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Rangers-Cardinals World Series position-by-position breakdown

World Series Position-by-Position Breakdown
The nice thing about this matchup is that I was able to cut-and-paste half the blurbs from last year's breakdown of the Rangers and Giants. No, I'm kidding. Just a bit less than half.

The Rangers are the first AL team to win consecutive pennants since the Yankees won four straight from 1998-2001, and the first non-Yankees team to do it since the 1992-93 Blue Jays. If you're chasing omens, both of those teams won the World Series in their second trip. Then again, they also both won in their first try, something the Rangers couldn't do last year, losing in five games to the Giants.

This year promises to be much different. Whereas a year ago both Series teams leaned on their rotations, this year, the Rangers and Cardinals have gone heavy on their bullpens. The Cardinals offense seems to present a much stiffer challenge than the Giants projected to last October. Here's how the two squads look on the eve of the Fall Classic. (NOTE: Statistics are for the full regular season, even for players who spent time with more than one team.)
FIRST BASE
Mitch Moreland
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2591561.733
Moreland has followed up a disappointing sophomore season with a brutal postseason, batting .105 with one extra-base hit and two walks. He's been losing some playing time, with Ron Washington rotating a number of players into the lineup (and using Michael Young at first base when he does). With the Cardinals having three right-handed starters, look for Moreland to get one last chance to salvage a poor year. Defensively, he's adequate at first, with sure hands and limited range.
Albert Pujols
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2993799.906
You already know what The Machine does at the plate. In this series, watch him the rest of the time. Pujols' legs, glove and arm combine to make him a player who might be a star even if he hit like...well, Mitch Moreland. Pujols' throws as well as any first baseman in the game and as well as any right-handed first basemen ever. He plays this series against the backdrop of imminent free agency, and while nothing he does will cost him money, extending his amazing October will add even more dollars to his next deal.
EDGE: CARDINALS
SECOND BASE
Ian Kinsler
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2553277.832
For the first time in his six-year career, Kinsler got through a full season without hitting the disabled list. That enabled him to put up career highs in runs, homers and walks. Kinsler also walked more than he struck out for the first time and continued to be one of the best percentage base stealers (88 percent in '11, 86 percent career) in the game. Kinsler, a poor defender early in his career, has now become an asset with the glove -- he's a complete player and one of the best in this World Series.
Ryan Theriot
AVGHRRBIOBP
.271147.321
The Cardinals acquired Theriot in a trade with the Dodgers last November, and shortly therafter shipped Brendan Ryan out of town. Even at the time, swapping out Ryan's terrific glove for Theriot's limited skills seemed curious. By July, the Cards were looking for a replacement. Theriot, a bench player down the stretch, shares second base with Nick Punto in the absence of Skip Schumaker, who missed the NLCS with a strained right oblique. Schumaker could return for the World Series, in which case Theriot could still see substantial playing time against all the Rangers' lefty starters. Theriot can get on base against lefties and he's an adequate defensive second baseman; he's also prone to making a silly baserunning mistake at the wrong time. No matter who plays, this is the Cards' weak spot.
EDGE: RANGERS
SHORTSTOP
Elvis Andrus
AVGHRRBISB
.27956037
It feels like Andrus should be better than this, as he's basically the same player he was when he broke in two seasons ago. However, he's just barely 23 years old and shows a broad range of skills -- stealing bases, drawing walks, playing defense -- for someone who, were he still a prospect, would still be a fairly young one. Edgar Renteria isn't a bad comp for Andrus, right down to the Rookie of the Year runner-up slot and stagnant growth from 20 to 22. Look for him to sacrifice a lot; Ron Washington likes his small ball, and Andrus is a threat to hit into a double play if he doesn't square around.
Rafael Furcal
AVGHRRBIOBP
.231828.298
The story is that adding Furcal was a key part of the Cardinals' run to the NL wild card. The reality is that Furcal, an improvement on Theriot to be sure, wasn't great for the Cardinals (.255/.316/.418, 4/2 SB/CS, so-so defense) down the stretch and has been a disaster in the playoffs, batting .204 with just one walk in 11 games. It is harder to score when your leadoff man gets on base at a .220 clip. Furcal's arm is the last vestige of the player he was, and he uses it to make up for diminished range at an old 33.
