Rangers, Cardinals hard to tell apart
Rotation hiccups, workhorse bullpens, deep lineups define routes of Series combatants
ST. LOUIS -- The starting pitching hasn't gone deep in games this postseason. The bullpen has come in early and often, shutting down the opponent to preserve leads. The deep lineup has banged the ball around the park enough to win series. And a hot September has led to success in October.
The truth: It's both.
For two teams that have met just once before -- a three-game set in Arlington, Texas, in 2004 -- the Cardinals and Rangers sure are similar.
So with Game 1 of the World Series upon us, let's take a look at some of those similarities and things to watch for as the Fall Classic gets underway at chilly Busch Stadium on Wednesday night:
Piling up runs
Both teams made sure Game 6 of the their respective League Championship Series was a rout. The Rangers did it with a big third inning at home against the Detroit Tigers, scoring nine runs thanks in large part to a pair of Michael Young two-run doubles in the frame. The Cardinals went on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers and put up four runs in the first and then added four more runs in the third to make it 9-4. They never looked back.
During the regular season, both of these teams were at or near the lead in the major offensive categories in their respective leagues. St. Louis led the NL in runs scored (4.7 per game), average (.273) on-base percentage (.341) and slugging (.425). The Rangers were third in the AL in runs (5.27 per game), first in average (.283), second in home runs (210) and second in slugging (.460).
Deep lineupsThose runs come from the fact that both teams have the ability to score runs at various parts of their lineups. Ian Kinsler can change a game from the leadoff spot. Josh Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, is the Rangers' No. 3 hitter. Young, who nearly won the batting title this season, is hitting cleanup. The lineup is so deep that Nelson Cruz is slated to hit seventh. All he did was set a postseason record in becoming the first player with six homers and 13 RBIs in one playoff series (2011 ALCS).[+] EnlargeRick Osentoski/US PresswireThe Rangers have impact players at several spots in their lineup.
The Cardinals counter with a lineup that features the always dangerous Albert Pujols, whom many Rangers players have bestowed plenty of compliments about the past few days. Free-agent signee Lance Berkman has become a critical weapon in the middle of the order. Matt Holliday is hitting .375 this postseason, and don't forget about David Freese, the NLCS MVP and a guy who has 14 RBIs and four homers this postseason.
It won't be easy on pitchers to get through either lineup.
Pitch around or be hurt
If there is one player on each team right now whom opposing pitchers will be particularly careful with (and managers will seriously consider walking), they've got to be Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz.Both teams have other players in the lineup that can hurt you. But Pujols and Cruz can change games with one swing of the bat.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/David J. PhillipAs they did with Miguel Cabrera, the Rangers will have to decide if they want to pitch around the Cardinals' Albert Pujols.
Pujols is hitting .419 with two homers and 10 RBIs this postseason. He has a knack for making things happen at the critical times, and he's been one of the top offensive players in the history of the game for years now.
The Rangers just got through trying to hold down another tough power hitter in Miguel Cabrera, a task they found difficult in the ALCS.
"I certainly hope that he's not another Cabrera, but you certainly have to watch yourself with him because he can hurt you in many ways," Washington said. "We'll just see how the game dictates how we should handle him."
Cruz, meanwhile, made history in the ALCS. He had eight hits, all of them extra-base hits, including the six homers. He had a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning of Game 2 and turned a one-run game into a four-run game with a three-run blast in the 11th inning of Game 4, giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead in the series.
Both teams managed to get through the LCS despite disappointing work by their starters. The Rangers' playoff rotation has a 5.62 ERA and a 3-3 record. There have only been two starters to go six innings (Colby Lewis in Game 3 of ALDS and C.J. Wilson in Game 5 of ALCS). Lewis' outing in the division series was the only quality start by a member of the rotation in the playoffs.
Allowing home runs has been a problem for the Texas starters this postseason. They've given up 14 of them in 49 2/3 innings (2.54 HR per nine innings) after a 0.94 home run per nine-inning mark in the regular season.
