A look at how the two teams compare in pitching, fielding, batting, and more
The 107th World Series starts Wednesday when the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals host the American League pennant-winner Texas Rangers in game one of the best-of-seven series. It's a matchup few (any?) people predicted when baseball season began back in March. The Cardinals lost their best starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, to a season-ending injury in spring training, and as late as September 1 the Cardinals were eight and a half games behind Atlanta in the Wild Card race. Meanwhile Texas, which reached the World Series last year and lost to San Francisco, entered this season minus their best pitcher as well, with Cliff Lee departing to Philadelphia as a free agent. Just consider how well the Yankees would have done without CC Sabathia this year, or the Tigers without Justin Verlander. These types of developments normally devastate a team's fortunes. But the Rangers and Cardinals both compensated for the loss of their number one starting pitchers by developing other strengths. Let's see how the Fall Classic participants measure up in regards to starting pitching, hitting, fielding, base running, and relief pitching.
1. Starting pitching is not a strength for either team ...
When the Yankees were in the midst of winning three straight World Series between 1998 and 2000, the team's strength was its starting pitching. With Andy Pettitte, David Cone, and David Wells (and later Roger Clemens, who was traded for Wells), the Yankees were flush with either three borderline Hall of Famers or two borderline Hall of Famers and one pantheon-level pitcher (who might have talked his way out of Cooperstown thanks to that messy business with Congress). If you look at the Rangers and Cardinals, you notice that the strength of both teams does not lie with their starting rotation. Both have fine number one pitchers (C.J. Wilson for the Rangers, an All-Star this season; Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals, a former Cy Young Award winner who's finished in the top three in voting on two other occasions). But Wilson has been shoddy in this postseason (0-2 with an 8.04 ERA) and Carpenter is the lone Cardinals starter with a postseason ERA lower than 5.74.
In 11 postseason games, St. Louis has notched just three quality starts (at least six innings pitched and three earned runs or fewer allowed), while the Rangers have just one quality start in 10 outings. Some of that can be attributed to the two managers, Tony LaRussa of the Cardinals and Ron Washington of the Rangers, who in the playoffs will dip into their bullpen at the first sign of danger. But ultimately the Cardinals's starting pitchers (Carpenter, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia) and the Rangers rotation (Wilson, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison) have been coming up collectively small in the postseason. So far that hasn't been debilitating for either team, but there's a reason why teams put a premium on starting pitching: It's usually of paramount importance to a team's postseason success.
2. But starting pitchers can afford to be subpar when the relief pitching is this good.
Five pitchers this postseason have won two games, and two of those pitchers (Octavio Dotel for the Cardinals and Alexi Ogando for the Rangers) are middle relievers, highlighting the important role of bullpens for both World Series teams this postseason. Dotel has been practically unhittable, with batters hitting a minuscule .087 against him in seven games. Hitters are faring slightly better against Ogando (.114), but the former starter has struck out 12 batters in 10.1 innings and posted an impressive 0.87 ERA. These two are surrounded by supremely capable bullpen mates, including Mike Adams and Michael Gonzalez for Texas and Fernando Salas and Marc Rzepcynski for the Cardinals. Meanwhile the closers, Jason Motte for St. Louis and Neftali Feliz for Texas, are both 4-for-4 on save opportunities this postseason. The bullpens are a source of strength for both teams, and you can bet that both managers will be wearing out the grass between the dugout and the pitcher's mound in a seemingly endless parade of pitching changes. Be thankful. Pitching changes will provide a temporary reprieve from the droning voice of Fox announcer Joe Buck and his apostle of the obvious sidekick, Tim McCarver.
3. The Cardinals and the Rangers are the best-hitting teams in baseball.
Do you enjoy well-pitched 1-0 postseason games? If so, you're probably going to hate this World Series. When you pit the Rangers--who led the American League in batting average at .283 during the regular season--against the Cardinals--whose .273 team batting average led the Senior Circuit--you have to anticipate a lot of offense. Texas was second in the major leagues with 210 home runs (only the Yankees had more) and they had the fifth-best on-base percentage. They didn't walk very often, working just 475 free passes this season, which was tied for 20th in the majors. But they had the fewest strikeouts of any squad, so they're essentially a relentless contact-hitting team. They had five players with more than 25 home runs, not including designated hitter Michael Young, whose .338 batting average was tied for second in the American League.