EDGE: RANGERS
THIRD BASE
Adrian Beltre
AVGHRRBIOPS
.29632105.892
Beltre had one star turn in this postseason, blasting three solo homers to help eliminate the Rays in Game 4 of the Division Series. Outside of that game, he's been terrible: .184/.244/.263 with 11 strikeouts against just one unintentional walk. He can't run due to a left hamstring strain that cost him a big chunk of the second half and exacerbated his leg woes by fouling a ball off his left knee during the ALCS. Beltre is going to play, of course, and has the ability to be a contributor on any given night. Because of the injuries, though, he's one of the Rangers' weak spots and someone who can be exploited both at the plate and in the field.
David Freese
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2971055.791
Freese's monster NLCS (.545/.600/1.091, nine RBIs) might have been less of a surprise had he been able to stay in the lineup the past couple of seasons. His bat has never been an issue, as Freese can hit for average and has doubles-power to both gaps. Nagging injuries were the barrier to playing time. The Cardinals were 50-38 when Freese started, and he hit .379 over the season's last nine games, when the Cardinals made their last run to catch the Braves. Like many of the Cardinals, he's just a passable defender, and plays mainly for his bat. Beltre's glove gives the Rangers a slight edge.
EDGE: RANGERS
LEFTFIELD
David Murphy
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2751146.729
A very good fourth outfielder, Murphy has stepped up to a larger role as Julio Borbon has failed to take control of the centerfield job. While Murphy's power failed him this season -- he slugged .401 after being at .460 in his first five seasons -- he did show that pop in the ALCS, with two doubles and a triple, plus a key single in Game 6. With Moreland scuffling, Murphy takes on added importance as one of the few lefthanded threats in the lineup, and on some nights, one of just two lefthanded bats in the lineup at all. With matchups likely to play a critical role in the series, Murphy, far from a star, becomes one of the Rangers' most important players, breaking up a long string of righthanded batters.
Matt Holliday
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2962275.912
It appears that Holliday's injured right hand is no longer a limiting factor, as he batted .435/.500/.652 in the NLCS after a terrible Division Series. As much production as St. Louis gets from the players on either side of its lineup core, from players such as Freese, the Cards need the middle of the order to be great. Holliday is a nearly-perfect No. 5 hitter, with the OBP skills to start innings and the power to finish them. As a great righthanded batter, he is critical in forcing teams to either pitch to Lance Berkman or make multiple moves to get around him from the left side. A healthy Holliday is a huge piece of the puzzle for St. Louis.
EDGE: CARDINALS
CENTERFIELD
Josh Hamilton
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2982594.882
In a perfect world, Hamilton would play left, as he's stretched in centerfield and the additional running puts a strain on his body. In this one, he plays center, and the Rangers live with the defensive hit until they can get Craig Gentry or Endy Chavez into the game in the late innings. He's a terrific hitter, if not the .359 batter he was in his MVP campaign last year. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa will no doubt use lefthanders Arthur Rhodes and Mark Rzepczynski against him, but Hamilton is no Ryan Howard: .278/.326/.471 career against lefties, with a respectable 169/50 K/BB.
Jon Jay
AVGHRRBIOBP
.2971037.344
Jay inherited the everyday centerfield job when Colby Rasmus was traded to Toronto at midseason, and was acceptable: .277/.319/.405 in 58 games after the deal. He's a bit like David Murphy in that he has the skill set of a good fourth outfielder, but plays more than that because that's what the team needs. A good batting average masks problems -- limited power, poor basestealing skills, too little plate discipline. He'll hit low in the order due to the Rangers' many left-handed starters, and will probably find himself pitched to, rather than around, in front of the pitcher. He could end up a key player in the series because of that.
EDGE: RANGERS
RIGHTFIELD
Nelson Cruz
AVGHRRBIOPS
.2632987.821
Rumors that he slapped on a cape and flew to St. Louis are unfounded, although you can understand how they would get started. Cruz destroyed the Tigers with six homers in the ALCS, including two critical extra-inning jobs, one a walk-off grand slam. He did all of this after a no-show (1-for-15, no walks, no extra-base hits) in the Division Series. Cruz can be pitched to and has become increasingly impatient against right-handed pitching since his 2009 peak, with a .289 OBP and an 89/23 K/BB against them this season. Look for a veteran Cardinals' staff to exploit that.
Lance Berkman
AVGHRRBIOPS
.3013194.959
This move was widely criticized -- well, I am a bit wide -- at the time, as the idea that Berkman and his surgically-repaired knee could hold up over a full season in the outfield seemed unrealistic. Berkman ended up playing nearly 1,000 defensive innings in the corners while putting up offensive numbers he hadn't seen since his peak. He's certainly not good in the outfield, and it's possible that we'll see him DH in Texas with Allen Craig taking over in right. Berkman's impact in this series could be muted by the Rangers' lefty-heavy rotation, so it's in late-game situations against the Rangers' bullpen that he could have his greatest impact.
EDGE: CARDINALS
CATCHER
Mike Napoli
AVGHRRBIOPS
.32030751.046
A hulking guy who hits for power and had a bad defensive reputation before coming to Texas, Napoli doesn't get quite enough credit for the quality of his at-bats. He's willing to work deep into a count, can foul off pitches with two strikes and isn't a dead-pull hitter. His Division Series at-bats against Tampa Bay's James Shields in Game 2 (RBI single) and David Price in Game 4 (two-run homer) were critical in the Rangers' series win, and they were both deep-count ABs. Napoli has a good throwing arm -- which he's showed off many times this October after gunning down 36 percent of thieves during the season -- and is a good plate-blocker, but isn't quite so adept at receiving pitches.
Yadier Molina
AVGHRRBISLG
.3051465.465
The best defensive catcher in baseball becomes very important in this series, as the Rangers like to run and bunt. Molina didn't have his best year throwing (29 percent of runners caught), but just 65 runners even tried to go against him. He's also very good at getting out from behind the plate on bunts. On offense, he hits for average and had his best year driving the ball, setting career highs in doubles (32), homers and slugging.
EDGE: EVEN
DH/Bench
Michael Young
AVGHRRBIOBP
.33811106.380
He was supposed to be anywhere but here, an extra body with no place to play in the wake of the Adrian Beltre signing. The Rangers couldn't get anyone to both pay Young and give up prospects, though, so he stayed, and he had a bounceback year, hitting .338 as the primary DH and occasional everything else. Young is an awkward fit in the cleanup spot, but Washington is unlikely to change gears at this point, so the Rangers will accept his lack of home run power and the threat of a double play that he brings batting behind Hamilton. Young's speed is mostly gone (18/25 SB/CS in the last three years combined) and he's not an asset anywhere in the field, so he needs to hit for average to provide value. Ron Washington uses the whole bench, with Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry getting spot starts in the outfield and coming into the game to pinch-run and play defense. Gentry is the fastest Ranger, a very good centerfielder. Yorvit Torrealba catches now and then, with Napoli moving to DH. He's a catch-and-throw backup with a little more bat than that description implies.
Allen Craig
AVGHRRBIOPS
.3151140.917
Craig showed off his power in the NLCS with a long opposite-field homer off the Brewers' Randy Wolf in Game 4. He'll get the chance to do it again in the World Series, as the Rangers' lefty starters and the presence of the DH open the door for additional playing time. The Cards' bench behind Craig isn't great, with rookie Adron Chambers serving as occasional pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, Nick Punto coming in on double-switches and for defense at second base and Daniel Descalso having been relegated to hitting-for-the-pitcher duty.
EDGE: RANGERS
STARTING PITCHING
C.J. Wilson
ERAW-LKWHIP
2.9416-72061.187
The Rangers famously pushed to get more from their starting pitchers under Nolan Ryan, and they were fifth in the league in starter innings this season, behind three teams that play in pitchers' parks and Don Cooper's White Sox. Washington has shifted gears in the playoffs, showing a quick hook and putting games in the hands of a very deep bullpen. Against the Cardinals, he may shift back; Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are all groundball pitchers and are better matchups against the Cardinals than the Brewers were, and they can be expected to work a bit deeper into games. Wilson, scheduled to start Game 1, is still looking for his first postseason quality start, although his last outing was headed in that direction before the third-base bag at Comerica Park got involved. Colby Lewis, the Rangers' one flyball starter and not a power pitcher, is at risk against a Cardinals team that loves flyball pitchers. He'll start Game 2, which means he avoids pitching in hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark where the Rangers will thus use all three lefties (assuming the series goes at least five games).
