October 18, 2011
Congratulations are in order for the St. Louis Cardinals after winning the National League pennant in six games against the Milwaukee Brewers. Good luck and best wishes are also in order, because the reward for their achievement is a trip to the World Series and a meeting with the buzz saw known as the Texas Rangers.
I don't think anyone would deny that this is an uphill battle for the Cardinals. The Rangers have been an unstoppable force in the postseason offensively, sending one weapon after another to the plate. But the Cardinals have been fighting uphill for the better part of two months, so this challenge will be nothing new to them. And now that their climb is nearly complete, it would be foolish to assume their momentum can't carry them all the way to the top.
Here are the five reasons why St. Louis can overcome the Rangers' strengths, expose their weaknesses, and shock the world with a World Series victory.
1. Chris Carpenter is available for two starts and possibly more:
There were several advantages to the Cardinals wrapping up their NLCS victory in six games. The most important? Lining up Chris Carpenter to start Game 1. That gives manager Tony La Russa the option of bringing his ace — and the best pitcher in this series — back twice on short rest in Games 4 and 7, or starting him in Game 5 and potentially having him available in relief in Game 7.
It all depends on how things shake out early in the series, but the flexibility La Russa can enjoy with a well-rested (and reportedly healthy) Carpenter is a potential series-changer.
Update: According to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Carpenter was dealing with inflammation in his elbow following his Game 3 start in the NLCS. He required daily treatment leading up a potential Game 7 start, and is unlikely to throw on short rest in the World Series. That puts a little dent into the Cardinals plans, but they should still get two starts out of their ace.
2. The offense will stay hot: The Redbirds can't count on getting help from the Rangers defense like they did from Milwaukee's (LCS record nine errors), or at least I hope they can't. That's not all that fun to watch. But I do think they will continue their offensive roll against another pitching staff that has yet to establish itself in this postseason.
C.J. Wilson(notes) is scuffling a bit and, according to everybody, the impending free agent's value seems to fluctuate with every pitch. Derek Holland(notes) has excellent stuff, but is still searching for consistency. That leaves Colby Lewis(notes) and Matt Harrison(notes), a pair of reliable options, but no more intimidating than Shaun Marcum(notes) and Randy Wolf(notes).
3. Tony La Russa's masterful maneuvering: I'll never be the president of La Russa's fan club, but I'll be the first to give credit where it's due. He did a tremendous job guiding his squad through the NLCS without a single outing from a starting pitcher lasting into the sixth inning. That's something that's never been done before — at least not successfully.
La Russa stated during his in-game interview in Game 6 that he hasn't enjoyed having to pull so many strings. I don't believe him — he loves being in the middle of the action, and we know he's going to continue being aggressive in creating good matchups for his pitching staff. With that in mind, I'm not convinced Ron Washington can match wits and or keep up over the course of a seven-game series.
Now, if this were a dugout dance-off, I'd give Washington the slight edge. Anything baseball related, I'll go La Russa.
4. Home-field advantage: Hopefully, St. Louis left Prince Fielder(notes) a thank-you note on its way out of Miller Park. Of course it was Fielder's three-run home run — ironically against C.J. Wilson in the All-Star game — that affords the Redbirds home field in the World Series. That's a big advantage should it go the distance, because home teams have won the past eight Game 7's in the Fall Classic. It also gives St. Louis a comfortable setting to start and finish the series, and could play into the following:
5. The pressure is squarely on Texas: The Cardinals are playing with house money. They were left for dead back in early September — as this tweet from Nyjer Morgan(notes) indicates — and have gone on an improbable two-month run to end up here. Obviously they're going to want to win while they're here, but they're not expected to.
On the other side, the Rangers are the favorites and they're looking to avoid losing back-to-back World Series. They come in realizing it's rare enough to get a second chance, and that a third would be an extreme long shot. That gives us two teams with two completely different mindsets going in, which could develop into a mental edge for St. Louis if it starts the series with a couple wins and/or come home with a chance to win it.
I'm not saying the Rangers will fold, but they could press. If so, the Rangers will end up stunned, like Philadelphia and Milwaukee before them.
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