The Cardinals lost their ace, Adam Wainwright, for the entire season before a single pitch had been thrown last season.
The Texas Rangers lost their ace too, but not to injury—they lost Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. And yet, the Texas Rangers somehow became a better team without Lee.
Sure, the acquisitions of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli were huge, but Alexi Ogando's emergence as a frontline starter as well as the maturation of Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, were equally important.
And as for the Cardinals, well they were 8.5 games out of the NL Wild Card race on September 2, and still somehow made it to the postseason.
This article is about the Texas Rangers, however, and fives keys for them to take it to the next level—that of a World Series champion.
It's only fitting that after the American League wrecked-shop in the All-Star Game with 12-straight wins (over 13 seasons, 2002 was a tie), the National League has now gotten hot and won the last two. Perhaps, even more appropriate, is that the Texas Rangers have been the World Series participants the two years that the NL gets home-field advantage.
This is not necessarily a bad thing for the Texas Rangers. It means all they need to do is get one win at Busch Stadium during the first two games, and they can regain home-field advantage (and possibly win the series) with a sweep of the Cardinals at home, at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
There's no doubt that it would be fantastic for C.J. Wilson to get back on track with a strong start in Game 1 this Wednesday at Busch Stadium. After all, Wilson was the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game that gave the Cardinals home-field advantage.
Much like his stats, Murphy's excellent contributions this postseason tend to get lost in the crowd.
David Murphy is a key to the Texas Rangers' quest for a first-ever World Series Championship. Murphy, ever-so quietly, led the team in batting average during the ALCS, hitting .412.
Murphy is getting hot, and that's a great thing, but more importantly Murphy is a signifier of just how deep this offense is.
Nelson Cruz did his thing in the ALCS too—that's what six homers and 13 RBI show. But in the Fall Classic there's always a key contributor that seemingly jumps out of nowhere. And the Texas Rangers have a lineup that has nine men all capable of putting the team on their shoulders and giving them a ride to the promised land.
In the NLCS, Albert Pujols hit .478 with two home runs and nine RBI. Yet wasn't the NLCS MVP. And it really wasn't close.
David Freese, Corpus Christi, Texas' own, hit a ludicrous .545, with three homers and nine RBI as he furiously gulped the Crew's best Brew on his way to taking home the honor.
Matt Holliday wasn't too shabby either, as he hit .435 with five RBI. And Lance Berkman hit .300, to boot.
More on Pujols later, but for now, the Texas Rangers' attention must be turned fully to Freese, Holliday and Berkman.
Here's how to shut down David Freese:
I have no idea.
If he hits like he did in the NLCS in the World Series, whoa boy.
Freese hit .529 against right-handers and .600 against left-handers. With RISP (runners in scoring position) he was absolute murder, as he hit .800 with two home runs and eight RBI.
The Texas Rangers have to hope that their starters and bullpen are simply just better than Milwaukee's, because whether you're ahead in the count (.400) or behind in the count (.333), Freese spells trouble. And those are the cold, hard facts.
Matt Holliday has been battling a tendon issue in his right hand since late September. I mean I'm no doctor, but looking at his statistics in the NLCS, I'd say his hand is just fine, thank you.
Holliday will be a key for the Rangers to stop, for obvious reasons. If Holliday stays hot, you can't just walk Fat Albert and pitch to him.
Lance Berkman has been hot too, hitting at a .300 clip in the postseason. Berkman rarely bats against left-handers, so the fact that he'll face three in Wilson, Holland and Harrison, might be what it takes to cool him off.
Sure, I realize that shutting down Freese, Berkman and Holliday is no easy task, but I feel the Texas Rangers starters—and perhaps especially their bullpen—are up for the challenge.
It's going to be cold in St. Louis. Some reports have the temperatures dipping well into the low-40s. Not only is cold weather something that the Rangers most certainly aren't used to—an August matchup with the Angels had a game time temperature of 104 degrees—but cold weather can be tough on injuries.
From Nelson Cruz's and Beltre's hamstrings, to the most famous groin of all-time, Josh Hamilton's, stretching and keeping the body warm will be keys to keeping healthy and ensuring peak performance.
Mostly, however, the Texas Rangers need to keep their bats hot. Nelson Cruz almost single-handedly won the ALCS for the Rangers. And even a man nicknamed "Boomstick" can't possibly repeat a six home run, 13 RBI series.
However, if anyone could, it's Cruz—after all, he's the only player in Major League Baseball history to have two postseasons with six home runs—and he's not even done yet this year.
Michael Young had been bad in the four hole. Until Game 6 rolled along, and he knocked in five runs. Young might be the man that heats up for the Rangers in this round.
Beltre has been just fine, but he hit .222 with no home runs in the ALCS. He's never been in the World Series before, and look for him to heat up in the WS as well.
If Game 6 of the ALCS was any indication of this Rangers offense getting into a groove, then take cover, St. Louis, it could get ugly.
Essentially "Thinking Warm Thoughts" means to stay hot at the dish, keep loose in the field and stay healthy.
As we learned in Moneyball, there are some antiquated notions about baseball, in scouting in particular, that need updating badly.
One old baseball adage, the one that states: "Don't let their best player beat you," does not need to be updated by any stretch.
The Texas Rangers must put Albert Pujols on base, and let Holliday, Freese and Berkman beat them.
End of story.
But Tim, David Freese hit over .500 and was the NLCS MVP. He's who you need to avoid.
Really? That sentiment is so lame, I can't believe I just wrote it, while pretending I didn't write it...
David Freese is a talented hitter, and there's no question about that. So's Holliday, and Berkman is showing us all that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Here's the deal: Although everyone seems to talk about how bad the Rangers' pitchers have been this postseason (and they haven't been good), they are MUCH better than the Brewers' rotation.
Greinke was worse than Wilson, Gallardo was barely better than Colby Lewis and Randy Wolf was quite comparable to Matt Harrison. And Shaun Marcum? Forget about it—at least Derek Holland can actually break glass with his fastball.
Albert Pujols, at worst, should be given the "Miguel Cabrera Treatment." At best, he should be walked EVERY time. He's that good.
I look at it like this: The Detroit Tigers had the best pitcher still playing in Justin Verlander. The St. Louis Cardinals definitely have the best hitter. Verlander doesn't play every day.
So put down four fingers and wiggle them every time Pujols strides to the plate.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that had it not been for the Texas Rangers' new and improved bullpen, they wouldn't have made it out of the ALCS. The Rangers' bullpen went 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA.
The St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen was almost as good, too, with its 3-0 record and 1.88 ERA.
It's great to have the dominant bullpen that the Rangers showed in the ALCS. However, the flip side to that is when a bullpen gets all of the wins, it's been out there too much and the starters aren't doing their job.
The Rangers must get a quality start at Busch Stadium. A quality start from C.J. Wilson against the Cardinals' ace, Chris Carpenter, is of special importance. Wilson pitched like a true ace all season long, and it's time he do the same in the World Series.
The Texas Rangers need Colby Lewis to have continued success in the World Series as well. Most people are picking the Rangers to win the whole shebang in six games.
If the Rangers can get a win in Wilson's or Lewis' start, then look for them to be well on their way to a franchise-first World Series Championship.