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Big League Stew

The Stewards Debate! Talking Rangers, Cards and the Series

Big League Stew

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As the start of the World Series between the Rangers and Cardinals approaches on Wednesday night, two Big League Stewards take a look at what we can expect.

'Duk: And so here we are, Mr. Brown. Exactly how we drew it up. The Texas Rangers vs. the St. Louis Cardinals for all the marbles, the whole enchilada, the kit and the kaboodle!

Oh, that's right. Actually no one predicted or saw this coming. I got a link emailed to me this morning crowing that our pals at ESPN went 0-for-90 on their World Series picks and the nose-thumber did that annoying thing where they put "experts" in quotes as if we all graduated from some school that unlocked the secrets of sports prognostication and have failed miserably. Maybe we should have all done a better job of working to develop sources at the Popeye's closest to Fenway Park, I don't know. But I should also point out that I've yet to see any of these so-called "fans" pick this matchup back in March.

[Related: Slideshow: Cardinals, Rangers prepare for World Series]

Anyway, here we are and at least I didn't pick the Oakland A's to win the AL West like some co-workers I know. My question to you is this: Can America get interested in a World Series that wasn't even a twinkle in Fredbird's eye on Labor Day? {YSP:MORE}

David Brown: Yeah, I've already heard some complaining, and I've certainly got the sense that many are already bemoaning this matchup. Heck, it appears that America likes zombies more than it likes baseball. And I was in a Red Lobster the other day and all the TVs had the Chicago Blackhawks on instead of the ACLS. What gives?! As far as the participants go, it can't be that surprising to people that the Texas Rangers are the AL representative in the World Series, right? Didn't they go last year?

And I know the St. Louis Cardinals are pulling off the epic comeback of all epic comebacks, but they still have a "Q" rating. The fungo bat-toting, Tony La Russa — the man that opposing fans love to hate. Albert Pujols is one of the more famous sluggers of the day. David Freese is on an unmatched hot streak right now. Granted, neither team's starting pitching is doing all that well right now, nor is it all that famous, but there's a lot to latch onto here.

[Related: Who has the edge heading into the World Series?]

Texas, going for its franchise's first championship, with Nolan Ryan as the leader. Everybody knows Nolan Ryan and many love him. Ron Washington, while some of his decisions make you go "huh?", gyrates in the dugout like he's doing aerobics. Who can't get into that? The series should generate interest. Maybe the Brewers were more fun (or funner) with their Beast Mode and such, but it's not like the Cardinals and Rangers have no personality. I'm going to be interested to see whose bullpen cracks first, because both of these offenses are dynamite.

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'Duk: While I'll let ESPN and its experts — look ma, no punctuation! — off the hook for a batting average lower than Adam Dunn's, I will take them to task for their conditioning of the American sports fan. When you're told to expect the Red Sox and Yankees for the past decade and then there's no Red Sox and Yankees, you're going to notice that something is missing. I also find it interesting that a Cinderella team like the Cardinals would be the best thing ev-uh in the NCAA tournament, yet in baseball they're still carrying a giant stigma. Just wait until Uncle Bud lets those fifth teams in and one of them reaches the World Series.

You're right, though. There are a lot of good storylines to be dissected here. There was a lot to like about last year's series, even though it featured two surprise teams and was finished in just five games. Baseball on the game's final stage is still great baseball and there are enough subplots here to keep us busy for the next week-and-half.

In my eyes, the best is the battle of the offenses, a matchup that's going to test both pitching staffs every single inning. I give the edge to the Rangers when it comes to 1 through 9, but what do you think it will take for the Cardinals' bats to come out ahead?

[Related: Rhodes will get a World Series ring, win or lose]

DB: Granted, his pitchers were functioning at their worst, but Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said attacking the St. Louis lineup was adventurous. "Calling pitches, it felt like Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and all them were hitting against us," he said. Pujols is Pujols. Matt Holliday is healthy. Lance Berkman's coming off a renaissance season. Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal set a mean table. David Freese has turned into a freak. Yadier Molina is a pain. Nick Punto and Ryan Theriot, whatevs. But it all adds up to big things.

Now look at how the Rangers' starters did during the ALCS: They finished with a 6.59 ERA, which happens to be the second-worst, ever, for a team that won the series. The good news is, they're grouped with four other teams — the '77 Yankees, '87 Twinkies, '91 Twinkies and '04 Red Sox — which also won the World Series after getting poor starting pitching in the ALCS.

