Why they’re better: The Rangers simply possess a deep, scary lineup. Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz have been two of the most destructive hitters in the postseason, and they bat sixth and seventh. Leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler smashed 32 homers this year. Only the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox scored more runs this season.
●The Rangers will have no issue playing at Busch Stadium. Since the Rangers use a rotating cast of designated hitters, they won’t be forced to shoehorn a valuable hitter into their defensive alignment — Michael Young and Napoli are more than adequate at first base and catcher.
Why they’re not: Despite their star power — and their 15-run outburst in Game 6 of the ALCS — the Rangers have proven susceptible to droughts. They didn’t score more than three runs in the first nine innings of an ALCS game until Game 5, in part because cleanup hitter Young, who hit .338 this season, endured a 2-for-24 drought.
Why they’re better: Start with three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols, the best hitter of his generation. The Rangers think Miguel Cabrera was tough to pitch to? Pujols batted .478 with a .556 on-base percentage and slugged .913 in the NLCS — and that was with the Brewers trying to be careful. The Cardinals’ lineup may not be as deep as the Rangers’, but the 3-4-5-6 of Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and David Freese is more potent. Plus, they are heavily right-handed, which should scare the Rangers, with three lefties among their four starting pitchers.
Why they’re not: The Cardinals simply don’t have anybody as good as Ian Kinsler near the top of their lineup, or anyone as dangerous as Nelson Cruz near the bottom. Rafael Furcal (.204 batting average, .220 on-base percentage and .388 slugging) and John Jay (.216 batting average, .326 on-base percentage and .270 slugging), the Cardinals’ leadoff and No. 2 hitters, have been abysmal this postseason, and Jay could get dropped to the bottom of the lineup against the Rangers’ lefty starters, with Allen Craig or Nick Punto inserted there.
Why they’re better: The Rangers upgraded their bullpen at the trade deadline by adding set-up man Mike Adams and lefty specialist Mike Gonzalez. When they turned Alexi Ogando from a starter back into a reliever for the playoffs, they made it almost unfair. The bullpen has a 2.34 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 421 / 3 innings in the playoffs.
Why they’re not: C.J. Wilson will be perhaps the most coveted free agent pitcher available this winter, but throughout the postseason he has been eminently hittable. Wilson has made three starts in the playoffs, and he lasted 42 / 3 innings in the only one the Rangers won. He’s allowed 14 earned runs in 152 / 3 innings, allowing 21 hits and eight walks.
●There have been more ideal situations for a rotation with three left-handed starters (Wilson, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland) than facing a lineup with right-handed sluggers Pujols, Holliday and Freese.
Why they’re better: No one on either starting staff deserves much praise after their awful showings in the league championship series, but St. Louis’s Chris Carpenter stands apart from the rest, not only for his past exploits (he’s the only former Cy Young winner in the series), but for the three-hit shutout he threw in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Phillies. And then there’s that bullpen, which has dominated this postseason (2.55 ERA, .177 opponents batting average this postseason), despite a ridiculously heavy workload.
Why they’re not: There isn’t much to say about Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson and Jaime Garcia except: Be prepared to see lots of bullpen action. As for their bullpen, the Cardinals lack that three-inning game-saver guy the Rangers have in Alexi Ogando. They are going to need all of their core relievers — closer Jason Motte; lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Arthur Rhodes; and righties Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas and Mitchell Boggs — to be effective if they’re going to win this series.
Why they’re better: Rangers players love playing for Ron Washington. He exudes confidence and keeps them on an even keel. He also keeps them loose, and he gives players the one thing they crave in a manager: consistency.
●Washington deserves praise for how he handled his bullpen. He turned Ogando into a versatile, mid-inning weapon and allowed each reliever to grow comfortable with a specific role.
Why they’re not: As great as it is to show consistency, when one of your players turns into Babe Ruth, you may want to bat him higher. Yet, Washington has remained steadfast keeping Nelson Cruz (six homers, 13 RBI in the ALCS) at seventh in the lineup.
Why they’re better: Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa, now in his 33rd season on the bench, has been at the top of his game this postseason, calling to mind that old Jim Riggleman quote (“it was as if I was playing checkers and he was playing chess”). At 67, he has as much or more intensity as anyone in a Cardinals uniform.
Why they’re not: La Russa hasn’t always been perfect this postseason. He waited too long to yank Garcia in Game 1 of the NLCS, for example, costing the Cardinals a game in Milwaukee. If the Cardinals’ bullpen stumbles it won’t necessarily mean La Russa is managing any less effectively, but one has to wonder if the magic might eventually run out.
Kilgore and Sheinin pick the Cardinals in 7.
— Rangers by Adam Kilgore, Cardinals by Dave Sheinin