World Series 2011: Ranking All 50 Players on the Rangers and Cardinals
Albert Pujols will be the best player on the field when the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers square off in Game 1 of the 2011 World Series Wednesday, but that doesn't guarantee the Cards anything. Nor does it matter that the Rangers possess perhaps the next five players if the two sides are stacked up and ranked by individual quality.
Playoff series are about luck and timing, good management and good execution. The team with the better roster wins perhaps three of every five such series. It may not be that much.
Still, we have little evidence of a consistent model for postseason success. Deep teams do not necessarily outperform top-heavy ones; good pitching does not always beat good hitting.
Absent any clear set of intangible or big-picture criteria, one easy way to line up this series and predict its outcome is to simply rank the players on the two 25-man rosters, and examine the composition of that list. Here is such a construct.
50. Esteban German
For all the talk about the depth each team used to get this deep into October, there are still three or four players on each team that figure to get off the bench only to congratulate their teammates during the course of this series. German heads that list.
49. Gerald Laird
Only in a true emergency, i.e. in case of a severe injury to Yadier Molina, would Laird play in this series. He has not done so yet in the playoffs. A promising prospect a few years ago, Laird has devolved into an unimpressive backup.
48. Ryan Theriot
Theriot is no longer an even tolerable defensive shortstop, and since he posted a characteristic .663 OPS this season, he really is not going to be much help for the Cardinals. Rafael Furcal, however, seems fully healthy. So does Skip Schumaker, so Theriot should play sparingly.
47. Endy Chavez
If the Rangers ever need to close the outfield for business altogether, they can put Chavez, Craig Gentry and Nelson Cruz out there. More realistically, Chavez's path to playing time involves a flurry of substitutions during games in St. Louis, culminating in a choice by Ron Washington to protect Josh Hamilton from further injury aggravation.
46. Arthur Rhodes
Rhodes gets a World Series ring either way, but after the Rangers released him outright this summer, don't expect him to get complacent. Then again, don't expect Tony La Russa to use him much anyway.
45. Mark Lowe or Koji Uehara
A strained hamstring shut Lowe down during September and sidelined him throughout the AL playoffs. During that time, Uehara was terrible. If Lowe can get back in time for the Series opener tomorrow, he will get Uehara's roster spot. It looks promising.
44. Skip Schumaker
Schumaker thinks he will be back for the series. Hallelujah, the Cardinals are saved. They have their crummy defensive second baseman with narrowly average offensive skills back. This could be a game-changer.
43. Jake Westbrook
After stealing back his roster spot from Kyle McClellan, Westbrook will try to make an impact in some long outing by keeping the ball on the ground and inside Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. He is not a candidate to throw especially high-leverage innings, but he should be fine if La Russa simply needs to get Kyle Lohse out of there after a single frame of Game 4.
42. Darren Oliver
Oliver the Ageless will be an asset against Lance Berkman, who hits much better from the left side of the plate, just a he was an asset all season for the Rangers. He pitched just 51 innings in 61 appearances, but walked practically no one and did his job exceedingly well. If the Cardinals had more exploitable left-handed hitting, Oliver would rank higher than this.
41. Mitchell Boggs
Boggs can touch 98 mph on the radar gun but does not miss many bats. He's tough to hit when he has his command, but that's like saying Alaska is lovely when the weather is warm. La Russa entrusted Boggs with five appearances and five innings in the NL playoffs, but Boggs gave up four runs on eight hits in those outings.
40. Yoshinori Tateyama
Word is that the Rangers are contemplating adding another position player to the series roster, and that Tateyama could be the odd man out. That is fine and makes sense, so long as the team does not dismiss Tateyama just to add Matt Treanor, who would serve (as he did during the Rays series) as a third catcher for a playoff team. Um, what?
39. David Murphy
Murphy had a big hit in the nine-run third innings against the Tigers that sealed the pennant. He can hit a little, run a little and field a little. Still, he will have a relatively small role in this series, because unlike Detroit, the Cardinals have left-handed pitchers.
38. Yorvit Torrealba
With Mike Napoli needing to play every night, Torrealba will probably get just one start in the Series, sometime during Texas's home portion. On the other hand, it could come Thursday night in St. Louis, when the Cardinals will trot out southpaw Jaime Garcia. Torrealba usually plays against left-handed hurlers, but it's hard to relegate either Napoli or Michael Young to the bench just to make room for Torrealba.
