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2011 World Series Preview — Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

World Series Preview
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The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals — two offensive powerhouses with lineups built to score runs in bunches — face each other in the 2011 World Series, scheduled to start Wednesday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Texas’ principal owner, and Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan has confidence in his American League champion Rangers, who are making their second straight World Series appearance. Ryan believes Texas will win the World Series – the franchise’s first title — in six games.

Here’s a position-by position rundown of the match-ups, with a schedule of the games below:

Catcher: Mike Napoli vs. Yadier Molina

Always better known for his defense and game-calling skills, Yadier Molina had a career-year for St. Louis in 2011. His 14 home runs were a career high, and his .305 average was the best of all NL catchers. Most opponents will not try to steal on his strong arm. Texas’ Mike Napoli has exceptional power: 30 home runs in 369 regular season at-bats. While his power hasn’t carried over into the postseason — one home run in 38 at-bats — Napoli has continued to make contact with 12 hits in 10 games for the Rangers.

First Base: Michael Young vs. Albert Pujols

The Cardinals’ Albert Pujols may be the best hitter of this generation. Pujols was lethal against the Brewers pitching staff in the NLCS, collecting six extra base hits and nine RBIs. If Pujols is hot, he can be impossible to get out. And, he’s very good defensively. Michael Young, the AL hits leader in the regular season with 213, is a Rangers fixture, having been with Texas since 2000. However, he has just a .209 batting average in this postseason. Young may move to designated hitter in favor of Mitch Moreland when Texas hosts games.

Second Base: Ian Kinsler vs. Nick Punto/Ryan Theriot

Ian Kinsler is the Rangers’ leadoff hitter and triggers their potent offense. His .396 on-base percentage in the playoffs leads Texas. Kinsler’s 32 regular-season home runs and 30 steals illustrate his outstanding power and speed. He plays solid defense, too. St. Louis’ Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto are contact hitters at best. Each is capable in the field, but neither has any part of the skill set possessed by Kinsler. Skip Schumaker, who sat out the NLCS with an oblique strain, could add a slight upgrade for the Cardinals.

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus vs. Rafael Furcal

With 37 steals in 2011, shortstop Elvis Andrus is the Rangers top base stealer. He lacks plate discipline and doesn’t hit with a great deal of power. His defense can be very good, but inconsistent. Veteran Rafael Furcal was acquired by the Cardinals in July. He gave the team steady production for the stretch run. Furcal’s on-base percentage of .220 in the playoffs is bad, and his .204 postseason batting average is worse. His defensive range is still good, but not what it was in his prime years with the Atlanta Braves (2003-2005).

Third Base: Adrian Beltre vs. David Freese

Adrian Beltre can be streaky, but he is a dangerous hitter. The Rangers’ third baseman, who extended his career by improving his plate discipline, had 32 regular season home runs. Beltre is very capable in the field. David Freese was unstoppable for St. Louis in the NLCS. He murdered Milwaukee pitching, racking up a .545 average, three home runs and nine runs batted in, en route to winning Most Valuable Player award in the series. If Freese can hit like that in the World Series, Texas is in trouble.

Right Field: Nelson Cruz vs. Lance Berkman

With a Major League Baseball-record six home runs in the ALCS, Nelson Cruz was an offensive force. It’s hard to imagine the ALCS MVP staying that hot. Cruz was just 1-for-15 against the Rays in the ALDS. He is decent in the field, but he doesn’t have plus-range. Lance Berkman is a professional hitter whose comeback year of 31 homers and 94 RBIs helped get the Cardinals to the playoffs. His power hasn’t been as impressive in the postseason, but Berkman makes pitchers work to get him out. He’ll likely move to designated hitter — with Allen Craig heading to right field — when the series moves to Texas for Game 3.

Center Field: Josh Hamilton vs. John Jay

Since coming to Texas in 2008, Josh Hamilton has been a perpetual all-star. Currently bothered by a groin injury, he hasn’t homered yet in the postseason. But since he averages 32 home runs for every 162 games he plays, it’s a matter of when, not if, Hamilton will start hitting the ball over the fence. He is also a great athlete who can cover a lot of ground in center field. John Jay is the scrappy type of player that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa seems to love on his teams. Jay makes a lot of contact and hits near .300. His best contributions come from making the sure plays and having quality at-bats.

