Friday, June 21, 2013
By Todd Wills
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's time for the the return.
The Rangers play their first ever regular season series at Busch Stadium, but it's not the first time that the Texas road uniform has been on display in St. Louis. Of course you know the Rangers lost the final two games of the 2011 World Series at Busch Stadium, losing a 3-2 series lead on the road as the Cardinals were crowned world champions.
Much as has changed since that October. The Cardinals no longer have Albert Pujols. The Rangers no longer have Josh Hamilton. They are teammates with the Angels.
But the two teams are still really good with the Cardinals owning major league baseball's best record and the Rangers back in playoff contention again.
Here's what to watch for this weekend:
Best team in baseball: The Cardinals hardly miss Pujols, who left a perennial contender to help the underachieving Angels to a 32-41 record. St. Louis has moved on by making the playoffs in 2012 and building a 47-26 record this year, 15 games better than Pujols' Angels. Who's getting the last laugh now? St. Louis has a major league-best plus-108 run differential.
Also in contention: The Rangers hardly miss Josh Hamilton, who has been dropped to No. 7 in the Angels lineup and is batting a lowly .210 for the season. Hambone's old team has had trouble scoring runs, but it's not because he's in Anaheim. The Rangers are very much in playoff contention in the American League, a game behind Oakland in the American League West after winning three out of four games from the A's this week. The Rangers have a plus-21 run differential.
Cards can pitch: The Cardinals' starting pitching is nothing short of spectacular, and the Rangers will see their two best this weekend. St. Louis will start 22-year-old sensation Shelby Miller from Houston on Saturday. Miller is 8-4 with a 2.08 ERA, fifth best in baseball. On ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, the Cardinals will throw ace Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.37), who is tied for the major league lead in wins, in what was supposed to be a battle of aces with the Rangers' Yu Darvish (his start has been pushed back to Tuesday in New York against the Yankees). The Rangers best matchup from a starting pitching standpoint comes Friday night when Derek Holland (5-4, 3.30) goes against the Redbirds' Tyler Lyons (2-3, 4.65).
Don't forget the closer: The Cardinals have also found a quality closer in Edward Mujica, who is 20-for-20 on save opportunities to begin the season. It's the best start for a St. Louis closer since former Ranger Tom Henke converted his first 22 save chances in 1995. Joe Nathan has been great for the Rangers too, converting 22 of 23 save opportunities.
Yadier oh Yadier: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina may be the most underrated player in baseball. He's having a tremendous 2013. He leads the major leagues with a .366 batting average. He has hits in 55 of the Cardinals' 72 games. Molina is batting .431 in the 55 games he's hit safely this season.