Berkman is key to Cardinals' WS fate
October, 17, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Jeff Curry/US PresswireLance Berkman must be a weapon for St. Louis against Texas' left-handed starters.The World Series begins Wednesday night, with the St. Louis Cardinals matching up against the Texas Rangers. But there are matchups within the matchup, and here are the 10 biggest:
1. Lance Berkman versus Rangers' left-handers: Three of the Rangers' starting pitchers are left-handers -- C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison -- and Berkman has been a very different hitter against lefties, with his OPS about 200 points lower. Against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS, Tony La Russa opted to start Berkman against the lefties, and in those games, Berkman went 1-for-8. In the NLCS, Berkman was on the bench when lefty Randy Wolf started for the Brewers. It's possible that in the Cardinals' home games, La Russa may opt to start the right-handed-hitting Allen Craig -- who mashes against lefties, with an OPS of 1.000 during the regular season, and is better defensively than Berkman -- and have Berkman waiting on his bench as a weapon.
2. Josh Hamilton versus Cardinals' left-handers: La Russa demonstrated that he won't hesitate to go to his bullpen over and over, and presumably he will regularly call on one of his lefties -- Marc Rzepczynski and Arthur Rhodes -- to face Hamilton. The Rangers slugger had an on-base percentage of .284 versus lefties during the regular season, 87 points lower than his OBP against right-handers.
3. Rangers' baserunners versus St. Louis running defense: Texas is an athletic team that loves to pressure the defense on the bases, looking for chances to be aggressive; it ranked fifth among 30 teams in stolen bases with 143. And as the Cardinals have demonstrated time and again, there really is no team better at shutting down a running game with the way their pitchers vary how they hold runners, with the way Yadier Molina throws, and with the way Albert Pujols plays his position in running situations. In 11 postseason games this year, there have been six stolen-base attempts against St. Louis -- and four times the runner has been cut down.
4. Cardinals' power hitters versus Alexi Ogando: Ron Washington shifted Ogando to his bullpen, and Ogando has emerged as an extraordinary two-inning weapon, pumping 98 mph fastballs past hitters. In 10.1 innings this month, he's struck out 12 and walked only two. You'd have to think that Washington will be looking to match up Ogando versus the two right-handed hitters in the middle of the St. Louis lineup, Pujols and Matt Holliday.
5. Rangers versus the NL's home-field advantage: The coaching staff of the San Francisco Giants believes they won the World Series last season largely because they got to open at home. They won Games 1 and 2, with their pitching doing shut-down work, and the Rangers were in a deep hole by the time they got back to Texas. This year, the Cardinals will have the same opportunity the Giants had.
6. Nelson Cruz versus St. Louis scouts: The Rangers' right fielder clubbed six homers in six games against the Detroit Tigers, setting a postseason record. All eight of his hits in the series were for extra bases. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said during the series that he thought Detroit did not pitch well against Cruz, and he likely was talking about how the Tigers made mistakes with fastballs on the inner half of the strike zone -- which Cruz just mashes. The Cardinals have had a team of scouts following the Rangers, and they will undoubtedly present the St. Louis coaching staff and pitchers a suggestion for how to deal with Cruz, whether it's with a steady diet of off-speed pitches or by forcing Cruz to move his feet with fastballs low and in. And remember, Leyland and La Russa are very good friends, and it's standard operating procedure for opposing managers and scouts to chat in situations like this. Leyland might have some thoughts for La Russa on what did not work against Cruz, and what did work. It's possible that Leyland's suggestion is this: Cruz is so hot at the plate that it'd be better for the Cardinals to work around him and go after the hitter behind him, David Murphy.
7. Pujols versus Texas scouts: It's worth taking a moment to review how great Pujols has been in this postseason: He's hitting .419, with a .490 on-base percentage and a 1.211 OPS; he went 11-for-21 against the Brewers. The Rangers' staff will have a plan against Pujols, although it will be complicated by the fact that three of the four Texas starters are lefties, and Pujols typically wrecks lefties.
