and the Cardinals hit pretty well against lefties. That could be the difference maker.  Or we could simply have six or seven games in which the pens pitch 80% of the innings. Which would be all kinds of ugly fun.

The Lineups

We’ll get new ones every day, of course, but you know all the players by now: Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton and their friends lead the Rangers attack. The Cardinals are led by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman David Freese, Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal. Each team is capable of knocking the cover clean off the ball. Each team has a guy who, when he’s on, makes opposing pitchers reach for a clean pair of BVDs.  There aren’t a ton of holes in either lineup, and even the Nick Puntos of the world are capable of an annoying hit in a key situation, it seems.  The upshot: it doesn’t look like either team is capable of simply going to sleep on offense en masse, because there are just too many good hitters here.

The Bullpens

This is where the magic happens. Both Tony La Russa and Ron Washington has gotten outstanding bullpen work this postseason. I mean, neither manager got a single quality start out of their rotation, and that’s just nutso. But while each has been fantastic, if I had to bet on one of these pens continuing to be fantastic going forward, it’s the Rangers’ pen.

La Russa has been a wizard, mixing and matching guys, gambling and winning with almost every call to the pen.  But Washington — while also being quite savvy with his bullpen use — simply has more horses he can call on.  In the middle of a game in which a starter creates a hot mess, La Russa can go to Marc Rzepczynski for a situational matchup or Octavio Dotel, which is great as long as they keep forgetting that they’re Marc Rzepczynski and  Octavio Dotel and shouldn’t be as effective as they’ve been. Washington, in contrast, has Alexi Ogando for those middle innings. The same Alexi Ogando who was a starter on the All-Star team this year and deserved it. At the back end it’s the same story. Jason Motte has been fantastic, but if you had to bet your life on someone saving the next 100 games, would you bet on Motte or Neftali Feliz?

The Cards’ bullpen has been great and anything can happen in a short series. There is nothing at all which demands that the Cards’ pen turn into pumpkins or that the Rangers pen play up to its superior potential over the course of the next week.  But if you have to grab onto something, don’t you grab on to the superior talents?  If so, I think you have to go with Texas.

Miscellaneous

  • The TV narrative is probably going to be all about Tony La Russa. Which I understand. But let’s not fall into the “La Russa is a genius and Ron Washington is overmatched” pattern here. La Russa has been on a good run lately, but as everyone knows, sometimes he’s too smart by half and things backfire. It’s high-risk, high-reward stuff that usually breaks his way, but not always. Meanwhile Washington — who has always been a great clubhouse guy who gets the best out of his players — has improved a good deal in the tactical department compared to where he was last postseason. Barring some absolutely historic brain lock, it seems silly to say that a series with two teams as talented as these two will be decided by some wily bit of managerial brilliance.
  • Someone — probably several someones — will write the “no one cares about this World Series matchup” column in the next 48 hours. Please feel free to ignore them. In any other sport the unexpected championship matchup would be heralded as awesome. In baseball for some reason everyone without a stake yawns when the Big Boys of the East Coast are out of it.  And of course if they were in it everyone would complain about baseball not being fair to the have-nots.  And all of that is before you realize that neither the Cards nor the Rangers can be described as “have-nots.”  Each team has a healthy payroll, great attendance, good marketing and local television deals and, in the Cardinals case, a nearly unparalleled historic tradition.
  • If the pattern of poor starting pitching and heavy bullpen use holds, these are gonna be loooong games.
  • We rarely talk about defense with these two teams, what with all of the bashing they’ve been doing.  Each team has several good defensive players but the Rangers are the overall better defensive team in my view and in the view of some advanced defensive metrics I don’t really understand too well.  Upshot: unlike the case with the Brewers or the Tigers, it’s not a great bet that a game will really turn on a defensive blunder.  Unless, of course, it does. (see above verbiage about being unable to predict baseball).

Prediction

This is a great matchup, and let no one tell you differently. Similar strengths, similar weaknesses. All kinds of moving parts due to some players who can play multiple positions, the DH and the likelihood that the bullpens are going to play a major role. Anyone who says that there is some obvious favorite here is smokin’ banana peels.  That said, in a close matchup, I think the Rangers have slight advantages in terms of bullpen talent and depth and offensive firepower.