Left Field:  David Murphy vs. Matt Holliday

After nursing a hand injury during the NLDS, Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday is regaining the hitting form that led to a .912 on-base plus slugging in 2011. When healthy, he’s a gifted hitter and exceptional athlete. If St. Louis can count on Holliday to force Texas to throw strikes to Pujols and Berkman, the Cardinals will generate offense. David Murphy was key in the ALCS win over Detroit by getting on base in 10 of 20 plate appearances. That type of production far exceeds his career averages.

Starting Rotation:

Both teams won their LCS without getting a quality start (six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs allowed) from any starter. If Chris Carpenter, who is suffering from elbow inflammation, can deliver a great performance in Game 1, the other St. Louis starters have the talent to follow. Jaime Garcia’s deceptive pitches can be frustrating, or very inviting, to power hitters, while Kyle Lohse can be a ground ball machine, if his sinker is working well. Edwin Jackson is steady, but he allowed 10.1 hits per nine innings this season.

While the Cardinals’ rotation has a bad postseason earned run average of 5.43, the Rangers’ 5.62 is worse. C.J. Wilson has yielded six home runs in the playoffs after giving up just 16 in the entire regular season. Colby Lewis gave up 35 home runs this season, so he must keep the ball down to be effective. Derek Holland had a great regular season (16-5) and tied for the AL lead in shutouts with four, but home runs allowed (five in 13.2 innings) have been a problem in the playoffs. Matt Harrison can be great when he has command.

Bullpen

The Cardinals bullpen was used often in both their playoff series. As solid as closer Jason Motte has been, it’s set-up man Octavio Dotel who has been stellar in getting key outs well before the ninth inning. Veteran Arthur Rhodes is tough on left-handed hitters. Overall, playoff opponents are hitting just .177 against the St. Louis pen.

The Rangers bullpen has a 2.34 earned run average in the playoffs. Set-up man Mike Adams and closer Neftali Feliz have been excellent for Texas. Mike Gonzalez will be used on left-handed hitters only. Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando have pitched a great deal. If fatigue sets in on any of the Rangers bullpen arms, trouble will follow.

Designated Hitter:

As always, the designated hitter is used only in the American League park, which means Game 3, 4 and 5, if necessary. Texas will use Michael Young or Mike Napoli there, with Mitch Moreland going to first and Yorvit Torrealba catching, respectively. Lance Berkman will fill this role for the Cardinals, and Allen Craig, who hit .315 this year, will replace Berkman in the outfield.

Bench:

Cardinals pinch-hitters have gone eight-for-20 this postseason. Allen Craig, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto will be used often by St. Louis, if they aren’t already in the lineup. The Cardinals have Gerald Laird for catching depth and Daniel Descalso for utility replacement. The Rangers have Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry to use in the field, while Mitch Moreland figures to be the first pinch-hitter off the bench. Yorvit Torrealba provides catching depth, and Esteban German is infield insurance.

Managers

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is the third-winningest manager in baseball history. His tactical bullpen match-up strategies, lineup tinkering and keen defensive adjustments have helped lead his teams to two World Series titles (1989, 2006). He’ll have a veteran team under him, along with many coaches who have already been to a World Series and won. A frenetic man seemingly in perpetual motion, Ron Washington took his first big league managerial job with the Rangers in 2007. He relies more on instinct than calculation and deduction to make moves. The best opportunity for Washington and Texas to outmaneuver La Russa is to allow him to outthink himself.

2011 World Series Schedule and Probable Pitchers

Best-of-7 Series; All times ET; TV: FOX

Game 1
Wed. Oct. 19, 8:05 p.m. ; Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Texas (C.J. Wilson) at St. Louis (Chris Carpenter)

Game 2
Th. Oct. 20, 8:05 p.m. ; Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Texas (Colby Lewis) at St. Louis (Jaime Garcia)

Game 3
Sat. Oct. 22, 8:05 p.m. ; Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, TX
St. Louis (TBD) at Texas (TBD)

Game 4
Sun. Oct. 23, 8:05 p.m. ; Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, TX
St. Louis (TBD) at Texas (TBD)

*Game 5
Mon. Oct. 24, 8:05 p.m. ; Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, TX
St. Louis (TBD) at Texas (TBD)

*Game 6
Wed. Oct. 26, 8:05 p.m. ; Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Texas (TBD) at St. Louis (TBD)

*Game 7
Th. Oct. 27, 8:05 p.m. ; Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Texas (TBD) at St. Louis (TBD)

*if necessary

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