On Deck will be here all season to provide you with everything you need to know (and a few things you don't) about every Rangers series during the 2011 season. On Deck will be here all season to provide you with everything you need to know (and a few things you don't) about every Rangers series during the 2011 season. For the World Series, we'll do things a bit differently to increase the focus on each set of games.
The Opponent: If you had placed a $250 bet on the Cardinals to win the National League when they were down nine games in September, you would be $150,000 richer right now. That should tell you how long the odds were against the Cardinals making it this far. You could have probably won even more money if you bet they'd win two playoff rounds without getting all that much help from their starting pitchers. It's been quite the run for Tony La Russa's team and there doesn't figure to be much that will stop them from believing they can finish it off with a second title in the last six years.
Past 2011 Meetings: None and there are only three games in history between these two teams, which should tell you something about how happy this matchup makes the folks in the MLB and FOX offices. The Cowboys did once share a division with the St. Louis football Cardinals, though.
Pitching Matchups: Game One - C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94 in regular season, 0-2, 8.04 in postseason) vs. Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45; 2-0, 3.71); Game Two - Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40; 1-1, 3.86) vs. Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56; 0-2, 5.74)
What's Hot: The Cardinals had their own version of Nelson Cruz in the NLCS. He goes by the name of David Freese and he went 12-for-22 with three home runs against the Brewers. Like Cruz, Freese was hampered by injuries in the regular season and only played 97 games. Like Cruz, he washed out on another club before finding a home. Unlike Cruz, he didn't give much reason to think he had this kind of run in him at any point in his three-year career.
Freese's emergence has given the Cardinals lineup the kind of depth that the Rangers have enjoyed all season. Their top-end players -- Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman -- might even be better than the frontline Rangers sluggers. It is going to be very important for the Rangers to get to the middle of the order without runners on base because the Cardinals can put up runs in a hurry if given the chance.
Lewis hasn't done what the Rangers expected after a strong 2010 season, but starting him in Games Two and (potentially) Six could really work out. Lewis' habit of allowing home runs makes him a scary play in Arlington and he had an ERA two runs lower in road games this season. That Cardinals lineup is still dangerous, obviously, but Lewis is well set up to succeed.
What's Not: Berkman had a tremendous season after looking finished with the Yankees at the end of 2010, but his prognostication skills need work. Back in the offseason when the Rangers were trying to sign every DH in baseball to avoid playing Michael Young (Jon Daniels shouldn't open up a fortune teller shop either), Berkman balked at signing with the team because he thought they'd be mediocre without Cliff Lee.
It is hard to believe that both teams can make it through another series without getting a quality start from their starters, but both La Russa and Washington have shown they aren't going to stick with pitchers who don't have their best stuff. Let's hope that a few starters can do the job, though, because high scoring games filled with pitching changes will make it awfully hard to stay awake until the final out.
The fact that the Cardinals aren't a great defensive team didn't hurt them in the NLCS because Milwaukee was even worse, but it might be the biggest edge the Rangers have over their opponents. The difference is clearest in the infield where Freese, shortstop Rafael Furcal and whoever plays second base (Nick Punto, Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumacher could all see time) are pale in comparison to their opposite numbers.
Familiar Faces: Remember last season how Bengie Molina wound up with a World Series ring even though the Rangers lost? We could have a repeat this season. Arthur Rhodes' 32 appearances with the Rangers this season before being released and signed by St. Louis should get him some jewelry regardless of what winds up happening. Rhodes doesn't figure to be more than a one-out guy against Texas, but just making it this far is a great moment. Rhodes, who has dealt with great personal tragedy, has played 20 years for nine teams but this is his first trip to the World Series.
Gerald Laird, who spent six years with the Rangers, is the Cardinals' backup catcher. He doesn't figure to play unless a game goes deep into extra innings or Yadier Molina goes down with an injury. Darren Oliver made 40 starts for La Russa in the late 90s in between his first two stints with the Rangers.