The 2011 World Series is evolving into one of the classic matchups in history. We’ve seen a 1-0 game through eight innings won in the ninth with two sac flies. We’ve seen a monumental blowout with Albert Pujols making history with three home runs. We’ve witnessed a young pitcher coming of age with a gem in Game 4 as Derek Holland shut down the Cardinals for 8+ innings. Baseball fans must be thrilled with this fall display.
Well, most fans. But there are some fans who are not enjoying the 2011 postseason.
The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals square off in the 2011 World Series
The 2011 World Series kicks off tonight with a battle between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. So to get you ready for this fall classic, let's take a look at both team's managers, players and even front office executives who you'll be watching for the next 4 to 7 games.
The NLCS shows all the signs of a classic series hanging in the balance of every pitch. There are two teams from the same division who know each other so well. The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers split their 18-game season series 9-9. And let’s just say there is some “built-up intensity” toward one another that adds a bit more spice.
But there are two things that could allow this series to go haywire: Milwaukee’s inept supporting cast in the Brewers’ lineup and St. Louis’ inconsistent bullpen.
It’s no secret that Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder carry the Brewers’ lineup. Add to that Yuniesky Betancourt’s strong postseason and Jerry Hairston’s timely hitting and you have the Brew Crew’s complete offensive arsenal. Yep, those four guys are doing all the heavy lifting.
Non-pitchers not named Prince, Braun, Yuni or Hairston are batting .168 in the postseason. That’s half the lineup over a seven-game stretch, which is a decent sample size. They were 16-91 (.176) in the NLDS vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks and are 5-34 (.147) so far against St. Louis. Milwaukee is operating with half a lineup that can’t make outs and the other half can’t get on base. If the Cardinals are allowed to pitch around these four hitters without the supporting cast capitalizing, the Redbirds could be celebrating earlier than expected.
However, if the Cardinals’ bullpen reverts to its roots of allowing other teams to enjoy big innings, then the Brewers would waste no time dismissing St. Louis from the playoffs.
In the NLDS with Philadelphia, the St. Louis bullpen was very good. In 13.2 innings, the six relievers combined to walk only one batter and struck out 13 while allowing only 11 hits.
Avid Cardinals fans can tell you that those numbers don’t represent what was going on during the season. The Cardinals were second only to Washington in blown saves during the year. And that doesn’t count the numerous one-run leads that turned into multiple-run leads and tie games lost by the bullpen.
Other than Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals starters typically are effective deep into games, putting pressure on the bullpen most every night. That’s been the same in the playoffs. In the seven games thus far, St. Louis starters have gotten through the sixth inning just three times, including Carpenter’s masterful Game 5 performance at Philadelphia.
So what can we expect from the next five games?
The St. Louis bullpen, aided by manager Tony La Russa’s knack for dictating the right matchups, is as deep as it has been all season and has found its groove. Milwaukee hitters like Corey Hart, who had 15 RBIs vs. St. Louis during the season, and Rickie Weeks, who homered in Game 2, won’t stay cold much longer.
The likely scenario says the Cardinals will take two of three in St. Louis leaving them a game up heading back to Milwaukee. Could the Redbirds steal a second victory from the best home team in baseball? Perhaps. But there’s little doubt this baby is going the full seven with a trip to the World Series on the line and aces Carpenter and Yovani Gallardo on the mound.
Led by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Milwaukee Brewers displayed their hitting ability in Game 1 of the NLDS
by Josh Kipnis
Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are two of the hottest topics in the National League MVP discussion. And although postseason play cannot be considered in the debate, Braun and Fielder both proved why they are among the NL’s best hitters in the NLCS opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitching was dominant, to say the least, against the Philadelphia Phillies in last week’s NLDS. St. Louis gave up just six runs and five extra-base hits in the entire 5-game series versus Philly.
With little hope in mid-September, the St. Louis Cardinals somehow have managed to find their way into the NLCS for the fourth time in eight years. Meanwhile in Milwaukee, the Brewers will play in the NLCS for the first time in their history. Back in 1982, the Brewers played in the ALCS and defeated the California Angels to reach the World Series.
This series could not be much more evenly matched. The two teams split their 18 games this season and know each other so well. Both feature big boppers in the heart of the lineup and pretty good, but not great, starting pitching. The only real difference lies in the bullpens. The Brewers’ dependable bullpen gives Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke comfort in knowing his team is 81-1 with a lead after eight innings. Setup men Takashi Saito and Francisco Rodriguez in front of closer John Axford take the pressure off the Brewers’ starters to have to go more than six innings. The much-maligned Cardinals’ bullpen was shaky at best for much of the season. But there have been fewer better performances than the Redbirds’ relievers gave with six shutout innings in their Game 2 comeback win over Philadelphia.
Milwaukee has been the best team at home throughout the season, but rest assured, the Cardinals will not be intimidated. They just survived the Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt gauntlet and won Game 5 before a raucous crowd in Philadelphia. And since August 1, after both teams made final adjustments to their rosters, the Cardinals won seven of 12 meetings. No doubt this series will be a battle between these two familiar rivals of the National League Central.
The Cardinals’ offense, which led the NL in runs during the regular season, struggled with only 19 runs and two home runs in the five NLDS games.
Keys for St. Louis
The Cardinals must get quality innings from the bullpen. Manager Tony La Russa was able to play matchups and manage his way through some tough innings, especially in Game 2, against the Phillies. Unlike the Brewers. the Cardinals don’t have the consistent go-to guys late in the game. La Russa was a master at controlling matchups in the series with Philadelphia by mixing and matching his entire bullpen.
Keys for Milwaukee
As good as the Brewers have been at home this season, they lost both games at Arizona and didn’t look like the same team. So they must hold serve at home. It was also clear how much they rely on their stars, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. As the series with Arizona wore on, the Diamondbacks pitched around the two MVP candidates. Expect similar treatment from St. Louis, so the Brewers must have clutch performances from the supporting cast.
Cardinals to Watch
Albert Pujols is poised to break out this postseason. He hit the Phillies well enough to receive an intentional walk that loaded the bases with one out for Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday late in Game 5. Rafael Furcal will set the table and spark the offense. Look for Yadier Molina to provide a clutch bat.
Brewers to Watch
Expect Jerry Hairston, Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan to step up in support of Braun and Fielder. Hairston had a good series against St. Louis in late August and was clutch in the Arizona series. Hart drove in 15 runs in only 16 games against the Redbirds while Morgan ignited the offense with a .393 OBP. Hart, who has batted leadoff since Rickie Weeks went down with an injury, may be moved to the No. 5 spot to protect Fielder.
Milwaukee Could make its First LCS since 1982 with a Game 4 Win.
The Milwaukee Brewers will look to make the club’s first League Championship Series since 1982 when they take the field in Game 4 of the NLDS tonight in Arizona. The Diamondbacks staved off elimination in Game 3 with an 8-1 victory behind a solid performance from pitcher Josh Collmenter and five RBIs from Paul Goldschmidt.
The St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t muster enough offense yesterday and face elimination in St. Louis today. Meanwhile, rookie Josh Collmenter pitched the Diamondbacks to a win over Milwaukee, allowing Arizona to live another day.
Philadelphia at St. Louis
Roy Oswalt, who made it clear in the past that he would like to pitch for St. Louis, will be on the mound in an effort to send the Phillies into the NLCS. The righthander spent much of the season nursing injuries, but is healthy now and will assume his position as the No. 4 starter in the best rotation in baseball. The Cardinals will send righty Edwin Jackson, whom they acquired from the White Sox in midseason, to the hill.
The Cardinals knocked Oswalt out of a start in June with four runs in the first two innings. That lineup included Colby Rasmus and Tony Cruz, not Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. A few weeks ago, Oswalt tossed seven shutout innings at the Cardinals as they were battling to overcome the Braves in the wild card race. That lineup featured the guys most likely to be in there tonight.
Jackson has been a little Jekyll and Hyde, but mostly Jekyll of late. The Redbirds won six of his last seven starts, although he factored in the decision just three times going 3-0. He represents the biggest x-factor of this series, having very little history against the Phillies hitters. The first four hitters in the lineup, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Ryan Howard have a combined 12 plate appearances against Jackson with just one hit. That’s not much of a sample size and typically favors the pitcher.
I certainly expect more runs than last night, and for the Cardinals to send the series back to Philadelphia for Game 5.
St. Louis and Philadelphia play the only non-elimination game today.
by Charlie Miller
Today is a day that Major League Baseball had in mind when it expanded the playoffs for what was to be 1994, but due to the strike, actually began in 1995. Four playoff games, three of which could be elimination games. All in one day.
It will be tough to match last Wednesday night for a four-game set that ranked as the best ever, but with three teams’ seasons on the line, today is must-see baseball.
Beginning today at 2:00 ET, Tampa Bay will attempt to stave off elimination at home against Texas. Then at 5:00 St. Louis hosts Philadelphia in the only non-do-or-die affair. At 7:30 the Yankees will be in Detroit trying to extend their season another few days and force a Game 5 back in New York. Milwaukee and Arizona begin at 8:30, but I suspect most of the nation will catch only the last few innings after the Yankees-Tigers tussle. The Diamondbacks will try desperately to avoid the embarrassment of being swept at the hands of the Brewers.
