A position-by-position look at the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals going into the World Series, starting Wednesday night at Busch Stadium:
Rangers: Michael Young. The team’s primary designated hitter, Young is likely to start at first base over slumping Mitch Moreland in St. Louis, where National League rules eliminate the DH. The longest-tenured Rangers player and a steady leader in the locker room, the versatile Young batted a career-high .338 this season at age 34. Texas has moved him all over the infield and he requested a trade last winter before accepting his new role and compiling his sixth 200-hit season. Young bats cleanup in a power-packed lineup, but he struggled in the playoffs before breaking loose for five RBIs in the ALCS finale.
Cardinals: Albert Pujols. The three-time NL MVP can become a free agent after the World Series and it’s difficult to imagine him in a different uniform. His contract situation has hardly fazed him, though. Perhaps the most feared slugger in baseball, Pujols was on his game in the playoffs, batting .419 with two homers, seven doubles, 10 RBIs and six walks.
Rangers: Ian Kinsler. Thanks to his impressive combination of power and speed, Kinsler put up a 30-30 season this year (32 HRs, 30 SBs). He also scored 121 runs and drew 89 walks, developing a patient eye in the leadoff spot. Kinsler is a dangerous pull hitter who will feast on mistakes if opposing pitchers aren’t careful.
Cardinals: Ryan Theriot or Nick Punto or Skip Schumaker. St. Louis has used several scrappy players at this position, none with much power at the plate. Texas features three left-handers in the rotation, so Theriot figures to see plenty of playing time. Schumaker, who can also play the outfield, went 6 for 10 with three RBIs in the first round against Philadelphia, then missed the NLCS because of a strained muscle on his right side. He said he expects to be available for the World Series.
Rangers: Elvis Andrus. Still only 23, Andrus brings speed, energy and a genuine joy for the game. He doesn’t hit many homers, but he can do a lot of things in the No. 2 hole _ bunt, steal, hit-and-run. He’s one of baseball’s most talented defenders, though he made 25 errors this season. Despite his age, Andrus has appeared perfectly comfortable under postseason pressure the past two years.
Cardinals: Rafael Furcal. Limited by injuries three of the last four seasons, Furcal was acquired by general manager John Mozeliak from the Dodgers at the July 31 trade deadline to shore up a trouble spot in St. Louis. The 33-year-old veteran is not the blinding speedster he once was, but he can still spark an offense from his leadoff spot.
Rangers: Adrian Beltre. Brought in as a free agent, Beltre certainly provided the power and defense Texas was looking for when it signed him to an $80 million, five-year contract in the offseason. He batted .296 with 32 HRs and 105 RBIs despite missing six weeks with a strained left hamstring. He hit 12 HRs in the last 16 regular-season games, then connected three times in the first-round clincher at Tampa Bay.
Cardinals: David Freese. The kid who grew up a Cardinals fan in the St. Louis suburbs made a national name for himself during the NL championship series, batting .545 (12 for 22) with three HRs, three doubles, nine RBIs and seven runs to take home MVP honors. He brings a 10-game postseason hitting streak into the World Series. Now in his third big league season, the 28-year-old Freese has been a little slow to blossom, partly because of injuries. But he gives the Cardinals another dangerous bat in an already potent lineup.
Rangers: Mike Napoli. Traded twice in five days last January, Napoli found a home in Texas and had a huge second half. One of the game’s most underrated hitters, he finished with a .320 average, 30 HRs and 75 RBIs in only 369 at-bats. He came up clutch in the playoffs, too, hitting .316 with a homer and five RBIs. Napoli’s defense behind the plate appears to have improved. He also saw time at first base and DH this season.
Cardinals: Yadier Molina. Maybe the game’s best defensive catcher, Molina showed new pop with the stick this season, hitting .305 with 14 HRs and 65 RBIs _ all career highs. He batted .412 during St. Louis’ last World Series appearance, a five-game victory over Detroit in 2006, after hitting a decisive homer in Game 7 of the NLCS that year. Beware baserunners: the three-time All-Star loves to show off his rocket arm.
