Archive for Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rangers, Cardinals go on the offensive

October 19, 2011

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— Don Larsen will always be the proud possessor of baseball’s ultimate postseason highlight, a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

But it would be remiss to forget about other great October performances.

Sandy Koufax tossed a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series.... on two days’ rest.

Bob Gibson opened the 1968 Fall Classic with 17 strikeouts in a five-hit shutout.

Just last year, Roy Halladay tossed a no-hitter in the National League Division Series.

The list of great postseason pitching accomplishments is a long one, because pitching is supposed to rule in October.

Maybe it will, ultimately, during the 107th World Series, which starts tonight. But so far offense has prevailed this postseason, and the clubs with the two of the most potent lineups this year are the last teams standing.

The St. Louis Cardinals, winners of the NL title, have the best hitter in the game for the past decade in Albert Pujols. The Texas Rangers, winners of the American League pennant, counter with the hottest player going, homer-happy Nelson Cruz.

Those sluggers are only one piece in each team’s stacked lineup.

May the baseball gods have mercy on the pitchers’ souls.

“If there are a lot mistakes made, I think you’ll see the ball flying out of the ballpark,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I think you’ll see hits all over the place. I think you’ll start seeing some exciting baseball.”

No matter how the regular-season stats are twisted, it’s difficult to dispute the fact that the Rangers and Cardinals were among the top offenses in the game.

The Rangers had the best average in baseball at .283, were second in hits (1,599) and were third in runs (855).

St. Louis, with a pitcher at the bottom of every lineup, was fifth in baseball in batting average (.273), runs (762) and hits (1,513). Those numbers led the NL.

While the Rangers were second in the majors in homers (210) and the Cardinals (162) were 13th, the Rangers’ second-best slugging percentage (.460) was only four spots ahead of St. Louis (.425).

“We both have good offenses,” said Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who hit 32 homers in 2011. “They have a really deep lineup, too. They have four or five power guys who can be a tough out for anybody.”

The first player who pops to mind for St. Louis is their star at first base. Pujols rates as the best hitter in this series, and as one of the best in baseball history. He hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs this season, and that is considered a down year.

The three-time MVP has found his rhythm in the postseason, hitting .419 with two homers and 10 RBIs. But he hasn’t been the Cardinals’ best hitter in the playoffs.

That title belongs to third baseman David Freese, who hit .545 with three homers to become the MVP of the NL Championship Series. Then, there’s Lance Berkman (31 homers) and Matt Holliday (22 homers).

If the Rangers were careful with Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera, it would be no surprise that they would give Pujols the same treatment. But, as the Tigers had Victor Martinez and Delmon Young behind Cabrera, the Cardinals have quality hitters behind Pujols.

“I can’t honestly say that there’s one particular way to get a guy like that out,” said Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson, who will start Game 1 tonight. “But at the same time, you have to pitch to the whole lineup and you have to be conscious of the whole lineup.

“But with Lance and Holliday and Freese, all those guys hitting together for power in the middle of the lineup, it’s an American League lineup just like ours is.”

The Rangers, New York or Boston were atop the AL in various offensive categories. The Rangers, though, are still playing because they don’t give opposing pitchers a catch-your-breath moment.

Seven of the eight hitters in tonight’s lineup have double-digit home-run totals and at least 60 RBIs. Three Rangers hit 30 homers, and Cruz just missed 30 with a flyout to the left-field wall in his final at-bat of the season.

In becoming the MVP of the ALCS, Cruz established single-series postseason records with six home runs and 13 RBIs. Beltre had a three-homer game in the ALDS clincher.

“They’ve got talent from top to bottom,” said Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals’ Game 1 starter. “They’re dangerous. I watched a little bit of their games against Detroit, caught some highlights, and there’s a lot of homers going up. They’ve got a powerful lineup.”

Maybe the cold weather will help keep the ball in the ballpark. Maybe Wilson and Carpenter will pitch like pitchers are supposed to in the postseason.

If not, this October will be remembered as the rare exception when offense ruled.

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