Commentary

Rain doesn't change 5 big questions

As World Series gets unexpected day off, a few key issues need to be answered

Updated: October 27, 2011, 11:05 AM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa planned to take advantage of Wednesday's World Series rainout to check out "Moneyball" at a local cinema. His Texas counterpart, Ron Washington, was a character in "Moneyball," so he presumably passed on the flick and enjoyed a nice, relaxing dinner away from the park.

Still, the postponement of Game 6 didn't absolve La Russa and Washington of their managerial duties. They showed up at Busch Stadium while players arrived for treatment or work in the indoor cages, then met the press for 15 minutes each. La Russa was coy and occasionally playful during his interview session, while Washington was direct, matter-of-fact and downright passionate with one or two of his responses.

Justin ("Rain Man") Verlander was unavailable for comment on the state of Missouri meteorology, but the two World Series managers and their players addressed some prominent issues that will dominate the conversation over the next day or two. Here are five big questions moving forward, as the Fall Classic slogs toward a conclusion:

1. What does the rainout mean for the pitching matchups?

Nothing changes with the Game 6 starters. Jaime Garcia will go for the Cardinals and be opposed by Colby Lewis. Both pitchers were terrific in their first meeting, a 2-1 Texas victory in Game 2. So we might see another tight, low-scoring game, with the benches and bullpens playing a significant role.

The question, obviously, is what happens in Game 7. Washington is sticking with his original plan: Even though Derek Holland was lights-out in his World Series start and would be available for a seventh game on full rest, the Rangers will go with Matt Harrison. He started out relatively well in Game 3, then unraveled after a missed call by first-base umpire Ron Kulpa, and Albert Pujols teed off on the Texas bullpen to give St. Louis a 16-7 victory.

[+] EnlargeColby Lewis
AP Photo/Paul SancyaColby Lewis will still get the ball for the Rangers in Game 6. He'll just get it a day later.

Washington is sure to be criticized if things don't work out. But judging from his show of resolve in support of Harrison, it's easy to see why his players love him so much. Washington isn't going to bend to media or fan pressure even when it's the most expedient course.

"Harrison has been a big part of this team all year," Washington said. "I am not changing the things that I've been doing all year. That's why we are where we are, and that's why I'm saying Harrison."

If the Cardinals stick to their regular rotation, Kyle Lohse would start a seventh and deciding game. But Chris Carpenter has made it known that he would be available Friday on short rest, and it's hard to imagine La Russa not taking him up on that offer.

Carpenter led the National League with 237 1/3 innings during the regular season, and ranked fifth in the majors with 3,613 pitches thrown. He's tacked on 30 innings and 451 more pitches in the postseason, so it would be understandable if he's a bit worn out at this point.

Carpenter pitched poorly on short rest against Philadelphia in the National League Division Series, but La Russa is keeping his options open. For what it's worth, La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan have ruled out using Carpenter in relief in Game 6, on what would typically be a between-starts throw day.

"Whether it's Chris Carpenter or anybody else, we will not jeopardize an arm," La Russa said. "Three days' rest -- he's already done that. So we would all feel better about [Game] 7 if we needed him."

2. How are things with the injury guys?

Matt Holliday hit .435 (10-for-23) against Milwaukee in the division series, but he's batting only .167 (3-for-18) against the Rangers. On a positive note, Holliday has drawn five walks in the World Series. And he saw a whopping 35 pitches against C.J. Wilson and the Texas bullpen in Game 5.

Amid speculation that he's bothered by the hand injury that forced him to miss considerable time in September, Holliday characterized his health as "fine."

"I've had some good at-bats, and I feel pretty good about where I'm at," Holliday said.

La Russa thinks Holliday's problems are related more to timing issues than injury concerns. Holliday missed 10 days in September with an inflamed tendon in his hand, returned down the stretch, then reaggravated the injury in the final week of the season.

"I hesitate to say it because I hate to add pressure to a guy," La Russa said. "But I think it's very possible that one of the next two games, Matt could be our hitting hero. Every time he takes an at-bat, he gets closer. He just needs not to force it."

Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton, who's suffering from a strained groin, showed up at Busch Stadium and played some long toss and swung a bat in the cage. The cooler weather in St. Louis won't help him any, but at this point, Hamilton will give it what he's got and hope for the best. Then he'll find out for sure if his injury really is a sports hernia, and whether it will require surgery over the winter.

3. What's the state of the bullpens?

Assuming the bullpen phones at Busch Stadium are fully operational, both teams should be fine.

Holland went 8 1/3 innings in his start, Lewis worked into the seventh and Wilson contributed 11 innings over two starts, so Texas' relievers haven't been overly taxed in the series. And La Russa said his bullpen was ready en masse Wednesday, so the Cardinals should be fine as well.

"I don't think this adds anything to our competitive chances, nor theirs," La Russa said.

La Russa has both Jake Westbrook and Edwin Jackson available as long men Thursday, and Washington will call upon Holland or Wilson if the need arises.

4. How big an X factor is Derek Holland?

Potentially very big. Holland was terrific in Game 4, and it's not a big stretch to see the Rangers using him out of the bullpen in each of the next two games in St. Louis. Before sliding into the Texas rotation this year, Holland made 31 starts and 16 relief appearances for the Rangers during the 2009-2010 season.

Holland had a control meltdown in relief against the Giants in the World Series last year. But judging from his latest start, he has left that Derek Holland in the rearview mirror.

"He knows what he has to do to get loose, and he won't be in awe of what's going on," Washington said.

5. Which St. Louis offense will show up?

The Cardinals are hitting .229 as a team in the Series. Remove that 16-7 Albert Pujols-fest in Game 3, and they're batting .183. They went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position Monday in Arlington, and La Russa spent more time lamenting that sorry stat than the now-infamous Jason Motte-Lance Lynn bullpen phone mix-up.

With the right-handed Lewis on the mound for Texas in Game 6, Lance Berkman will move up to the cleanup spot behind Pujols, and Holliday will drop to fifth. Skip Schumaker will play center field and bat second behind Rafael Furcal.

One thing that probably won't change: the Rangers' resistance to pitching to Albert Pujols in big spots unless it's absolutely necessary. Pujols is at four intentional walks -- and counting -- in the Series.

"I've been dealing with it for almost nine years right now," Pujols said. "It's part of the game. You prepare physically and mentally and trust in the guys in front of you and behind you that they're going to do the job. They've done it this year and my whole career. And when they don't swing good, hopefully I have a good game. We play as a team and stay united as a team. This isn't a game where you point fingers."

Berkman, always candid, said it's natural to take offense at seeing opponents pitch around Pujols to get to him or Holliday. The challenge, he said, is keeping emotion out of the equation.

"We're all human beings," Berkman said. "People can say, 'It's no insult to such-and-such.' But by the same token, teams clearly feel they have a better chance of getting me out than they do Albert if they intentionally walk him to pitch to me. Intellectually, I know that's probably the case. But in your heart, as a competitor, it rankles you a little bit."

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.

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Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer

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