Edge: Cardinals, but it’s close.
Rangers: David Murphy. Often overlooked near the bottom of the lineup, Murphy is a professional hitter who gives a tough at-bat and knows how to drive in runs. He batted .275 with 11 HRs and 46 RBIs this season, then quietly hit .391 during the AL playoffs. His bat plays well off the bench, too.
Cardinals: Matt Holliday. The five-time All-Star was limited to 124 games by injuries and illness this season. He missed time early in the playoffs while recovering from an inflamed tendon on his right ring finger, then got rolling in the NLCS against Milwaukee with a .435 average and five RBIs. His defense can be shaky, but Holliday’s tremendous strength makes him a home run threat to all fields.
Rangers: Josh Hamilton. One of the game’s great natural talents, Hamilton was the AL MVP and ALCS MVP last season. Now, he’d like a World Series ring to cap his incredible comeback story from drug and alcohol addiction. Hamilton played mostly left field this year and missed six weeks early on with a non-displaced fracture at the top of his right arm after trying to score on a foul popup at Detroit. He batted .298 with 25 HRs and 94 RBIs in 121 games. He does not have a homer yet this postseason, but is hitting .293 with five doubles and seven RBIs.
Cardinals: Jon Jay. After trading Colby Rasmus in late July, the Cardinals needed someone who could cover ground in center between Holliday and Lance Berkman. They turned to Jay, a 26-year-old left-handed hitter who batted .297 with 10 HRs and 37 RBIs.
Rangers: Nelson Cruz. Anyone who watched the ALCS knows what Cruz is capable of. He was a one-man show against Detroit, putting on an unprecedented power display and cutting down a runner at the plate with a rifle throw in a crucial situation. Cruz had six homers and 13 RBIs _ both major league records for a postseason series _ and finished 8 for 22 (.364) with two doubles. He went 4 for 20 (.200) with a HR and three RBIs in the 2010 World Series.
Cardinals: Lance Berkman. After signing an $8 million, one-year contract to join St. Louis last offseason, a rejuvenated Berkman provided quite an offensive boost. The switch-hitter batted .301 with 31 home runs, 94 RBIs and a .412 on-base percentage to win the NL comeback player of the year award. His 35-year-old legs limit his range in the outfield, but Berkman is a gamer.
Rangers: Michael Young or Mike Napoli or David Murphy. Rangers manager Ron Washington has several options when the series shifts to Texas for Game 3. He could put Young in his customary DH spot and start Moreland at first base, or move Hamilton to left and upgrade the outfield defense with Craig Gentry or Endy Chavez in center. Or, Yorvit Torrealba could start behind the plate, with Napoli shifting to DH or first base.
Cardinals: Lance Berkman or Allen Craig. American League rules give manager Tony La Russa a chance to keep Berkman’s bat in the lineup while replacing him on defense with a more athletic outfielder. One would think he’ll take advantage of it. Craig could start in right, especially against the lefties. A right-handed bat with pop, he hit .315 with 11 HRs and 40 RBIs in only 200 at-bats this season.
Rangers: After losing ace lefty Cliff Lee to Philadelphia in free agency last fall, the Rangers compensated with a group effort from their solid _ if not spectacular _ starters. C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison were all durable, with each making at least 30 starts and throwing more than 185 innings. Alexi Ogando made the All-Star squad as a starter but has moved back to the bullpen in the postseason, giving Washington quite a weapon. Wilson stepped up and performed like a legitimate No. 1 starter all season, going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and 206 strikeouts in a career-high 223 1-3 innings. But he really struggled during the playoffs, posting an 0-2 mark with an 8.04 ERA in three outings. A potential free agent after the World Series, perhaps he’s feeling the pressure. Regardless, he figures to get the ball again in Game 1.