What does it mean? We're going to get a lot of games with 7-6 scores by the fifth inning and then finish 8-7 because the bullpens will come to the rescue. Tony La Russa says it's driving him crazy, not having starting pitching be in control, but I think it's fun.

'Duk: All those pitching changes are fun? What are you, selling advertising for Fox on the side? While I did enjoy the drama of La Russa yanking Jaime Garcia early in Game 5 and replacing him with Octavio Dotel, give me a game where the starters go deep and need little to no relief. That's what made the Giants' run so incredible last year and it's why we'll always remember Chris Carpenter putting the Cards on his back against Roy Halladay and the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS. Hell, it's the whole reason the Cardinals are back in the World Series and I get to continue making fun of Imo's "Pizza."

You cited the Rangers starters' awful ERA for the ALCS, but the Cardinals' mark of 7.03 was actually worse. They combined for only 24 1/3 innings of work against the Brewers and saddled the bullpen with a bigger load of 28 2/3 innings. The relievers posted a 1.88 ERA to save their predecessors' hides, but don't you think that's going to catch up with them? Their days of feasting on all Brewers not named Braun and Fielder (and sometimes even them) are over.

[Related: After loss, Brewers face life without Prince Fielder]

The Rangers' rotation does concern me, though. They're way too left-handed for all those righty bats in St. Louis' lineup and the names of C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis were probably part of the reason everyone had such a hard time picking them to repeat. Texas has a great bullpen, but then you run into the team's other huge disadvantage: Ron Washington's oft-questioned decisions in late innings.

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DB: That's one of the great things about this matchup. You got La Russa, who everyone thinks is a genius or as the Wicked Witch of the West, and there's ol' Wash, who can't get no respect in some quarters. He has a great reputation as a teacher and a leader of men, but some of us — I might be among them — question some of his in-game tactics. This series is going to be a second-guesser's dream! Every decision La Russa makes will be analyzed and judged on whether it's genius-worthy or too smart for his own good. Wash's pitching moves — when and how much does he use Alexi Ogando, when does he go with Neftali Feliz — will have passionate fans screaming at their TVs for five innings a night. That's at least 25 percent of enjoying baseball right there. There's a lot to like here, and we haven't even talked much about Texas' lineup yet. Josh Hamilton, if his groin allows, grabs your attention like Pujols. Every time Nelson Cruz comes up, the other team is scared to death he's going to hit a home run. Adrian Beltre, same thing. Ian Kinsler might be a budding star, Tim McCarver says! Nobody's even said the name Mike Napoli yet, and it's the Year of the Napoli. Good grief, no wonder Wash is such a good manager. Look at that lineup!

Duk: Which is why it all comes back to that battle of the offenses and which bullpen can come up big more frequently. Personally, I'll take Ogando as the best X-factor on either side. Also, as much as I like Jason Motte and his Yukon Cornelius lifestyle — I even sat next to him at Pappy's BBQ last week! — there's no way I'm going to tab a closer-by-default over Neftali Feliz. No matter how hot of a streak he's been on.

[Related: Cards closer Motte can't see where he's throwing]

Look, there's no question that we're in for some good baseball and some good storylines, no matter how many people decide to tune in and watch. But when you look at the two rosters and consider some of the tumult the Cards rotation is already facing, I think all signs are pointing to a Rangers' redemption. Mark 'em down for a six-game victory as they become the first team since the 1989 A's to win a World Series directly after losing one. It'll also mark the start of the Albert Pujols free-agency derby we've all been waiting for.

DB: Cardinals' GM John Mozeliak did a great job putting this roster together, especially in light of losing Adam Wainwright during spring training. The Colby Rasmus trade helped, as did relying on La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan to construct an order to the pitching staff. Without all of that, the Cardinals probably aren't in the World Series. But what we'll have in a few days is a reckoning, that boyish Jon Daniels, GM of the Rangers, is the best in his sport. The Rangers have fewer question marks. This business with Chris Carpenter's elbow is troublesome. If he goes down and the Cardinals can't even count on five or six innings from their ace, the bullpen pyramid scheme is likely to collapse — yes — like a house of cards. I like the Rangers in five ultra-competitive games.

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