RANGERS WIN THE SERIES 4-3

  1. sdelmonte - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    My guess: Rangers win in five. Because the Rangers look better to me and because we haven’t had a seven-game series in nine years.

    • paperlions - Oct 18, 2011 at 4:21 PM

      You are probably right….but most people also picked the Phillies in 3 and Brewers in 5.

  2. halladaysbicep - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    Phillies in 4

    • phukyouk - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:21 AM

      silly ‘Cep.. they didnt lose in 4….

  3. phukyouk - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    ” I mean, neither manager got a single quality start out of their rotation”

    Uhhhhhhhhhh.. Cards Vs Phls game 5 NLDS????

  4. kopy - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    I would love a 7 game World Series. It’s been way too long since we’ve had one, since 2002 I think. I don’t see it happening this year though.

  5. phukyouk - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    I pick Rangers in 4 or 5 depending on how Game one swings

  6. The Baseball Idiot - Oct 18, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    The only thing I want for Christmas is for the Cardinals to win. Not so much for them to win, but so we can spend the entire off-season talking about how LaRussa just really isn’t a good manager.

    • paperlions - Oct 18, 2011 at 4:33 PM

      I hate to point this out…but if they win, it will be because they have good players that are playing great baseball. LaRussa has managed 35 yrs and not won at the end of 32 of them….and he has had a lot of great players on every team he’s managed….never had to rebuild, never had to deal with a small pay roll….ever.

      • paperlions - Oct 18, 2011 at 6:22 PM

        I know…that is facted up, isn’t it. I hate when facts get in the way of my unsubstatiated notions.

  7. Nick C - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    In the interest of ful disclosure let me say a couple of things:

    1) I am a huge Cardinals fan.
    2) I’m a 37yr old lawyer with 2 kids who would likes baseball more than the law….hmmm

    Here are my oberservations:

    1) Gene Wojciechowski is a homer idiot. The CUBS?!?! Take off the Harry Carey specs Wojo.

    About the World Series:

    1) These teams are nearly identical. Position by position Catcher – EVEN, 1st Base – CARDS, 2nd Base – RANGERS, SS – EVEN, 3rd Base – RANGERS, LF – CARDS, CF – RANGERS, RF – CARDS, SP – CARDS, Bullpen – RANGERS

    2) I think the Rangers bullpen has slightly better top end talent however I think the Cards bullpen is deeper.

    3) The Cards have the best hitter and pitcher on either team.

    My prediction: CARDS in 6

    • Nick C - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:24 AM

      And lest anyone forget, Steve Berthiaume picked the ASTROS to win the NL Central.

      Worst. Prediction. Ever.

      • Kyle - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:12 PM

        Hahaha, that’s so awesome.

    • trigzter - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      not sure how you can call the catchers and shortstops even. offensively, its not even close, texas takes both positions

      • Nick C - Oct 18, 2011 at 11:02 AM

        I call catcher even because Molina is a far superior defender who can/will completely shut down any type of running game. That takes away a significant part of both Kinsler and Andrus’ offensive games.

        SS is even because Furcal is simply a better hitter over his career than Andrus. Andrus is the better defender but Furcal has far more pop in his bat and has a longer track record of production notwithstanding this year which has been injury plagued.

      • tomemos - Oct 18, 2011 at 11:46 AM

        “…Furcal has far more pop in his bat and has a longer track record of production notwithstanding this year which has been injury plagued.”

        Well, it’s a shame that the Cardinals have to play with the Furcal of 2011 rather than the Furcall of 2005 or whatever.

      • Nick C - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:06 PM

        And here is the data to back up my assertion that Napoli and Molina are fairly even:

        http://holzfeder.com/gallery/THT/2011warrankings.csv

        This is from this article that Craig blogged about re: catcher’s blocking balls:

        http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/another-one-bites-the-dust/

        So taking offense and defense into account Molina and Napoli are just about dead even at lease by this (comprehensive IMO) measure.

