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Rangers hold the edge in World Series matchups

Steve Henson
Yahoo Sports

ST. LOUIS – Are position-by-position matchups in baseball as meaningful as in other sports? Probably not. Power-hitting first basemen don't guard one another like basketball power forwards do. A center fielder doesn't drive his body into an opponent every play the way a center does at the snap of a football.

Matchups are imperfect, yes, but they can be illuminating. If everyone performs at the level they've established in recent years, months, days, the team that holds an edge in more areas probably ought to win the best-of-seven World Series.

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Such an exercise bodes well for the Texas Rangers. They hold edges over the St. Louis Cardinals ranging from slight to sizeable in five of 13 categories. That's enough because five other categories are a push, giving the Cardinals the nod in three categories:

Rangers

Who has the edge?

Cardinals

Catchers

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Napoli
EDGE EVEN

Mike Napoli(notes) and Yorvit Torrealba(notes). In his first year with Texas, Napoli has followed a career year (.320/.414/.631) with a strong postseason. His pull power is formidable, helping give the Rangers' lineup potent depth. Napoli's defense and throwing have been unexpectedly outstanding as well. Torrealba is a savvy veteran who came up with big hits in the ALCS and has World Series experience from 2007 with Colorado.

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Molina
EDGE EVEN

Yadier Molina(notes). An anchor in St. Louis for eight years, Molina delivered his best offensive season in 2011 and has maintained it throughout the playoffs. His defensive metrics are mixed, and he threw out a much lower percentage of basestealers than ever before. Yet Molina calls an exquisite game, knows the staff and is on the same wavelength as pitching coach Dave Duncan. He's an asset.

First Base

Mitch Moreland(notes) and Michael Young(notes). The left-handed Moreland might be an average hitter and he's certainly no Albert Pujols(notes), but he did bat .462 in last year's World Series. He's capable of producing a big moment. Young will play first against left-handed pitchers to open up the DH slot for another right-handed bat, but his primary value is as the Rangers' DH.

Albert Pujols. The best hitter in baseball is on fire in the playoffs, helping everyone overlook a bumpy regular season. Nobody can quite forget that free agency looms for him, and maybe leaving St. Louis after bringing the city another World Series title would be a classy way to go. Pujols ought to eat up Rangers lefties C.J. Wilson(notes), Derek Holland(notes) and Matt Harrison(notes).

SECOND BASE

Ian Kinsler(notes). Kinsler has power and a low batting average, but he's a good leadoff hitter because he walks a lot and steals bases without getting caught often. He has 11 hits and seven walks in 10 postseason games; in other words, he's doing his job. Kinsler is slightly above average defensively, his primary value coming as a 30-30 offensive player who recognizes his role is to reach base for the boppers behind him.

Nick Punto(notes) and Ryan Theriot(notes). With Skip Schumaker(notes) out because of a strained oblique, Punto and Theriot split time at second in the NLCS. Punto is not much of an offensive threat (remember that Tony La Russa had him sacrifice bunt with the pitcher on deck), but he outhit Theriot .133 to .100.

SHORTSTOP

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Andrus

Elvis Andrus(notes). Shortstop is a premium position without a premium player for either team. Andrus is an above-average defender who has accumulated 26 games of postseason experience the last two years. He doesn't get rattled and is capable of outstanding plays. He has zero power, but overall he's been the same offensive player in the postseason as in the regular season, and there's something to be said for that.

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Furcal

Rafael Furcal(notes). A late-season acquisition from the Dodgers, Furcal has provided solid defense, veteran leadership and acceptable offense. He seems healthy for the first time in several years and still displays a cannon from deep short. He's capable of a big hit now and again but really isn't a plus from the leadoff spot, making a lot of outs and not stealing bases anymore.

THIRD BASE

EDGE EVEN

Adrian Beltre(notes). One of the most underrated players in the game because of his four-year disappearing act in Seattle from 2005-2009, Beltre is a premier fielder and dangerous hitter. His presence batting fifth enables Josh Hamilton(notes) and Michael Young to get pitches to hit in front of him. Even though he seems a young 32, Beltre has 14 seasons and more than 2,000 hits and 300 home runs on his resume.

EDGE EVEN

David Freese(notes). The emergence of Freese as a dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup is a major reason the Cardinals are in the World Series. Can he continue to deliver? He batted .545 in the NLCS, with three home runs among his 12 hits. The production isn't totally unexpected – Freese has hit .298 in parts of three seasons. His defense is average, but his hot bat makes him as much an asset as Beltre.

LEFT FIELD

David Murphy(notes). Although Murphy's regular-season offensive production was slightly down this year, he had a tremendous ALCS against the Tigers and is certain to get a lot of at-bats against the predominantly right-handed Cardinals pitchers. His occasional power and speed make him dangerous near the bottom of the batting order, but he's no Matt Holliday(notes).