37. Daniel Descalso
As good as NLCS MVP David Freese is with the stick, he can be really bad at third base sometimes. If the Cardinals have a perilous lead and need to lock things down defensively, Descalso could make a major impact at a crucial moment.
36. Mitch Moreland
Despite the brutal slump in which he has been mired of late, Moreland can add value for the Rangers during this series. He can pinch hit for a Young or a Napoli or, depending on the context of the moment and the construction of the lineup, even Torrealba. If Octavio Dotel does not face Mitch Moreland at some point in this series, Ron Washington has done something wrong.
35. Mike Gonzalez
Gonzalez will be a free agent at season's end, so this series is an important audition, a chance to get noticed. Having both Gonzalez and Oliver available gives Washington the freedom to have one face Jon Jay in a key spot, then bring in a right-hander to face Pujols before going to the other to face Berkman. Alternatively, each could face one or both at different stages of a game. La Russa will be doing this with Mark Rzepczynski and Rhodes.
34. Colby Lewis
Lewis gave up more than a home run every six innings in 2011, largely the result of his cutter being slightly less effective and his fastball straightening out too much. He still topped 200 innings and had a fair strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he could be the Rangers starter on whom the Cardinals feast in this series.
33. Fernando Salas
Bobby Valentine talked about Salas as the Cards' ground-ball specialist on ESPN Radio during the NLCS, which is funny, you know, because Salas is an extreme fly-ball pitcher.
He's not necessarily a bad one, though, with wicked stuff and better command than you might expect of a middle reliever. He pitched brilliantly throughout the playoffs and figures to be a key part of the Cards' bullpen going forward.
32. Mark Rzepczynski
Scrabble is a stud against left-handed batters, and La Russa has made him his favorite new toy ever since the trade that brought Rzepczynski to St. Louis in July. He should face Josh Hamilton a fair few times in this series, but the Rangers' excellent trio of lefty mashers (Adrian Beltre, Napoli and Young) might neutralize Rzepczynski a bit in this matchup.
31. Scott Feldman
Whereas the danger of having those Texas sluggers face southpaws might curtail Rzepczynski, nothing stands between Feldman and throwing another five innings in a playoff series in relief. He may not be a star, but Feldman has discovered a slider and is a very useful long relief option.
30. Kyle Lohse
Lohse gets a lot of malign just for being Kyle Lohse, and it's not wholly unwarranted. In these playoffs, though, he has struggled, but actually not been awful. Until Ryan Howard broke him in Game 1 of the NLDS, Lohse was pitching fairly well. He also survived, allowing just three earned runs, against the Brewers in his lone NLCS start.
It's not to say Lohse will shut down the Rangers; he will not. Still, he might be better than the Rangers' fourth starter, which counts for something.
29. Nick Punto
Punto might not be a household name, but he had a household year. His .388 OBP in the regular season predictably failed to carry over into the playoffs, and indeed, he does not even start for St. Louis. He remains an excellent fielder, though, really at any position on the infield, and he fills an important role in that regard since the Cards start Skip Schumaker at second base most nights.
28. Craig Gentry
Gentry has one great tool in his favor at the plate and in the field, but he makes great use of it. The man can run, and he ran his way to a .347 OBP in 2011. Meanwhile, he also added a good deal of value in the outfield by running down everything hit to the gaps, and he's even carried over his offensive value to October: He has reached base six times in 12 plate appearances.
27. Allen Craig
Right about here, we take a big old step downstage and into the hot lights. Craig is a heck of a hitter, murderous against left-handed pitching, and a good enough athlete to hold his own until Chambers can replace him late in games. The Cardinals will probably DH Lance Berkman, making Craig the likely right fielder for three games of this series.
26. Lance Lynn
Lance Lynn should probably start for St. Louis next season. He is huge, uses his frame and height to get downward plane on a lively fastball (and thus to induce many ground balls), and has a possibly plus curve. He is not susceptible to huge platoon manipulation, which is good, and he can get more than three outs per appearance for La Russa. He just might not be able to get out the Rangers as easily as he did the Brewers.
25. Octavio Dotel
Dotel is one of the really underappreciated talents on either team, a guy whose name has been all over the place this postseason but whom too many discounted prior thereto because he fills a role with which many apparently are uneasy or by which they are unimpressed: Dotel is a righty specialist.
