21 October 2006

World Series Preview 2006: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Detroit Tigers

After getting burned a bit on my previous round of postseason pics, I took a little time off to reflect, and see what I really know about baseball. OK, so "getting burned a bit" is almost as big an understatement as "a little worried about North Korea"...I went 0-for-4 on the Divisional Series, picking teh Mets, Dodgers, Yankees and Twins to go a combined 12-5, when in reality, all four teams lost their respective series, winning a grand total of two games among them. Just call me Travis "Golden Sombrero" Nelson.

I took the NLCS and ALCS off, more due to lack of time to read and write about baseball than some sort of profound re-evaluation of my life's ambitions, but it doesn't matter: Both series ended exactly the opposite of how I would have picked them anyway. In fact, I'll just go ahead her and state my post-dictions (?) for both series:

NLCS: Cardinals @ Mets: Mets in five. The Cardinals don't stand a chance.

ALCS: Tigers @ Athletics: A's in four. Barry Zito and Frank Thomas will tame the Tigers.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to analyzing the World Series that actually will happen...

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Detroit Tigers

It's easy to look at the way the Cardinals gutted out a dramatic, 9th inning win in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Mets Thursday night and call them the "hot team", but the fact of the matter is that the Cardinals' last three-game winning streak ended on September 1st. That's right: they haven't won more than two games in a row in over a month and a half. This is not a "hot" team. What they are is a team that has been fortunate to keep its foes at bay while they lick their collective wounds.

In the absence of Mark Mulder and Jason Isringhausen, perrenial LAIM Jeff Suppan (a sandwich) stepped up to win the NLCS MVP award, and Adam Wainwright has saved three games in three opportunities. The pitching has been solid in the postseason, but hardly dominant. Suppan allowed only 5 hits in 15 NLCS innings, but he also only struck out 6 and walked six, succeeding with moxy and solid defense rather than "stuff". (By the way, has there ever been a mediocre player on any postseason team that didn't have a lot of "moxy"? To hear Tim McCarver talk about it, "moxy" must be the most abundant substance on the planet.)

Regardless of their intangible qualities, Jeffs Weaver and Suppan will have a hard time repeating their success against the Tigers, not because the Tigers are a better-hitting team than the Mets (they're not) but because the Jeffs' luck is due to run out. Weaver had a 5.76 ERA this season, and had only one month with an ERA under 5.47 (September, when it was 4.15) before October, and hasn't had consecutive Quality Starts (6+ innings, 3 or fewer Earned Runs) since late May. Suppan went 6-2 with a 2.39 ERA after the All-Star Break and has a 1.86 ERA in 19.1 postseason innings, but he's been pretty lucky with hits to do that, and that can't last forever. With that said, Chris Carpenter has pitched exactly like, well, Chris Carpenter, this postseason, with the noted exception of his 5-inning, 5-run performance against the Mets in Game 2 of the NLCS last week. Unfortunately, Carpenter will likely get to pitch only once this series, because the Cardinals probably won't win any of the games in which he doesn't pitch. But I'll get back to that.

The Cardinals' offense hasn't exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either, for that matter. They've scored a total of 42 runs in the 11 postseason games they've played, or 3.8/game, hitting a collective .256/.337/.413, including .248/.341/.434 in the NLCS. They got homers from banjo-hitting (and now injured) 2B David Eckstein, reserve OF So Taguchi, starting Pitcher Jeff Suppan and not one but two bombs from catcher Yadier Molina, who went from hitting .216/.274/.321 to hitting, .348/.423/.652 in the NLCS. Time for him, and more specifically his bat, to turn back into a pumpkin. It's one thing to acknowledge a great performance when it happens. It's quote another to counton that happening every night out to get you the "W", and that's what the Cards have had to do for the last week or two.

The Mets' pitchers did their jobs, overall, but their hitters didn't show up and sophomore manager Willie Randolph simply got out-managed by veteran field skipper Tony LaRussa. Grizzled Tigers' manager Jim Leyland won't let that happen to his team, I assure you. (On the other hand, I just watched Albert Pujols stroke a two-run homer to right with two outs and first base open in the third inning, so I could be wrong about that.)

The Tigers, on the other hand, have won seven straight games in the postseason, and those were no slouches they were playing, the 97-win Yankees and the 93-win Oakland A's. Their team led the majors in ERA (3.84) and adjusted ERA (117), so it wasn't just the cavernous Comerica Park that helped them keep the ball in the yard. The Cards, by contrast, were 9th in the 16-team NL, with a 4.54 ERA despite te fact that Busch Stadium actually suppressed run scoring by about 2% this season.

The Tigers were 5th in the AL in runs scored per game, at 5.07, while the Cardinals placed a respectable sixth in that category in the Senior Circuit, at 4.85. Comerica has more of a reputation as a pitcher's park than does Busch Stadium, but in reality, there's been little difference between the two parks for the last few seasons.

The Cardinals had a lot of luck in the playoffs to get this far, after limping into the postseason on the merits of having the least-bad record in the weakest division in baseball. Their pitching is not as good as it has looked forthe last week and a half, and it's bound to revert to form sooner or later. My guess is that the Tigers find a way to contain Albert Pujols and the Cardinals pitchers' luck runs out.

Prediction: Tigers in six.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: