Saturday, October 8, 2011

ALCS/NLCS preview

By Rick Morris

Coming on the heels of the historic run-downs that St. Louis and Tampa Bay made on Atlanta and Boston respectively to make the playoffs, the Cardinals made huge history once again. Tony LaRussa’s team just pulled off the biggest playoff upset since his own As were shocked in the 1988 and 1990 World Series (although honorable mention on the list of greatest upsets since then goes to the 2002 Angels – with the two Troys, Percival and Glaus as their best players along with Garret Anderson – squeezing past a Yankees team that won every other ALCS appearance they were in from 1996-2003). The Cards are not a huge underdog in the classic sense, as they were forced to make up ground due to injuries to vital sluggers Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday and they were completely without injured ace Adam Wainwright. Nevertheless, the early-out suffered by the Phillies does seem to affix these playoffs with a certain asterisk, as it seems the fluky nature of a five-game series victimized a team that was clearly the best in baseball throughout the season and one that was built like few others for a seven-game series. The Philly loss, along with that of the Yankees, put the first-round predictions at 2-2.

In our LDS preview, we instituted a brand-new feature this year comparing the playoff teams in many different phases of roster composition: a rating of each team in five key categories with a numerical rating that correlates as follows:

Great – 5 points

Very Good – 4 points

Decent – 3 points

Poor – 2 points

Horrible – 1 point



Lineup Explosiveness: Decent

Lineup Depth: Decent

Starting Pitching, Top-End: Great

Starting Pitching Depth: Decent

Bullpen: Decent

TEXAS (21)

Lineup Explosiveness: Great

Lineup Depth: Great

Starting Pitching, Top-End: Decent

Starting Pitching Depth: Decent

Bullpen: Great

It’s oversimplification to classify this series as hitting vs. pitching, even though the Rangers have a lineup that is the envy of most teams and the Tigers are set up great on the mound with peerless ace Justin Verlander and the man having the magic carpet ride of a lifetime over these past few months, Doug Fister. But the strengths do tell the tale, at least somewhat. Detroit, with their “timely hitting,” won’t be winning too many slugfests and the Rangers will be hard-pressed to win 1-0 games from the aforementioned Tiger hurlers. CJ Wilson, rumored to be New York-bound in the greatest example of right-time, right-place on the free agent market since Eddy Curry, exemplifies a staff that is deeper, but less spectacular. With Leyland’s gamble of completely resting Verlander in Game 5 against the Yankees having come up a winner, he’s good to go in Games 1, 4 and 7, so the Tigers would have to be considered the favorite if you think the series is going the distance (notwithstanding the first and last of those games being in the Arlington bandbox instead of his own pitcher-friendly yard). But the wear-you-out factor of the Texas lineup, combined with the pitching edge in the non Big-Two games for Detroit and a bullpen that seems more reliable in the late innings, should keep it from getting that far. Rangers in six.


ST. LOUIS (18)

Lineup Explosiveness: Great

Lineup Depth: Decent

Starting Pitching, Top-End: Poor

Starting Pitching Depth: Decent

Bullpen: Great


Lineup Explosiveness: Great

Lineup Depth: Very Good

Starting Pitching, Top-End: Decent (on paper, could be better than they have been)

Starting Pitching Depth: Very Good

Bullpen: Very Good

While Chris Carpenter won’t be available the optimal amount for the Cards as Verlander will be for the Tigers – since it took Carpenter’s Game 5 masterpiece to lock down the upset vs. Philly – it seems that I may have been a bit hard on him in my NLDS preview when I referred to St. Louis not having typical Dave Duncan pitching this year. Look at what he did against Philadelphia and the fact that he posted an ERA of 3.00 or below four of the final six months of the season. Then again, he had a WHIP of 1.31 or above in two of those months and he was human (3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) against the mighty Brewer lineup this year – so the question of how wrong I was about him may well be the deciding factor in whether the Cards can pull of a second straight upset. And the fact that Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum all are not just a bit more advanced by this point in their careers convinces you that they’re at least as vulnerable to the St. Louis “timely hitting” as Philadelphia was. While the media focus will be on the franchise first basemen for both teams, one of whom may be ending his career-long tenure in the home colors in the next week or so, at least equal attention should be paid to Ryan Braun, who is staking a claim before our very eyes to being the game’s best all-around hitter. Much has been made of the looseness of these Brewers, who are playing with a limited window with the probable departure of Prince Fielder. But they proved in Game 5 against Arizona that their makeup allows them to play equal to the pressure of the moment. Without the burden of having to face Carpenter three times, they should rise to the top in the battle of America’s greatest beer cities, avenge their loss in the 1982 World Series and leave the Cards crying in their suds. Brewers in six.

Brewers over Rangers in six.

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