      • Nick C - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:13 PM

        tomemos – Its about True Talent Level. Also, please note Furcal’s stats with the Cards:

        .255/.316/.418/.735 (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=furcara02&t=b&year=2011&team=STL&per162=0)

        versus Andrus 2011:

        .279/.347/.361/.708 (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=andruel01&year=2011&t=b)

        Such a shame…..

    • buddaley - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:07 PM

      A pet peeve I trot out every year. I don’t think it logical to compare a team by matching positions unless you are talking strictly about defense. For example, at 2B, Kinsler hits lead off. If Punto plays 2B for the Cards, he will probably bat 8th in St. Louis. So the comparison is strictly about who plays a better 2B. It is possible that by doing that, you give the advantage to St. Louis at 2B. If you want to compare Kinsler’s offense to anyone, do it to the lead off hitter for the Cardinals, not to Punto.

      If you are going to compare teams, you need to compare the defense by position and the offense by the lineups. Who has the better top, middle and end of the lineups, regardless of what position they play. If Cruz continues to bat 7th, who does so for the Cardinals, and how does he compare offensively? If Cruz is the Rangers right fielder, does he play the position better than Berkman does?

      • Nick C - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:16 PM

        I am taking into account both offense and defense in my personal positional comparisons. Since most studies have shown that lineup construction is largely irrelevent to scoring, I don’t think it is really necessary to compare lineups slot by slot.

      • buddaley - Oct 18, 2011 at 11:36 PM

        I am not talking about lineup construction. I am talking about mixing offensive and defensive comparisons. When you say that Yadier Molina and Mike Napoli are even as catchers, it is not a true statement. Molina is probably far superior as a catcher, and so the Cardinals have an advantage defensively behind the plate. Go position by position, and perhaps taking into account positional adjustments for the relative importance of each position on the defensive spectrum, and you might be able to say one team is the better defensive squad.

        Then you need to look at the overall lineups and ask whose lineup is better. Which lineup gets on base more or hits for more power or has a better running game et al. It doesn’t matter which position each one plays. When you look at the 8 or 9 men who will bat (and perhaps the reserves as well), which offense looks stronger? I am not concerned with the batting order or with which position each batter plays.

        (Of course, it can get far more complex. For example, does one pitching staff match up well or poorly against a particular kind of offense?)

  8. thefalcon123 - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    Umm…wow. Here are the prediction breakdowns.

    Percentage of ESPN experts who picked a given team to make it to the post season:

    AL EAST:
    Boston: 100% (45/45 predicted they would win the East!)
    New York: 76%
    Tampa: 9%
    Blue Jays: 2%
    Orioles: 0%

    AL CENTRAL
    White Sox: 71%
    Twins: 20%
    Tigers: 13%
    Cleveland: 0%
    Kansas City: 0%

    AL WEST:
    Rangers: 69%
    A’s: 29%
    Angels: 11%
    Seattle: 9%

    AL EAST:
    Philadelphia: 93%
    Atlanta: 76%
    Florida: 0%
    New York: 0%
    Washington: 0%

    NL CENTRAL:
    Cincinnati: 60%
    Milwaukee: 22%
    Cardinals: 16%
    Chicago: 7%
    Houston: 2%
    Pittsburg: 0%

    NL WEST:
    Colorado: 56%
    San Francisco: 52%
    Los Angeles: 7%
    Arizona: 0%
    San Diego: 0%

    Of your 2011 playoff teams, 76% picked the Yanks, 9% picked the Rays, 13% picked the Tigers, 69% picked the Rangers, 93% picked the Phillies, 22% picked the Brewers, 16% picked the Cardinals and NOBODY picked the Diamondbacks.

    Keep this in mind when reading next year’s ESPN playoff predictions.

    • phukyouk - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:57 AM

      I wont lie… If the Phils had actually Won the AL east i would have be SHOCKED! there is no way that anyone actually picked that, right?

