Not exactly the matchup most had pictured when the season began but that's why the games are played. The Rangers enter the World Series as the American League champions for the second consecutive year, after a regular season in which they went 96-66 and won the AL West.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, clinched the NL Wild Card on the last day of the regular season, finishing with a record of 90-72 before going on to beat both the Phillies and the Brewers and punching their ticket to their first Fall Classic since winning it in 2006.
But that was the past. This series features two squads determined for a crown, but only one will win. Who has the edge?
Let's find out.
Yadier Molina: .305 BA, 14 HR, 65 RBI, .465 SLG, .995 FPCT
Yorvit Torrealba: .273 BA, 7 HR, 37 RBI, .399 SLG, .988 FPCT
Not much of a conversation here. Yadier Molina is a three-time All-Star with three Gold Gloves. He hits for a higher average than Torrealba, with better power numbers and a higher fielding percentage. He has a reputation for gunning down potential base stealers. Only 65 runners made an attempt to steal a base in the 2011 regular season, compared to the 83 that ran on Torrealba. No matter which way you slice it, Molina is the better player.
Albert Pujols: .299 BA, 37 HR, 99 RBI, .541 SLG, .992 FPCT
Michael Young: .338 BA, 11 HR, 106 RBI, .474 SLG, .989 FPCT
Michael Young has been a consistent source of offense for the Rangers throughout his career. He is approaching the 100 RBI milestone and has a career batting average of .304. This season he has played every position in the infield as well as receiving at-bats as the designated hitter.
Young has had a fantastic career, but his best years are behind him. He cannot play at the level of his counterpart, Albert Pujols. Pujols has been one of the best players in all of baseball since he came into the league and is the greatest hitter in recent memory. His numbers this season would be fantastic for just about any other player in baseball, but for him, this is a down year.
Let's face it, Pujols has been the best player in baseball in the last 20 years, and he has been fantastic this postseason, enjoying his most successful October since 2004.
Nick Punto: .278 BA, 1 HR, 20 RBI, .421 SLG, .987 FPCT
Ian Kinsler: .255 BA, 32 HR, 77 RBI, .477 SLG, .984 FPCT
Punto and Kinsler could not be more opposite in what they bring to their respective clubs.
Punto, who only played in 63 games this season, has been an above average utility man throughout his 11-year career. This season, he has found playing time at second, third and short, and Tony la Russa has praised his fielding.
Offensively, Punto does not bring much to the table, but the Cardinals rarely need him to do much more than hit for a decent average and get on base, which he does extremely well, boasting a .388 OBP in 2011.
Kinsler, on the other hand, is an offensive stud. While the average could be better, he is one of a select few second basemen who hits for power and drives in runs. He was the leadoff man for Texas this season, so driving in 77 runs becomes that much more impressive. He is dangerous on the bases as well, swiping 30 bags in 34 tries this season and scoring 121 runs, good enough for second in the American League.
Defensively, Kinsler leaves something to be desired. Out of 18 second basemen in baseball with at least 480 chances, his fielding percentage places him fourteenth. However, his 103 double plays turned is second among second basemen. However, Kinsler's offense makes up for his defensive struggles.
David Freese: .297 BA, 10 HR, 55 RBI, .441 SLG, .941 FPCT
Adrian Beltre: .296 BA, 32 HR, 105 RBI, .561 SLG, .965 FPCT
David Freese has been absolutely phenomenal this postseason. He was named NLCS MVP after the Cardinals knocked off the Brewers in Game 6, and has hit over .400 in 40 postseason at-bats. His regular season numbers do not tell the full story of how good he has been for the Cards this season. Freese only played in 97 games due to injuries throughout the season.
Adrian Beltre put up fantastic regular-season numbers in his first year with the Rangers. However, his numbers in a hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington were much better than his numbers on the road. And with the Cardinals owning home-field advantage, Beltre may find himself struggling.
What this matchup boils down to is a hot young hitter and a cold older hitter. Normally, I would argue that the seasoned vet would be the better pick, but with the way David Freese has played as of late, its hard to pick against him.
Rafeal Furcal: .231 BA, 8 HR, 28 RBI, .348 SLG, .964 FPCT
Elvis Andrus: .279 BA, 5 HR, 60 RBI, .361 SLG, .963 FPCT
Of all of the positions, the shortstops are by far the most interesting comparison. Andrus and Furcal have seemingly identical styles of play. Both like to steal lots of bases, both are solid fielders in the middle, both of these two hit for decent power for players whose biggest contributions are their ability to steal bases and both are offensive spark plugs for their team in the top third of the batting order.
Furcal's numbers are a bit deflated due to him missing nearly half the season due to injury, but after his move from Los Angeles to St. Louis, his numbers picked up. As a Cardinal, he hit .255 with seven of his eight home runs and 16 of his 28 RBI. His stolen base numbers were very down from the rest of his career but that can be largely accredited to his inability to reach base while a member of the Dodgers.
Andrus, on the other hand, is one of the game's next great shortstops. In 2011, he set career highs in batting average, runs scored, RBI, stolen bases, and OBP. He puts up the kind of numbers Furcal used to in Atlanta. This is his second time playing in the Fall Classic, so he should not be too nervous.
As the numbers suggest, Furcal and Andrus are about as even as it gets defensively, but Andrus' combination of youth and playoff experience give him an edge in this matchup.
Matt Holliday: .296 BA, 22 HR, 75 RBI, .525 SLG, .985 FPCT
David Murphy: .275 BA, 11 HR, 46 RBI, .401 SLG, .969 FPCT
Another case where there is not much of a debate to be had. David Murphy is a solid left fielder. However, he is not an all-star.
