They’ll begin the World Series on Saturday night when the well-rested Tigers hope to take advantage of the weary Cardinals in Game 1 at Comerica Park.
Detroit is making its first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1984 after a remarkable 95-win season. The Tigers lost an AL-record 119 games just three years ago.
St. Louis is playing in its 17th World Series and second in three years, having been swept by Boston two seasons ago. Although such success is expected for one of baseball’s model franchises, the Cardinals won just 83 games—their lowest victory total since 1999.
In fact, both teams built comfortable division leads before faltering in the final two months of the season. Detroit lost 31 of its last 50 games and entered the postseason on a five-game slide that cost it the AL Central title.
St. Louis won only 22 of its last 50, including a seven-game skid from Sept. 20-26 that jeopardized its spot in the postseason. The Cardinals clinched a third straight NL Central crown on the last day of the season only when second-place Houston lost at Atlanta.
“You have to accept things for what they are. You can’t control what people think,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “And obviously we were kind of a dud toward the end of the season, and we broke the hearts of these people up here, because we didn’t win the division.
“The Cardinals, everybody is talking about they struggled toward the end of the season. The last time the Yankees won the World Series, they lost 16 out of the last 19.”
It’s the third World Series between these teams. The Tigers won in seven games in 1968 and the Cardinals won in seven in 1934.
This year’s Detroit team stretched its losing streak to six games by dropping Game 1 of its division series with the Yankees. However, the Tigers have roared back to win their last seven games by outscoring opponents 40-15 and posting a 2.14 ERA.
The Cardinals had quite a different path to this point, beating San Diego in four games in the division series before outlasting the New York Mets in seven games in the NL championship series.
The length of the NLCS appears to have given Detroit a distinct advantage.
The Tigers haven’t played since eliminating Oakland last Saturday in the ALCS, and the last six teams to start the World Series with five or more days of rest all went on to win. The Cardinals had to travel to Detroit late Thursday night after their 3-1 victory at New York.
St. Louis isn’t using its top two starters, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter and NLCS MVP Jeff Suppan, until the series moves to Busch Stadium for Games 3 and 4. All of Detroit’s pitchers are well rested.
“I think you can make yourself believe that maybe we’re going to be a little stale, and I think if you want to make yourself believe that our injuries have healed up a little bit, our pitchers are rested, we’re really going to be fresh,” Leyland said. “I don’t think either one of those is going to be a factor in this series, whether we had enough rest, too much rest, the perfect amount, I don’t think that’s going to be a factor, but I don’t know that.”
Detroit swept a three-game interleague series from St. Louis in June when the Cardinals were in the middle of an eight-game losing streak.
“They’re very sound, and they are going to be a handful,” said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who is old friends with Leyland. “But I think we can compete against them. I know we can compete against them. And we could have competed against them in June, we just didn’t very well.”
For the first time in World Series history, both teams will open with rookies on the mound. Justin Verlander will start for Detroit after going 1-0 with a 5.91 ERA in two playoff starts—both on the road.
The 23-year-old right-hander, who will be pitching for the first time in 10 days, went 8-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 14 outings at home this year.
“I definitely used the time,” Verlander said. “Pitching late into October my first year, the innings are a lot and there’s some fatigue going on. Being able to rest my arm a little bit and kind of recuperate before this next series definitely helps.”
Verlander won the only time he’s ever faced the Cardinals, allowing four runs and seven hits over six innings in a 10-6 victory on June 23.
The Cardinals counter with Anthony Reyes, who will make only his second postseason start. Reyes lasted four innings and gave up two runs and three hits Sunday in a 12-5 loss to the Mets in Game 4.
The 25-year-old right-hander, who has never faced Detroit, went 2-5 with a 5.29 ERA in nine road outings in the regular season.
“I’m just trying to not think about it right now, just trying to relax and just get rested up and get ready for tomorrow,” Reyes said Friday.
St. Louis will be seeing a familiar face in second baseman Placido Polanco, who spent his first 4 1/2 years with the Cardinals. Polanco, who suffered a separated shoulder in August that nearly kept him out of the postseason, is 16-for-34 (.471) in the playoffs and was named ALCS MVP.
One of Polanco’s best friends from his days in St. Louis is Dominican countryman Albert Pujols, who has just one RBI in the Cardinals’ last nine playoff games. The reigning NL MVP is hitting .324 (12-for-37) in the playoffs, the second-best mark of any St. Louis regular.
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