Menu

Baseball

2011 World Series position-by-position breakdown

Raise your hand if you had the Texas Rangers squaring off with the St. Louis Cardinals your preseason World Series picks.

If you did I'm sure you were in select company, but that is where we are as we get ready to open the 107th edition of the Fall Classic on Wednesday at Busch Stadium.

The Rangers are back in the World Series for the second straight season after losing in five games to the San Francisco Giants last year in their first- ever appearance.

After their second straight AL West title and a franchise-record 96 wins this past season, the Rangers disposed of the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS before "Cruz-ing" to a six-game win over the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, as outfielder Nelson Cruz set the all-time mark for most home runs (six) and RBI (13) in a postseason series on his way to MVP honors.

"Behold, here we are with another opportunity," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They deserve a ton of credit. They got so much character in that clubhouse, so much drive. And as I said, we are a team, and that's the way they handle their business -- as a team."

St. Louis, meanwhile, is the National League's version of the New York Yankees, as they are back in this round for the 18th time in team history following impressive wins over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS.

Of course, the Cardinals needed all 162 games to even reach the postseason, as they rallied from a 10 1/2 game deficit in late August and secured the wild card spot on the final day with a win over Houston coupled with the Phillies completing a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves.

"We thought we had good character, not just good talent," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "That means you can't quit and can't give up. We did get to the end, and a lot of it was our character. This one here has its own mark, because coming from that far back is historic."

Armed with the best hitter in the game in Albert Pujols, it has been the Cards' bullpen that has carried them here in October, as St. Louis became the first team to advance in a postseason series without having a starter go more than five innings in any game of its series with the Brewers.

St. Louis last won a World Series back in 2006 and its 10 titles are the most by any NL team.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the matchups at each position:

CATCHER

Tampa manager Joe Maddon dubbed this season the "Year of the Napoli". Mike Napoli has been a terrific addition to this Rangers club and has hit safely in eight of 10 postseason games and is hitting .316, while providing some quality defense behind the plate.

Widely regarded as the top defensive catcher in the game, Yadier Molina had his best offensive season this past year, hitting .305 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI. He's hit .279 here in the postseason, but has continued to be a stud behind the plate and will keep the Rangers' speedsters honest in this series.

EDGE: CARDINALS

FIRST BASE

Michael Young's season started with a trade demand, but ended with him being in the discussion for American League MVP, as he was the Rangers' best player all season long, hitting .338 with 106 RBI. He's now playing his third position with the team and remains one of the classiest and most underrated players in the game. Mitch Moreland will likely play first base when these games are played in Arlington.

Perhaps playing his final set of games with the Cardinals, Albert Pujols remains the best player in the game. The three-time NL MVP had a down year by his standards, but has been tremendous this postseason and hit .478 against the Brewers with a pair of home runs and eight RBI.

EDGE: CARDINALS

SECOND BASE

Ian Kinsler had a terrific bounce back season after a disappointing 2010. The gritty second baseman hit 32 home runs and scored 121 runs. He's hit .275 this postseason with nine RBI, while crossing the plate 11 times too.

Skip Schumaker had been the Cards' everyday second baseman, but suffered a strained oblique muscle in their Game 5 win over the Phillies and was left off the NLCS roster.

Schumaker might be added to the World Series roster, but if he can't go then Nick Punto will handle the duties, as he did against the Brewers. However, he only had two hits in 15 NLCS at-bats. If Schumaker can't go and Punto continues to struggle at the plate, don't be surprised if La Russa goes to Ryan Theriot. Then again if Schumaker can go, Theriot will likely be left off the WS roster.

EDGE: RANGERS

THIRD BASE

Aside from a three home run effort in the ALDS clincher Adrian Beltre has been quiet at the plate this postseason, going just 10-for-42 (.238) with six RBI. He's still one of the best defenders at his position in the game, though.

How many Cardinals would you have named before you got to David Freese in picking an NLCS MVP before the series started. Freese was tremendous, though, as he totaled 12 hits with three home runs and nine RBI versus the Brewers. He is hitting .425 this postseason with four homers after batting .297 in the regular season with only 10 home runs.

EDGE: RANGERS

SHORTSTOP

Last postseason was Elvis Andrus' coming out party to the baseball public. This year, though, he's had a tough go of it at the plate, batting just .205 while being caught stealing twice. He did swipe 37 bases on the season and could be a valuable weapon should he get on base in this series. He's also an A+ defender.

Rafael Furcal may not possess the same speed or range that he had in his heyday with the Atlanta Braves, but his October experience has proven to be a terrific asset to this Cardinals team. Even though he is only hitting .204 this postseason, he is still one of the better defensive shortstops in the game.

EDGE: RANGERS

LEFT FIELD

David Murphy has been an invaluable asset to the Rangers, filling in when needed for both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz this season. He's hit .391 here in the playoffs with three RBI. Washington also likes to use the defensively- minded Endy Chavez here too.

Matt Holliday appears to be fully healed from a finger injury that cost him the end of the regular season and most of the NLDS. Holliday swatted 22 home runs during the regular season and has hit .375 here in the playoffs with five runs batted in.

