There seems to be a fairly strong consensus out there in pundit land that the Texas Rangers will beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. I can’t necessarily find fault with the many arguments used to bolster that prediction. I’ll just say it: The Rangers are a stronger team, top to bottom. If these teams played each other for 162 games, the Rangers might win 87 times.
But of course, this isn’t the regular season. This is the World Series, a best-of-seven, hyper-intense test of both skill and fortitude. And in this format, I like the Cardinals. Here are some reasons why:
1. Tony La Russa. Love him or hate him, you have to acknowledge how brilliantly the man has managed in this postseason. He completely exposed Brewers counterpart Ron Roenicke in the NLCS, and I suspect he will do the same thing to the Rangers’ Ron Washington in the World Series. With a full, loaded, high-performing arsenal of relievers at his disposal, La Russa can be masterful in his deployment. And as much as I like and respect Washington, I’m much more skeptical of his ability to run a game.
2. Mark Rzepczynski. In a matchup of the two dominant bullpens, the one weapon the Rangers have that the Cardinals do not is an Alexi Ogando — that two- or three-inning shutdown reliever who can rescue a game in the fourth inning and carry it to the sixth or seventh. But it is possible the Cardinals unearthed that guy in Game 6 of the NLCS, when the lefty known as “Scrabble” — who had been utilized primarily as one- or two-batter matchup guy — entered in the fifth inning and stayed out there for seven outs. In doing so, he dominated both left-handed and right-handed hitters. It was a new wrinkle that just might have implications beyond that game.
3. Home-field advantage. It seems fitting that C.J. Wilson, the Rangers’ Game 1 starter, gave up the Prince Fielder homer in the All-Star Game that, as it turns out, gave the Cardinals home-field advantage in this series. That advantage matters, especially with two powerful offenses such as these, because having the last at-bat in these games is crucial, as both a practical matter and an emotional edge. If we’re lucky, we’re going to get some high-leverage, power-on-power matchups between, say, Albert Pujols and Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. There is an irrepressible quality to the Cardinals, and should they be trailing late against Feliz, it would be the ultimate test of that quality.