Matt Holliday. Apparently healed from a hand injury that hampered him in September and in the NLDS, Holliday batted .435 in the NLCS. Like Pujols and Freese, he will be a tough out against the trio of Rangers left-handed starters. La Russa could go with Holliday or Lance Berkman(notes) as the designated hitter in Arlington, but the important thing is that Holliday will get plenty of at-bats, likely with runners aboard.

CENTER FIELD

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Hamilton

Josh Hamilton. Ron Washington has been starting Hamilton in center field and moving him to left in the late innings if the Rangers are ahead. Rest assured he'll be batting third at all times. Last season he followed up a sensational ALCS with a poor World Series, going 2 for 20 against the Giants. He was good again against the Tigers and it'll be interesting to see how he performs on the biggest stage.

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Jon Jay

Jon Jay(notes). Replacing the traded Colby Rasmus(notes) in center, Jay produced as do so many of La Russa's favored players: He hits for a high average but displays little power or base-stealing ability. He can do the little things batting in the two-hole, but rarely does anything special. Jay is slightly below average defensively. All in all, he's no match in a head-to-head comparison with Hamilton.

RIGHT FIELD

Nelson Cruz(notes). Talk about a turnaround. Cruz ended a disappointing regular season by hitting only one homer after Aug. 26, and followed that with a horrific ALDS. Then he caught fire, hitting a record six home runs in 25 plate appearances in the ALCS. All is forgiven! Cruz is another example of the Rangers' lineup depth. His 12 home runs in 26 postseason games over the last two years give him a slight edge over Berkman.

Lance Berkman. Everyone thought the Cardinals were nuts when they signed Berkman to a one-year, $8 million deal last offseason. He delivered as well as anyone could have hoped, slightly eclipsing his career OPS with a .959 mark at age 35. Most of the highlights came early in the season, but a July swoon was followed by two solid months and a reasonably good postseason. Just not Nelson Cruz good.

DESIGNATED HITTER

It'll be Michael Young against right-handed starters and either Yorvit Torrealba or Mike Napoli against left-handers because Young will play first base. Any way it's presented, the Rangers have a huge advantage in the games at Arlington. They were built to have nine strong hitters in the lineup every day; the Cardinals weren't.

Allen Craig(notes). Craig might play left field with Holliday moving to DH, or Berkman could be the DH in another configuration. But the result is that at-bats likely will go to Craig, who hits with power against left-handers and for average against anybody.

BULLPEN

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Wilson
EDGE EVEN

Staff ace C.J. Wilson will start on regular rest in Game 1, followed by Derek Holland, Colby Lewis(notes) and Matt Harrison. Wilson, Holland and Harrison are left-handed, and the Cardinals' lineup is predominantly right-handed, with two switch-hitters. However, the Cardinals hit righties better during the regular season.

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Carpenter
EDGE EVEN

Eliminating the Brewers in six games rather than seven sets up staff ace Chris Carpenter for Game 1 on six days rest. Lefty Jaime Garcia(notes) will start Game 2, and Kyle Lohse(notes), Edwin Jackson(notes) would get Games 3 and 4 unless La Russa didn't like the way Jackson threw Sunday and makes a change.

STARTING PITCHING

EDGE EVEN

The Rangers lack a lock-down lefty, but right-handers Scott Feldman(notes), Alexi Ogando(notes), Mike Adams(notes) and Neftali Feliz(notes) delivers the goods. The quartet notched all four wins and a save in the ALCS, allowing two runs in 22 innings.

EDGE EVEN

The Cardinal bullpen was less touted than the Rangers', but no less relied upon and no less effective in the NLCS. The top six relievers allowed three earned runs in 25 1/3 innings. Jason Motte(notes) has been untouchable as the closer.

BENCH

EDGE EVEN

The Rangers don't platoon except with first baseman Mitch Moreland, so their reserves are truly reserves. Craig Gentry(notes) stole 18 bases in as many tries. Either Gentry or Endy Chavez(notes) can serve as a late-inning defensive upgrade in center field.

EDGE EVEN

The injury to Schumaker cut into the Cardinals' bench depth because either Punto or Theriot is in the lineup. Both are versatile, savvy role players with more value coming off the bench. Craig is a power threat as a pinch-hitter.

MANAGER

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Washington

Ron Washington. There's a lot more to this guy than acting crazy in the dugout when his runners are rounding third and scoring runs. Washington keeps his players loose and sets a high-energy, positive tone. Yet he expects the utmost professionalism and peak performance, and his players know it. To his credit, he lets Mike Maddux handle the pitching staff.

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La Russa

Tony La Russa. It's tough not go with a manager who is in his 33rd season, ranks third in all-time regular-season and postseason victories, and who is making his sixth trip to the World Series. La Russa, 67, displays the competitive fire of a man 20 years his junior, and his creative use of the Cardinals' bullpen this postseason has proven he's still capable of thinking outside the box.