EDGE: CARDINALS

CENTER FIELD

Hamilton didn't quite have the MVP season he had last year, but is still one of the more feared left-handed bats in the game. He's yet to hit a home run this postseason, but has driven in seven runs.

Jon Jay is another of La Russa's unheralded stars, as he was a consistent contributor during the season, batting .297 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI.

EDGE: RANGERS

RIGHT FIELD

Cruz was bothered for a lot of the regular season by hamstring injuries, but has caught fire here in the playoffs. He put on a record-setting performance in the ALCS, belting six home runs and 13 RBI to help oust the Tigers.

Lance Berkman turned out to be one of the best free agent signings of last offseason, as he earned NL Comeback Player of the Year honors after batting.301 with 31 homers and 94 runs batted in this season. He's only hitting .237 here in October, though, and had just two RBI in the series win over the Brewers.

EDGE: RANGERS

DESIGNATED HITTER

Young will slide back to his DH role at the start of this series. However, Washington could go with Murphy and leave Young at first for the beginning of this set since Moreland has just two hits in 19 postseason at-bats.

Allen Craig hit .315 for the Cardinals this past season with 11 home runs and 40 RBI in 75 games. He hasn't hit much this postseason (.222) but La Russa will not hesitate to insert him into the DH role when the series shifts to Rangers Ballpark.

EDGE: RANGERS

STARTING PITCHING

The Rangers lost a big piece of their starting rotation last offseason when Cliff Lee bolted as a free agent. Left-hander C.J. Wilson did an admirable job in assuming the role as staff ace and won a career-best 16 games, while earning his first-ever trip to the All-Star Game.

He's been atrocious in the playoffs, though, losing two of his three starts and failing to get out of the fifth in the other. Wilson has allowed 14 runs in 15 2/3 innings (8.04 ERA) and has walked eight batters in that span.

But he hasn't been alone.

Lefties Derek Holland and Matt Harrison and righty Colby Lewis were downright awful against the Tigers, as the group as a whole combined for an ERA of 6.59 in the ALCS. They also own just one quality start in the 10 games they have played in the playoffs.

St. Louis' starting staff hasn't been much better, as the Cardinals became the first team to win a postseason series when their starters failed to go more than five innings in any of the six games.

The exception to the rule is righty Chris Carpenter, who is the best starter in the series. A former NL Cy Young Award winner, Carpenter, of course, outdueled Roy Halladay in a decisive fifth game to get the Cards to the NLCS, and beat the Brewers in his only NLCS start, albeit a five-inning, three run performance.

EDGE: RANGERS

BULLPEN

The Rangers strengthened their bullpen at the trade deadline, acquiring right- handers Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. However, it has been a starter from this season who has dominated in the bullpen here in October for the Rangers.

Right-hander Alexi Ogando, who won 13 games and earned a trip to the All-Star Game in his first year as a full-time starter this season, has been exceptional out of the bullpen in the postseason, allowing just a run and four hits, while striking out 12 in 10 1/3 innings of work.

Ogando picked up two wins in the series against the Tigers, as Rangers starters C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison combined for a 6.59 ERA in the ALCS. The rotation also has just one quality start in 10 postseason games.

With Uehara (33.75 ERA) struggling, Ogando was called upon time and time again to help set the bridge to Adams and closer Neftali Feliz, who has surrendered just one run in the postseason.

St. Louis' bullpen, which ranked 21st in the majors in the regular season with a 3.95 ERA, pitched in just over 54 percent of the team's innings -- the fifth-highest percentage ever for an LCS -- and contributed a 1.58 ERA. La Russa also broke his own NLCS record by making 28 pitching changes.

The bullpen was spearheaded by a pair of mid-season acquisitions in lefty Mark Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, who along with righty Edwin Jackson came over from Toronto as part of the Colby Rasmus deal.

Closer Jason Motte, the fifth such pitcher to be used in that role, has also found his rhythm, as he converted eight of nine saves in September and has saved four games in the playoffs without allowing a run in eight innings.

EDGE: RANGERS

BENCH

Outfielder Craig Gentry will be used as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement in late game situations. Moreland will also offer some pop off the bench when the games are in St. Louis.

It's kind of veiled as to who is a starter and who isn't with some of the Cardinals, as La Russa can't help himself with the mixing and the matching. When not being used as a DH, though, Craig will be his top bat off the bench with the versatile Theriot finding himself some at bats as well, especially if Punto continues to struggle and Schumaker can't go.

EDGE: CARDINALS

MANAGERS

Tony La Russa is one of two managers to win World Series championships in both leagues. He is third all-time in managerial victories and with another postseason win he will tie Atlanta's Bobby Cox for the second most all-time. This is also the third St. Louis team he has taken to the World Series in the last eight seasons. He may drive you crazy with all his little moves, but at the end of the day La Russa is one of the best managers to ever manage a Major League Baseball game.

Washington has his team back in the World Series for the second straight season and with a better team than the one that lost in five games last year to the San Francisco Giants. Players love playing for him and he has made all the right moves here in October. Being in last year's Fall Classic will certainly help, as Washington won't get overwhelmed in the moment.

EDGE: CARDINALS