8. St. Louis bullpen versus Rangers' power: La Russa has a huge stable of right-handed relievers, from Lance Lynn to Fernando Salas to Octavio Dotel to Jason Motte, and he will call upon them to deal with the four right-handed hitters who follow Hamilton: Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Cruz. Lynn has been throwing exceptionally well, as has Salas, who has surrendered only five hits in 9.2 innings in the postseason. From ESPN Stats and Info: The Cardinals' bullpen went seven innings Sunday, allowing just two runs. For the series, the bullpen threw 28 2/3 innings, more than the 24 1/3 innings thrown by the team's starters, and had a 1.88 ERA compared to the 7.03 ERA posted by the rotation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cardinals are the second team to win a postseason best-of-seven series by getting more innings from their bullpen than their starters (the other was the 1979 Pirates against the Orioles in the World Series).
9. NL rules versus AL rules: Typically, one or both teams sacrifice in a big way when they play on the road in the World Series because of the DH conflict; usually, the AL team faces a tough decision about what to do with its burly DH in games in the NL park, and the NL team struggles to provide a DH who has comparable firepower to that of the AL DH. But that's not the situation in this series. Young presumably becomes the Rangers' first baseman during games in St. Louis, and Mitch Moreland goes to the bench. In Texas, either Holliday or Berkman could be the DH for St. Louis. The Cardinals do have some athletic starting pitchers who will generally be more practiced in the art of bunting and hitting than their Texas counterparts -- but remember, Wilson is an exceptional hitter. He's had only limited opportunity in the big leagues, going 1-for-8, but he was an outfielder and first baseman at Loyola Marymount; think Tim Hudson. In fact, you wonder if the Rangers will consider starting Wilson in Games 2 and 6 in St. Louis to ensure that they have a pitcher who can handle a bat.
10. Elvis Andrus and Rafael Furcal versus focus: We saw in the NLCS how pivotal defense is in the postseason, and Andrus and Furcal are very similar -- they both have tremendous skills, strong throwing arms and the capability to make plays worthy of SportsCenter's Top 10. But each also tends to make simple mistakes, like a wayward throw on an easy grounder. Furcal made 14 errors in 85 games this season, including some mistakes in some big moments in September, and Andrus made 25 errors, the second most among all shortstops. Efficiency is needed.
Think about all the weird dominoes that have led to this matchup, with the Cardinals hosting Game 1 of the World Series:
A. The Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves in the final regular-season series to knock them out of the playoffs, creating a window for the Cardinals to get into the postseason.
B. The Cardinals then beat the Phillies.
C. The Cardinals now have home-field advantage against the Rangers in the World Series because Prince Fielder hit a monster home run off Wilson in the All-Star Game.
The Cardinals have gone from chumps to champs, writes Bernie Miklasz. David Freese played out a dream, writes Dan O'Neill.
From ESPN Stats and Info:
Freese hit .345 with three homers and nine RBI. Only one other player has hit all three of those benchmarks in a postseason series: In 1928, Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig hit .545 with four homers and nine RBIs against the Cardinals in the World Series.
Pujols will be playing in his third World Series.
The Brewers' season came to a bitter end, Tom Haudricourt writes. The blame for the Brewers' loss goes beyond the manager.
Hey, the bottom line is this: The Brewers' starting pitching in this series was lousy, and their defense was lousy. They were outplayed.
A lot of Brewers' fans didn't want Shaun Marcum to start in Game 6, and Marcum was lousy -- but so was Chris Narveson.
Fielder's season, and perhaps his time with the Brewers, ended on a down note.
The Rangers got a day to catch their breath. The Rangers have a strong team behind the team.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Theo Epstein compensation talks should wrap up soon. I'd bet the commissioner's office would like this wrapped up before the first pitch of the World Series is thrown. Epstein's arrival will take the Cubs toward sabermetrics.
2. From the department of It May Not Matter: Frank and Jamie McCourt may have settled their divorce, which clears the deck for McCourt's bankruptcy to play out. From Bill Shaikin's story:
- The McCourts incurred $20.6 million in legal bills related to the divorce through July, according to Los Angeles Superior Court filings by each of the parties. To settle the outstanding dispute over whether the Dodgers were the sole property of Frank McCourt or community property could have added at least $14 million to those bills, based on estimates in a filing on behalf of Jamie McCourt.