- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

Mark Zuckerman of The Washington Times handicaps the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.

LINEUP

Cardinals: It all begins with Albert Pujols, one of the most feared hitters in baseball. But it doesn’t all necessarily revolve around him. The Mets were very effective against Pujols, limiting him to one homer and one RBI, yet they still lost the NLCS. David Eckstein makes things happen at the top of the order, Scott Rolen seems to be coming around. Scott Spiezio and Yadier Molina have come through with clutch hits this month.

Tigers: A very well-balanced lineup from top to bottom. In fact, Detroit’s regular 7-8-9 hitters (Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames and Brandon Inge) all had at least 26 homers this season. Magglio Ordonez is the slugger in the heart of the lineup, Curtis Granderson is the speedy leadoff man who sets the table, and Sean Casey and Ivan Rodriguez are the savvy veterans who come through when the going gets tough.

EDGE: Tigers

ROTATION

Cardinals: They have a solid threesome in Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver. The problem is that the seven-game NLCS leaves manager Tony La Russa with no choice but to start rookie Anthony Reyes in Game 1 and then Weaver in Game 2. By the time they get to Carpenter (who wasn’t sharp against the Mets) and Suppan, it could be too late.

Tigers: They go four-deep, and that more than anything makes them the favorites in this series. Rookie 17-game winner Justin Verlander and his 100 mph fastball get the ball for Game 1, with unhittable 40-year-old Kenny Rogers to follow in Game 2. Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman aren’t chopped liver either. This is an outstanding quartet.

EDGE: Tigers

BULLPEN

Cardinals: Even hardcore fans haven’t heard of most of these guys, but they’ve come up big in the postseason for St. Louis. Rookie closer Adam Wainwright saved three games in the NLCS and somehow wriggled his way out of a huge Game 7 jam. Lefties Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson have been equally effective and give La Russa plenty of matchup options.

Tigers: It’s one fireballer after another, with Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney and Wilfredo Ledezma in setup roles. Zumaya, who topped out at 103 mph in the ALDS against the Yankees, should be back from a wrist injury and will be manager Jim Leyland’s preferred man in the eighth inning. Then veteran closer Todd Jones takes over and dazzles you with his assortment of offspeed pitches.

EDGE: Tigers

BENCH

Cardinals: Give La Russa a talented group of role players and he’ll make the most of them. With Spiezio, Chris Duncan, So Taguchi and John Rodriguez, St. Louis has plenty of viable choices for pinch-hitting, pinch-running and late-game defensive switches. Taguchi has been perfect this postseason: 4-for-4 with two homers and a double.

Tigers: They lack star quality but make up for it with versatility. Alexis Gomez, Omar Infante, Neifi Perez and Ramon Santiago can all be used in a variety of roles, and Leyland knows how to maximize their contributions.

EDGE: Cardinals

MANAGER

Cardinals: La Russa, widely regarded as the best manager of his generation, has been here before. It should be noted, though, that the man has only won one World Series title (in 1989 with Oakland). That doesn’t diminish his knowledge and mastery of in-game decisions, but it does make you wonder if he can win the big one.

Tigers: A La Russa disciple who goes way back with his World Series counterpart, Leyland did a masterful job in his first season in Detroit. Like La Russa, he only owns one title (with the 1997 Marlins), but he’s had fewer opportunities. The man seems to have the magic touch right now — it’s like he can do no wrong, and the Tigers feed off that.

EDGE: Tigers

THE LOWDOWN

The Cardinals are certainly riding a wave of emotion into Detroit after emerging victorious in a classic NLCS Game 7 against the Mets. But how much do they have left in the tank? The pitching staff is exhausted, Pujols looks human and let’s not forget this team almost blew an 8½-game lead in the NL Central and missed the playoffs altogether. The Tigers, too, tanked it at the end of the regular season, settling for the AL wild card. But this team has been nearly unstoppable in the postseason, going 7-1 against the Yankees and A’s. A near carbon copy of last year’s White Sox, Detroit is this season’s Team of Destiny.

PREDICTION: Tigers in five.


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