Chris Carpenter
ERAW-LKWHIP
3.4511-91911.256
Carpenter has wrapped two poor starts around the single best one of this postseason, his shutout of the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS that sent the Cardinals to the NLCS. There's concern over Carpenter's pitching elbow, which may or may not be sore and was the topic of conversation Monday. Expect Carpenter to be himself Wednesday, but if the elbow limits either the use or effectiveness of his curveball, that's a problem against a fastball-hitting Rangers team. Carpenter is the one Cards' starter who could provide innings; the rest are there to get the game to the bullpen, and all bring some risk of implosion against this excellent Rangers lineup. Jaime Garcia, the likely Game 2 starter at Busch Stadium, has a fantastic track record at home, with a career 2.37 ERA at home and could present a problem for the Rangers. He's got the best chance of a Cardinals starter other than Caprenter to go deep into a game. As we saw in the NLCS, Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson will pitch right up until the point La Russa feels his bullpen is a better option, which could be as early as the third inning.
EDGE: RANGERS
BULLPEN
Neftali Feliz
ERAW-LSV/SVOK/BB
2.742-332/381.80
Feliz doesn't have the great stat line he did in 2010, when he was the NL Rookie of the Year, and he was targeted during the season by Washington for what the manager perceived as "bad body language." Feliz is the same pitcher he was a year ago, though, pumping 100-mph heat at the end of games with a distinct lack of effort in his motion. He's a weapon for Washington. Unlike last year, Feliz has company, with trade pickups Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara, plus rotation exile Alexei Ogando, all of whom throw hard and most of whom throw strikes. There are eight pitchers in Washington's bullpen and not a soft spot in the group.
Jason Motte
ERAW-LSV/SVOK/BB
2.255-29/133.94
Motte has, at times, seemed unhittable in this postseason, as the converted catcher has allowed one baserunner in the 25 batters he's faced, striking out seven. Motte closes out games behind a number of power righties, including rookie Lance Lynn and journeymen Octavio Dotel and Fernando Salas. La Russa will be hard-pressed to work southpaws Arthur Rhodes and Mark Rzepczynski into games, with both likely to face Josh Hamilton and do little else. Rzepczynski can go multiple innings if needed, but he's a difficult guy to use against the Rangers' righty power.
EDGE: RANGERS
MANAGERS
Ron Washington
Career W-LPostseason W-L
427-38315-11
A year ago, Washington's tactical shortcomings seemed to cancel out his abilities as a leader of men, for which he gets great credit. A combination of roster changes -- especially in the bullpen -- and an improvement in his approach to reliever usage have patched that problem. He's no longer a threat to make the big mistake, and as we've seen in this postseason, he's willing to change his approach if that's what it takes to win a game. Washington can be a little too enamored of the smallball approach, something that could be a problem in playing a team that isn't going to be beaten by scoring two or three runs. The big inning is the best approach in the World Series.
Tony La Russa
Career W-LPostseason W-L
2,728-2,36566-55
In 1989, La Russa won the World Series as manager of the A's while using starting pitchers for 80 percent of his postseason innings. In 2006, he won the Series with the Cardinals while using starters for 70 percent of the innings. This year, starters have thrown just 56 percent of the Cardinals' postseason innings. Say what you want about La Russa, but he doesn't let himself get locked into one style of play. That the Cardinals were able to get past the Phillies and Brewers was as much about him making a change on the fly -- to this radical, all-bullpen approach -- as anything his players did. He will make the occasional mistake, but as we've seen, he will also learn from it.
EDGE: CARDINALS
INTANGIBLES
The Rangers are back in the World Series for the second straight season, looking to avoid being the first team since the 1992 Atlanta Braves to come up short in the Fall Classic in consecutive years. (No AL team has lost consecutive World Series since the 1963-64 Yankees.) This doesn't feel like a last shot, though; the Rangers have positioned themselves as the heir to the Red Sox' throne as the dominant organization in the AL, not just financially, not just in the standings, not just in revenue, but in everything. The Rangers produce talent and turn that talent into wins, those wins into money, and that money into more talent. Whether they win or lose this week doesn't change their ascendance into the ranks of the game's premier franchises.
Hanging over this series is the Albert Pujols question: Will the face of the Cardinals' franchise be returning? A World Series win is the kind of thing that could make everyone want to stay together, while also generating the extra cash that would pay for it to happen. On the other hand, Pujols has spent the last three weeks reminding everyone that he's the best player in baseball, pushing the price tag on his services for the rest of his career that much higher. The Cardinals have an old team that could, even with Pujols, have a hard time getting back to this point over the next couple of years, so unlike the Rangers, there's a greater urgency to win this one, right now.
EDGE: EVEN
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