It's the St. Louis Cardinals against the Texas Rangers, so put on your best blue or red, get those bullpens ready and let's go. The Rangers are the first American League team to win back-to-back pennants since the New York Yankees in 2000-01; the Cardinals are shooting for their 11th world championship, second only to the 27 for the Yankees. There are going to be a lot of runs scored.
Here are five questions about the series:
1. Which rotation is more ready for this?
The Rangers had a starters' ERA of 6.59 in the American League Championship Series, the second-highest for an AL team that went to the World Series; the other four teams in that top five went on to win the World Series -- the 1977 Yankees, the Twins in 1987 and 1991, and the Red Sox in 2004. No Rangers starter went more than six innings in their 10 postseason games this year. Ace C.J. Wilson labored in his two starts, allowing 14 hits and eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings. In his past five postseason starts, he is 0-3, has pitched 28 2/3 innings, allowed 18 earned runs, walked 15 and given up seven home runs. In the NLCS, no Cardinals starter went more than five innings, making them the first team ever to win a postseason series of at least five games without a starter going more than five innings. By clinching in six games, the Cardinals will have ace Chris Carpenter on full rest. He threw one of the greatest games in postseason history, beating Roy Halladay 1-0 in Game 5 of the division series. It was Carpenter's third shutout in the past month, but around it were two starts in which he didn't look like himself. In the first, he lasted only three innings, but it was the first start he'd ever made on short rest. The other lasted only five innings, and even though he got the win in Game 3 of the LCS, he wasn't sharp. Chances are he'll be very good in the World Series.
2. Who would you rather have, Nelson Cruz or Willie Mays?
This guy is amazing. He went 1-for-15 with no RBIs in the division series, then hit .364 with six homers and 13 RBIs in the LCS. No player had ever hit six homers or driven in 13 runs in one postseason series. He is the only player to hit a total of 12 home runs in consecutive postseasons; Jim Thome had 10 in 1998-99. Cruz is the only player ever to go for the home run cycle -- solo, two-run, three-run and grand slam -- in one postseason series. He's the only player to hit a walk-off grand slam in the postseason, and the only player to hit two extra-inning home runs in the same postseason. And he's going to get some pitches to hit because the Rangers' lineup is so stacked, there are no outs in the order. And that's what separates them from the 2010 Rangers that went to the World Series.
3. How good is the Cardinals' offense?
It's not as deep as the Rangers' offense, but it is mighty dangerous. St. Louis led the National League in runs scored this season. Albert Pujols remains the best hitter in the game, and he mostly terrorized the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS. Lance Berkman didn't swing it as well against Milwaukee, but he might be ready to break loose. Matt Holliday's right-hand injury still isn't 100 percent, but it is good enough to make him a dangerous weapon. The key to the lineup has been David Freese. Every postseason, a new face emerges. In this one, it has been Freese. "He is a big-time clutch hitter," La Russa said. "He has no fear." Freese has great power. And now that he is healthy, the Cardinals have found another bat to follow the big three in the middle. "If he swings like he did in the first two rounds," one scout said, "the Rangers had better be careful."
4. How good is the Rangers' bullpen?
It was spectacular against the Tigers: 27 1/3 innings, 15 hits, four earned runs (1.31 ERA), six walks and 25 strikeouts. Closer Neftali Feliz throws close to 100 mph, but it's the setup men who make this bullpen much better than it was entering the World Series last year. Alexi Ogando, a starter most of the season, brings another power arm (99 mph) to the last three innings. Durable Mike Adams has an ERA under 2.00 in the past three years combined. Darren Oliver is very effective against left-handers. The Rangers do have to get Koji Uehara straightened out. In Baltimore, he was unhittable, with a ridiculous walk-strikeout ratio. Somehow, he threw the ball by hitters at 89 mph. But Uehara hasn't fooled anyone with Texas, especially in October. He is the only pitcher ever to allow a home run in three consecutive relief appearances in the postseason. That has to change.
5. How good is the Cardinals' bullpen?
What an amazing turnaround. The Cardinals lost 11 games this year that they led in the ninth inning or later; the other three NL playoffs teams lost six such games combined. But the acquisitions down the stretch of Octavio Dotel and left-handers Arthur Rhodes and Marc Rzepczynski have really bolstered that bullpen, as has the development of Jason Motte, the fourth closer the Cardinals have used this year. La Russa has not officially named Motte the closer for fear that it might distract him, but Motte has been terrific in the postseason: seven innings pitched, one hit, no runs and a fastball in the high 90s. The Cardinals became the second team to win a best-of-seven postseason series with more innings from their bullpen than from their starters, and look for the trend to continue. At the first sign of trouble, La Russa will go to his deep, versatile 'pen. No Cardinals starter went longer than five innings in the NLCS, but the Cardinals still won in six games. And here's how dependent La Russa has become on his bullpen: In Game 5, Jaime Garcia, St. Louis' second-best starting pitcher, became the first pitcher to be pulled from a postseason game after 4 2/3 innings, having allowed only one earned run and in position for a victory. But it worked. Everything has worked for the Cardinals' 'pen in this postseason.
PREDICTION: RANGERS IN SEVEN
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.
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