Philadelphia at St. Louis
Obviously the key to this series is giving up three runs in the first inning. Both winning teams have done just that so far. While it was not a surprise that the Phillies’ Roy Halladay retired 21 batters in a row after the hiccup in the first inning of Game 1, it is nothing less than a shock that the Cardinals’ bullpen hung up a zero after Chris Carpenter couldn’t get past the third inning of Game 2. So which will it be in Game 3?
Cole Hamels and Jaime Garcia will start today giving both managers reason to believe the three-run first innings are a thing of the past. Garcia has been at his best at home, and was stingy against Philadelphia this season. Facing a lineup without Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino or Carlos Ruiz, Garcia stifled the Phillies at Busch Stadium back in May over eight innings, allowing just one unearned run. A few weeks ago, Garcia pitched seven strong innings at Philadelphia allowing a run in a St. Louis win in 11 innings.
Even though that was after the Phillies had clinched, most of the regulars played for Philadelphia. Ryan Howard and Ruiz appeared as pinch hitters.
Phillies’ starter Hamels has held St. Louis hitters in check throughout his career (.257 OBP), but has won just two of his five decisions. In 27 innings at the current Busch Stadium, Hamels has allowed just 19 hits and six walks in 27 innings while striking out 29.
However, his only start against the Cardinals this season came last week and resulted in a 5-0 St. Louis win. Allen Craig doubled and was chased home on Albert Pujols’ homer in the first inning. Could that be how the game starts tonight? Craig later homered off Hamels and reliever Joe Blanton.
With the starting pitching that the Phillies will continue to trot out every night, it’s difficult to see a scenario where the Cardinals win this series. The St. Louis bullpen will reveal its propensity to cough up leads before this five-game set is over. The Cardinals may force a Game 5, but the Phillies will move on to the NLCS.
A couple of nights ago, I enjoyed the greatest night of my baseball life. Four teams fighting for a playoff berth in four different games, and three of them went into extra innings. Can it get it better than that? Well, if you listen to MLB, it can. But I disagree.
It appears that MLB is determined — for whatever reason — to add a couple of playoff teams, create perpetual interleague play and in so doing, make the DH rule universal.
I understand that the additional playoff teams generate more revenue. But if that is all we’re about here, let’s just have a 30-team postseason tournament in September and October to determine the champion. The team with the best record in each league gets a bye in the first round, and let’s play five rounds of seven-game series.
Of course, that sounds absurd — at least I hope it does to everyone — but where do we draw the compromise between increasing postseason revenue and maintaining the integrity of a true champion?
I submit that we have that compromise now. If anything, we’re too far on the lost integrity side, but maybe that’s just me. I just happen to believe that the truest measure of the best baseball team in any given year is over 162 games, not over 19 postseason games with days off in between.
Am I suggesting that we go back to the days of no divisions and have the two league champions meet in the World Series? No I’m not. While I do believe that is the truest measure of a champion, I understand the drama and suspense of elimination games.
But think about what opening up 2011 to an extra playoff team in each league would have taken from the game? There would not have been the incredible drama Wednesday night. The Yankees and Phillies had already clinched home field advantage. The Rangers, Diamondbacks, Tigers and Rangers had all clinched division titles. And the Red Sox, Rays, Braves and Cardinals would have clinched wild card berths.
You may argue that the drama we witnessed on Wednesday would have remained, but moved to a later night featuring wild card games. Perhaps, but playing to get into the playoffs offers a little more drama than merely playing to advance. And what about the Orioles and Astros? Those teams and their fans were able to witness relevant games for those teams for the first time in months. And while the Houston fans weren’t treated to much drama, Camden Yards was as vibrant as ever Wednesday night. Please don’t take those opportunities away.
No matter how hard executives and networks and websites try, sports just can’t be scripted. You can’t manufacture drama. Whether it’s just two postseason teams or 16, the drama will happen on the field as played out by individuals. Some seasons play out with three or four fantastic divisional races going down to the wire. Some years don’t. This season was one of those where the dramatic line was drawn between the fourth- and fifth-best teams in each league. Next year will be different. But it is never predictable where that line will be drawn.
So please, MLB, don’t mess with the existing playoff structure.
Tuesday night's performances keep Rays and Cardinals alive.
by Josh Kipnis
“Triple” is not the most common word in baseball. Any hitter will tell you that a triple is the hardest stat to check off the list. And for a defensive player, a triple play is just about unheard of.
This year’s wild card race had been a rarity of its own, as the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays each attempt to mount monumental comebacks in their hopes towards a playoff berth. Which is why it should be no surprise that “triple” was the keyword for success last night.