    • natstowngreg - Oct 18, 2011 at 1:13 PM

      This season, the Nats reached the point of “hey, someone will pick them for the playoffs next season, just to be different.” So they will get a few votes for the playoffs come late March, whether they’re ready to contend or not. I expect the Jays (despite their division) and Indians to get similar love.

      • cur68 - Oct 18, 2011 at 2:03 PM

        The critical thing for me, is did an independent set of baseball knowledgeable eyes look over those teams and say “those guys are pretty good”? In one case, yes; Arizona was touted by Craig, who saw them at practice and felt they were on a mission. He let his wild and crazy side get in the way and picked the Cubs to take the NL Central, but I think if he goes over his ‘scouting’ he’ll notice that none of the teams he saw in spring training had the same ‘feel’ as the D-Backs.

        He’ll probably 2nd guess and ‘pshaw’ what I’ve wrote here, but the D-backs were the only team he spoke about like that. In healthcare those ‘feelings’ are meaningful, especially with complex patients who are unable to communicate. I’m going to pay attention to who he talks about like that next season….I might win a lot of money out of it.

  9. Francisco (FC) - Oct 18, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    My wish is that we don’t see a single post or article about some botched or bad call by an umpire affecting a critical phase of the game. The anonymous umpire is the best umpire.

    • Kyle - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:13 PM

      Hear, hear.

    • The Baseball Idiot - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:43 PM

      My wish is that the players, managers and coaches (who are all supposed to know the rules) don’t act like a bunch of complete asses by arguing calls that they already know are right and won’t get overturned, just because they know it incites the crowd and gets everyone blaming the umpires.

      But hey, it does keep them players from looking bad when they can get the crowd to blame the umpires for their own failures.

      • Alex K - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:50 PM

        So now it is the players and manager’s fault when a call in made incorrectly?

      • cshearing - Oct 18, 2011 at 1:40 PM

        Alex K: He said calls “they already know are right”, not ones that were incorrect. I agree. I see athletes arguing when they are obviously wrong all the time, and it is always frustrating and silly.

      • paperlions - Oct 18, 2011 at 4:36 PM

        As soon as umpires stop arguing calls when they know they were wrong, I’ll expect coaches and players to stop arguing calls they know were right.

  10. Jonny 5 - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    The Cards in 7.

    Hey, they beat the Phillies….

  11. marinersnate - Oct 18, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    Rangers in 6.

  12. cur68 - Oct 18, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Rangers in 7. The damn squirrel makes another appearance. Tries to touch Beltre’s head and he beats it to death live on TV.

  13. tridecagon - Oct 18, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Rangers win the Series? Yeah, maybe.

    Rangers go into St. Louis and win a Game 7, against this team, who’s been left for dead and written off multiple times this season, in what could be Albert Pujols’ last game as a Cardinal? I’d be very surprised.

  14. artisan3m - Oct 18, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    It ought to be a great series. I agree that the teams are evenly matched but I give the nod to the Rangers. They have better outfield defense with much better arms, a tighter infield defensively, and a more potent lineup. The question mark for Texas is pitching ~ Wilson, Lewis, Holland, and Harrison have had moments of brilliance ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ occasionally! I think it will take three of the four having commanding games to keep the pen from being overworked. My guess (and we are all guessing here) is the Rangers in six.

  15. foreverchipper10 - Oct 18, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    I am with Nolan on this one. I think the Rangers take it in 6. That being said, I have this pit in my stomach telilng me TLR is going to pull it off again. Somehow….

  16. jimeejohnson - Oct 18, 2011 at 7:46 PM

    Cards won it all in 2006. Texas has never won a championship, but are in the World Series for the second year in a row. If Nelson Cruz keeps hitting the way he did against Detroit, Texas wins it all!

  17. txnative61 - Oct 19, 2011 at 3:12 AM

    I like to just watch and see how the games unfold, but this seems to be an evenhanded analysis. With all that firepower, and pens, and management of pens, being critical for both teams, can’t see how anyone can predict how the matchups will go. One mistake could become blowouts, or turn on one HR. Lean to Rangers for wishful thinking and Nolan Ryan, but will be fun to watch.

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