Left-handed pitchers (like Scrabble) with that skill set never meet the same sort of derision, but in this series, Dotel has more value even than Rzepczynski. The Rangers are loaded with right-handed sluggers who kill southpaw pitching, so Dotel needs to navigate those sections of the batting order (the Young-Beltre-Napoli-Cruz chain, for instance) and get them out consistently.
24. Matt Harrison
Whether he gets into one game or three, Harrison is an asset to the Rangers. He can get batters of either hand out, has figured out his own mechanics and tapped his live-armed potential and fits as either a five-inning starter or a long reliever.
23. Rafael Furcal
Where did Furcal's power suddenly come from? He last hit double-digit homers in 2006, but cranked seven (with 11 doubles) in 50 regular-season games after being dealt to St. Louis. In 11 postseason games, he now has five extra-base hits. He also still has a total cannon at shortstop, and although his range is not excellent, he defends well there because of his arm and double-play efficiency.
22. Jon Jay
Jay is a fine hitter, not great, but fine, and he adds some balance to their lineup if nothing else. He also plays center field well enough to get by, though not nearly as well as many suppose after he made a few deceptively flashy plays in the NLCS. He has tools, but don't get it twisted: Jay is not the talent that, say, Colby Rasmus was.
21. Derek Holland
As good as Holland looked in the ALDS against the Rays, he looked miserable against the Tigers in the ALCS. As a result, he will not get the Game 2 start against the Cards; that will go to Colby Lewis.
Still, Holland is a wild card here, a guy who can absolutely dominate when he finds his rhythm and who could shock everyone with a complete-game shutout when he gets the ball.
20. Jaime Garcia
Garcia had some huge splits favoring his home performance this season, so bully for St. Louis for giving him the ball in St. Louis in Game 2. Those fluctuations were pretty fluky, though. Garcia is a good pitcher, but he's also left-handed, so he needs to have his secondary stuff working in order to get out those scary right-handed Texas sluggers.
19. Michael Young
Even at first base, putting Young on the field figures to be an adventure. It remains the right move, though, because the Rangers have no better alternative. Young is overrated, but he's still a good hitter and he fits nicely in the Texas order—though why he bats cleanup is way, way beyond me.
18. Jason Motte
Motte has been one of the stars of the playoffs thus far, but he has done it mostly by throwing fastballs right by slow bats. There are some weak links in the offensive chains of the Phillies and Brewers, guys whose bats can be knocked out of their hands sometimes by 100-mile-an-hour heat.
The Rangers have no such player. Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and even Mitch Moreland all rated as above-average fastball hitters this season. To get them out, Motte will need to be better than he has been, and that might not be in him.
17. Mike Adams
Adams has but one true vulnerability, the home run. Luckily for the Cardinals, they have the right personnel to exploit that weakness. Still, Adams is a beast, and barring a mistake to Lance Berkman in a tight spot, he is going to really help the Rangers in this series.
16. Edwin Jackson
Jackson, too, relies pretty heavily on his fastball. His repertoire is demonstrably more developed than that of Motte, but then, Motte figures to face three to six batters at a stretch. Jackson, in a perfect world, might face 25 or 30 in his outings. Or not. Because in that many exposures, the Rangers are going to figure out the slider and do bad, bad things to Edwin Jackson. La Russa should be playing five-and-fly ball all series, but especially with Jackson on the mound.
15. Yadier Molina
Molina represents the next forward step, the ascension to the top tier of players on this big stage. He had a huge offensive year, continuing to thrive on the ability to make contact consistently and occasionally drive the baseball.
His primary value, though, is defensive. Kinsler, Andrus and Gentry will want to change games with their legs, but Molina figures to pretty well shut that down. He blocks balls beautifully. He handles pitchers well. Molina is an ace defender behind the plate, but his hitting is not as elite as it might have looked this regular season.
14. Mike Napoli
Napoli throws very well, too, but falls far short of Molina in all other respects defensively. Still, he gets the narrow edge here because he is a substantially, in fact hugely, better hitter than Molina. He will drive in five runs in this series, and that counts for more than the two Molina will save behind the dish.
13. Neftali Feliz
Feliz struggled to open the season, so much so that even his final numbers for 2011 don't look great. In the postseason, though, he has come alive, letting his fastball loose and generally mowing down opponents with his filthy two-and-a-half pitch mix. He's going to be Hell on the Cardinals in ninth innings.