Cardinals: St. Louis also lost an ace before the season began. Adam Wainwright, who won 39 games the past two years, had major elbow surgery in February and missed the entire campaign. But the Cardinals showed their depth, getting solid seasons from Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse to complement Chris Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner. The rotation received a boost with the addition of right-hander Edwin Jackson in late July, just before the trade deadline. He went 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA for the Cardinals. A proven postseason ace, Carpenter is the key. He won 10 of his last 12 regular-season decisions following a 1-7 start and was 2-0 with a 3.71 ERA in three playoff starts. The 36-year-old right-hander threw a three-hitter for a 1-0 win at Philadelphia in Game 5 of the division series, outpitching old pal Roy Halladay to finish off the heavily favored Phillies. Carpenter also tossed an eight-inning gem in his only previous World Series appearance against Detroit in 2006. Some of the St. Louis starters look tired, but La Russa has had a quick hook and the bullpen has delivered.
Edge: Cardinals, barely.
Rangers: General manager Jon Daniels went looking for relievers at the trade deadline and found two of them, obtaining coveted setup man Mike Adams and fellow right-hander Koji Uehara. Michael Gonzalez, a lefty, was acquired from Baltimore at the end of August. Now, with Ogando and Scott Feldman back in the bullpen, the Rangers have a deep unit in front of second-year closer Neftali Feliz. Washington went to them early and often to tame the Tigers in the ALCS. Uehara has struggled, but 41-year-old lefty Darren Oliver is steady. Feliz, throwing 100 mph, had four saves and a 1.17 ERA in seven playoff appearances. Ogando was 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 10 1-3 innings.
Cardinals: The bullpen was the biggest reason St. Louis was able to beat division rival Milwaukee in the NLCS. La Russa called on his relievers 28 times to bail out a rotation that finished the series with a 7.66 ERA. The Cardinals became the first team to win a postseason series without a starter reaching the sixth inning, according to STATS LLC. There aren’t many household names in this group, but guys like Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn and Octavio Dotel keep getting the job done. Jason Motte, who also features a 100 mph fastball, has grown nicely into the role of closer. He allowed one hit over eight scoreless innings in the playoffs, striking out seven and earning four saves.
Rangers: Playing in the American League, the Rangers don’t need to use their bench as much as St. Louis does. Still, the elements are there for an adequate group. Gentry and Chavez each offer speed and a strong glove. Both are candidates to enter as defensive replacements in the late innings. It would be nice if there was a pinch-hitting thumper, especially for the games in St. Louis. But if he doesn’t start at Busch Stadium, Murphy would be a good choice off the bench for any important at-bat, particularly against a right-hander.
Cardinals: La Russa has gone to his backups extensively all season and it’s definitely paid off in October. Everyone on this team seems to embrace his role and the Cardinals got several key contributions from part-time players during the playoffs. Craig has earned more at-bats with his impressive production. The names on the bench aren’t big ones, but La Russa knows how to use them.
Rangers: Ron Washington. Enthusiastic and occasionally unconventional, Washington has left his stamp on this team since taking over before the 2007 season. Texas has increased its win total each year under Washington, who gets whipped up into a frenzy and runs in place in the dugout as his players are trying to score. He utilized his bullpen nicely in the ALCS and there’s no doubt he gets the most out of his guys. He also intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera with nobody on in Game 4 of the ALCS and it nearly came back to bite him. Wonder if Washington will have any more intriguing tricks up his sleeve when he squares off against La Russa.
Cardinals: Tony La Russa. Long considered one of baseball’s top managers, La Russa turned in another terrific job this season. He guided the Cardinals to a stunning comeback after they trailed Atlanta by 10 1/2 games in the wild-card race on Aug. 25. St. Louis is in the postseason for the ninth time in La Russa’s 16 seasons and second time in three years. Always intense, always prepared, he’s had a magic touch with this bullpen and bench down the stretch and throughout the postseason.
Pick: Rangers in 6.
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