“St. Louis' rotation hasn't been much better. The Cardinals' starters have a 5.43 ERA with only three quality starts. That even includes a masterpiece by Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the ALDS, throwing a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Phillies to get the Cardinals to the NLCS.
If this becomes a starting pitching series, don't be surprised.” -- Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa
"If this becomes a starting pitching series, don't be surprised," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "The talent is there."
Washington was asked whether he was using his hook too soon in the playoffs, something La Russa certainly knows well with his liberal use of the bullpen.
"In my opinion, my hook has been right on time," Washington said. "If it happened to be in the third inning, so be it. The game's going that way and you're trying to make sure you stay in the ballgame. Whatever you have to do once the game starts, you try to do it."
If both teams have starting pitching ERAs over 5.00 and are still in the Fall Classic, it means the bullpens have been tremendous. And they have been.Both clubs have needed 42 1/3 innings out of their bullpens this postseason, tough the Cardinals played one more game than the Rangers.[+] EnlargeTim Heitman/US PresswireAlexi Ogando has been the star of the Rangers' bullpen with his ability to go multiple innings.
The Rangers' bullpen is 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA and has held opponents to a .193 average this postseason. Koji Uehara has allowed five runs and three home runs in his 1 1/3 innings of work, but the rest of the relief corps has a 1.32 ERA. It was even better in the ALCS, where the bullpen put up a 1.32 ERA with six walks and 25 strikeouts.
Alexi Ogando was a critical component of that bullpen. He allowed Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux to shorten the game. He can pitch multiple innings, can get batters out late and knows that he's only going to be in there for a few innings, so he can turn it loose.
"I feel good and I'm just out there doing my job," Ogando said. "My fastball has been good, so it all starts from there."
The Cardinals' bullpen has sported a 2.55 ERA and opponents hit just .177 in the postseason. Remarkably, St. Louis' bullpen has three games of no runs allowed in at least four innings of work. That includes six shutout innings of one-hit baseball in Game 2 of the NLDS and 8 1/3 innings combined of scoreless work in Games 3 and 5 of the NLCS.
Closer Jason Motte has been dominant, giving up just one hit in his eight innings of work. Motte has seven strikeouts, no walks and four saves. Octavio Dotel has come in during various parts of games to shut things down. He has allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and one walk in seven games. And he has two wins.
Interestingly, both bullpens struggled in the first half. The Rangers lost a slew of games late before trade-deadline deals solidified things. The Cardinals had the second-most blown saves in the first half and losing leads late was a big reason why they fell so far behind in the race early.
Double play specialistsWhen it comes to getting the timely double play (and aren't all double plays pretty timely?), the Rangers and Cardinals are at the top of the league.[+] EnlargeJerry Lai/US PresswireNick Punto and Rafael Furcal have been the main double-play combo for the Cardinals, the major league leaders in twin killings.
St. Louis turned 167 double plays this season, the top mark in the majors. The Rangers turned 162 of them, second only to the Cardinals.
Turning double plays is about everyone doing his part. The flip to second base has to be on time and in the proper spot so that a fielder can get in the proper throwing position and avoid a sliding runner. And the first basemen must be ready to stretch out and get any throw out of the dirt.
Both teams made that look easy this season. That canny ability to get out of trouble with runners on base is even more critical in the postseason.
With so many double plays turned, you can imagine that both clubs have pitchers near the top of the list for most double plays induced this season. C.J. Wilson (31) and Matt Harrison (30) were first and second in the majors. Edwin Jackson of the Cardinals was fifth (27) and Jaime Garcia eighth (25).
More Texas Rangers coverage
For more news, notes and analysis of the Rangers, check out ESPN Dallas' Rangers Report. Blog
For instance, the Cardinals led the majors in going from first to third, turning the trick 119 times, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The Rangers were second at 95 times. On bases taken, which factors in tagging up on fly balls, moving up on passed balls, wild pitches and anything else, the Rangers are third in the AL and the Cardinals are fifth in the NL.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.
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