12. Alexi Ogando
The big question here is really not whether Ogando will be effective. It's whether the Rangers will be savvy enough to give him a starting assignment at some point in the set or not. There have been no indications in that regard as yet, but logically, the Rangers should want to keep wither Harrison or Holland available as a reliever to come in and face Berkman at a key moment. Ogando could be lifted without remorse in the fifth or sixth if one of those two were available to get multiple outs after taking over to retire Berkman.
11. David Freese
If doubts lingered as to whether Freese is really a lethal hitter when healthy, they should be gone after his NLCS performance. He can hit, he can hit for power and he can really dismantle a left-handed hurler. He's no defensive whiz, but Descalso can replace him if and when the Cards hold a ninth-inning lead or two. Freese is valuable because he helps build those leads.
10. Nelson Cruz
La Russa occasionally overuses the intentional walk, but don't bet on Cruz being the object of that kind of mismanagement. Cruz's power display the last two seasons in October have helped disguise a lack of plate discipline, and the Cardinals will exploit that a few times in this series. That he still ranks this high is testament to the impact Cruz's power potential and his stellar arm in right field.
9. Josh Hamilton
Whereas Cruz takes a hit because of the match-up he faces, Hamilton falls from what might have been a top-five ranking among talents in this set because he is far from completely healthy. He could still explode--the word is that he's been dealing with nagging problems for a while, and he still managed to do some damage during the ALCS. The injury information has to be taken into account, though.
8. Lance Berkman
Berkman is worse than Hamilton on sheer merit, but healthier, so the 2011 NL Comeback Player of the Year slides in just ahead of the 2010 AL MVP. He will be key to the Cardinals' attack against Feliz and Adams late in games, and La Russa can partially protect him from further injury damage by designating Berkman as a hitter only in Texas.
7. C.J. Wilson
Wilson will be pitching Wednesday in Game 1, on six days rest. That feels like a plus, because he sure seems to be showing the effects of fairly abusive overuse the past two seasons. In total, counting the postseason, Wilson has piled up 1,941 batters faced since the start of 2010. That's an awful lot for a guy who had never started in the big leagues before.
He needs to dig deep and come up with a big start or two in this series, but although no one seems to think so, Wilson does have that in him.
6. Elvis Andrus
Andrus has on-base skills but lacks sufficient power to be a top-shelf hitter, but he has literally every marginal skill a player can have to make up for it. He steals bases, and does it efficiently. He is the league's best base runner in non-steal terms. He plays sparkling defense at shortstop, and is especially good at turning double plays. Andrus could stun you by reaching base 15 times in this series and winning the World Series MVP.
5. Chris Carpenter
At some point in the next two years, the Cardinals will deeply regret the two-year, $24-million deal they gave Carpenter before the playoffs began. In this series, though, he should be okay. His elbow inflammation is cause for concern, but not for alarm. He will gut out a Game 1 start and probably a Game 4 start, and it will all be very impressive, but it will also feed into his precipitous decline beginning next spring.
4. Matt Holliday
Since he got healthy, about the end of the NLDS, Holliday looks like one ought to expect Holliday to look. He looks scary. In 26 NLCS plate appearances, Holliday reached base 13 times. He's not elite defensively right now, whether because he is slowing down for good or because (in addition to the hand injury that held him back in late September and early October) his legs are hurting him more than he lets on. Still, he is a high-impact, deadly weapon at the plate.
3. Adrian Beltre
Injuries slowed down Beltre in the ALCS, but the degree to which people have forgotten about him after he hit three home runs in a clinching game barely two weeks ago is preposterous. Beltre could have some big numbers at the plate in this series, but his real impact is with the glove. The Rangers could turn 12 double plays in this series, with Beltre, Andrus and Ian Kinsler in charge of the infield.
2. Ian Kinsler
Like Andrus, Kinsler is a supernal runner of the bases and fielder of the ball anywhere near second base. Unlike Andrus, Kinsler is a total stud at the plate. In two career seasons with more than 130 games played, Kinsler has two 30-homer, 30-steal, 30-double and 100-run seasons. He's a beast, and the most underrated player in baseball.
1. Albert Pujols
Kinsler is the most underrated player in baseball. Pujols is the best player in baseball.
The man with the money all over his muscles is 18-for-43 with nine extra-base hits and six walks this postseason. He might play above that level in this series. The Rangers have to be the Series favorites, but the potential X-factor is Pujols. If he goes nuclear, he can win this title by himself.