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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

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