Matt Holliday is.
Holliday hits for a high average, drives in runs, and is a good fielder. He is one of the premier bats in the highest scoring offense in the National League. He played in only 124 games this season but still managed 75 RBI and 22 HR.
Holliday is worth all $16 million he is being paid, and is much better than David Murphy.
Jon Jay: .297, 10 HR, 37 RBI, .424 SLG, .983 FPCT
Josh Hamilton: .295 BA, 25 HR, 94 RBI, .536 SLG, .986 FPCT
Just like the matchup between Holliday and Murphy, the debate among Center Fielders in this series is not much of an argument.
Make no mistake, Jon Jay is an average center fielder. He hits for a high average, displays solid range and is a good fielder and steals the occasional base.
Josh Hamilton is not an average center fielder. In fact, he is not an above average center fielder, or a good center fielder even.
He is a fantastic center fielder. Defensively, he made only one error in center field and five in total. Offensively one cannot say enough about last season's AL MVP. He hits for high average, good power, drives in runs, and steals a few bases: He had eight this season. He played in 121 games this year and put up fantastic numbers. It is simply scary to think about what he would do over a full season.
Not much to discuss here.
Allen Craig: .315 BA, 11 HR, 40 RBI, .509 SLG, 1.000 FPCT
Nelson Cruz: .263 BA, 29 HR, 87 RBI, .509 SLG, .978 FPCT
First of all, Allen Craig will only be in right when the games are in Texas. Craig is a better fielder than Lance Berkman, but when the games are played without a DH, Berkman's bat will be needed in the lineup so La Russa and the Cardinals will have to deal with his glove in the outfield.
Either way, Nelson Cruz will be the best player to occupy right field in the World Series. Cruz was the MVP of the ALCS, hitting six home runs in the six game series. He is a decent fielder. Very rarely will he make the Gold Glove-worthy play, but he will get the job done.
Craig was solid throughout the season but at most would start in three games in the series. Berkman was the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2011. He was fantastic. But we'll talk more about that later.
Cruz is the hottest player in the playoffs right now, and wields the best bat in right field, regardless of who la Russa starts.
Lance Berkman: .301 BA, 31 HR, 94 RBI, .547 SLG
Mike Napoli: .320 BA, 30 HR, 75 RBI, .631 SLG
Mitch Moreland: .259 BA, 16 HR, 51 RBI, .414 SLG
Back in July, Prince Fielder led the National League to an All-Star Game victory, earning home-field advantage for the NL Champions in the World Series. Because of this, the designated hitters will play a smaller role in this series. While Berkman will remain in the lineup every day, Napoli and Moreland will not.
Berkman has been fantastic this year and earned the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He has been cold throughout the playoffs, however, posting a .237 average and only one home run so far.
Napoli, on the other hand, has been just as good all year. He put up numbers just as good if not better than those of Berkman in over 100 less at-bats. Napoli's struggles behind the plate got him a one-way ticket away from the Angels, but I doubt he's complaining. He has emerged as a serious force in Texas and Ron Washington needs to find a way for him to stay in the lineup.
It's a close call and it is easy to argue for either side but I'm going with my gut on this one.
Cardinals: 3.74 ERA, 1098 K's, .261 BAA
Rangers: 3.79 ERA, 1179, .244 BAA
The pitching staffs leave an interesting discussion.
The Cardinals have an ace in Chris Carpenter and a group of average starting pitchers in their postseason rotation. Their bullpen has been one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent memory. At the beginning of the season, the Cardinals bullpen was in shambles after Ryan Franklin fell apart. But with the emergence of Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs, the Cardinals found their way back to respectability.
The Rangers have a young gun named C.J. Wilson heading their staff with decent pitchers behind him. Colby Lewis has been good as has Derek Holland. Texas' bullpen has been one of the best if not the best in the MLB. Their trade-deadline moves solidified the back end of the pen, adding Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez in front of Neftali Feliz.
These pitching staffs are so close and it leaves an extremely good debate about whose pitching staff gives them the edge. However, in previous postseasons, a good bullpen has been an absolute necessity. This is the reason I believe the Rangers have an edge. Based on pure talent, Texas is better. The back end of that bullpen shortens games and shuts down offenses.
The Cardinals bullpen was overworked in the NLCS due to the rotation's struggles. In the six games, the bullpen logged 28.2 innings, compared to the starting pitchers 24.1 innings pitched.
The St. Louis bullpen should not be dead tired because of the two days in between games, but it is not likely they will be as sharp as normal.
Tony la Russa: 34 seasons, 16th with Cardinals, 2728-2365 overall, 66-55 in playoffs
Ron Washington: 5 seasons, 5th with Rangers, 427-338 overall, 15-11 in playoffs
Ron Washington is a good manager. He is in his second consecutive World Series, a feat for any manager. However, he has done this with an extremely talented team that has produced all season.
Tony la Russa is one of the most experienced managers in baseball and it has showed this postseason. Since the beginning of September, he has pushed all the right buttons and his team has responded. It's hard to bet against la Russa.
Both these teams have had fantastic 2011 campaigns. However, when it comes down to it, only one team can be the champions.
The Cardinals are the hottest team in baseball and will be competitive in this series. However, the Rangers are more talented and have been playing fantastic baseball.
This series will be close, but when it comes down to it the best team will win. I expect the Rangers to win the World Series in six games and Josh Hamilton will be the World Series MVP. The Cardinals will compete, but Texas will be the ones celebrating in the end.