Cardinals and Rangers clash in World Series

By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers bring similar strengths to their World Series clash starting Wednesday but the two Major League Baseball (MLB) franchises come from vastly different pedigrees.

The representatives of the National and American leagues both send potent lineups to the plate, bullpens bursting with reliable relievers and starting rotations that have been up-and-down in the postseason.

Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter is expected to take the mound against C.J. Wilson of the Rangers in the opening game of MLB's best-of-seven championship, but relievers will be close by the bullpen phone given the damage the batting orders can inflict.

Texas has Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli and American League Championship Series most valuable player Nelson Cruz in the heart of their order.

St. Louis counters with Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday and red-hot David Freese, the most valuable player of the National League Championship Series.

Cruz crushed Detroit pitching in the AL Championship Series, slugging six home runs and 13 RBIs, which are both records by a player for a single postseason series.

Freese enjoyed a breakout performance by batting a robust .545 in the NLCS with three home runs and nine RBIs to emerge as a lethal threat.

Texas clinched a second successive trip to the World Series with a 15-5 battering of the Detroit Tigers while the Cardinals walloped the Milwaukee Brewers 12-6 to complete their six-game NLCS victory.

Off the field, the franchises are polar opposites.

The wild card Cardinals are National League royalty steeped in tradition, while the Rangers are relative upstarts having won their first postseason series ever just last year.

From Rogers Hornsby of the 1920s, who batted better than .400 in three different seasons, to the Gashouse Gang teams of the 1930s that featured pitching brothers Dizzy and Daffy Dean, to Stan "The Man" Musial and hard-nosed fastballer Bob Gibson in the '60s, the Cardinals have long personified excellence.

The Rangers come from humbler roots.

They trace their ancestry to Washington D.C., where they were born in 1961 as the expansion Senators after the original Senators franchise left the nation's capital to become the Minnesota Twins.

They left Washington for Texas in 1972 with former hitting great Ted Williams as their manager, but it took decades for the Rangers to really gel.

Texas had some big sluggers in the '90s but Juan Gonzalez and his cohorts could not hurdle past the Yankees, giving Rangers fans only brief tastes of playoff baseball.

That has changed under the current regime of manager Ron Washington, whose temperament offers another contrast between the teams.

Presiding in the dugout of the Cardinals is Tony La Russa, veteran of 33 seasons as a manager, winner of two World Series, one with the Oakland Athletics and another with the Cardinals in 2006.

The cerebral La Russa, who holds a law degree, introduced the current strategy of match-ups out of the bullpen, often changing pitchers from batter to batter to utilize any advantage he can find.

Leading the Rangers is the animated Washington, a former third base coach in his fifth season in charge at Texas. In the dugout, he behaves like a cross between a coach, windmilling his arms to exhort baserunners, and a rabid fan of the game bubbling over with excitement.

Washington looks to lead the Rangers to their first Fall Classic crown after losing last year to the San Francisco Giants in five games.

The contrasting styles of La Russa and Washington, however, yield the same effect.

Players on both teams swear by their skippers and give them much of the credit for the success they have achieved in getting to the ultimate stage of the sport.

(Writing by Larry Fine; Editing by Frank Pingue)