Alexi Ogando has failed to get Allen Craig out in two absolutely critical situations in the first two games of the World Series, but that does not mean Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington should necessarily shy away from that match-up going forward.
Craig, the St. Louis Cardinals' fourth outfielder, will start either at DH or in a corner outfield spot for each game of the Arlington phase of this Series, beginning with a start in right field Saturday in Game 3. Ogando might be needed in the same sort of spot into which he walked in Games 1 and 2, only to surrender go-ahead pinch hits to Craig in each outing.
Still, Ogando is right-handed and has a nasty fastball-slider mix, so he should be able to get Craig out about as well as a Scott Feldman or Mark Lowe, the other candidates to take on the task in the same spot. Ogando simply did not execute twice in a row in St. Louis; Washington needs to retain confidence in him.
That will not be the only match-up for which to watch in Game 3, however. Here are 10 that could swing this crucial contest.
Hamilton's continued presence in the lineup might be a bad thing for the Rangers at this point. He is really struggling with the groin injury that has limited his swing and his movement in the outfield. In Game 3, he will probably be pushed back into center field by the re-insertion of David Murphy into the lineup. That means that much more running, and it takes a little bit of groin flexion to make the quick turn of the hips that starts every good running down of a fly ball.
Meanwhile, at bat, Hamilton lacks any power right now because he is swinging purely with his upper half. Even on his game-winning sacrifice fly in game 2, it was clear he was unable to generate power with his adjusted swing. Watch to see whether his stride is back in Game 3, because if not, he will not help anyone at the plate.
The funny thing about Craig's huge hits in the first two games is that, all things considered, this match-up should favor Ogando. Craig has a respectable .831 OPS in his career against right-handed hurlers, but Ogando is not an average righty. Right-hitting batters have managed a meager .201/.267/.274 line against him in his career. The match-up seems unlikely to repeat itself a third time, but if it does, the edge should finally go to Ogando.
These two have been playing micromanagerial 'Top This' all series, and each has been badly outdone by the other in the game his team has lost. Washington blew Game 1 with a foolish intentional walk to Nick Punto and poor pinch-hitting decisions--okay, miserable pinch-hitting decisions. La Russa gave away Game 2, in part, by ill-advisedly pulling Jason Motte in the top of the ninth inning. Whichever man can do a better job maximizing his team's talent in Game 3 will win.
Cardinals fans can pretty well trust La Russa to win the match-up between he and Washington. When it comes to anticipating and countering an opponent's strategems, La Russa is among the best in the game.
Sometimes, though, La Russa simply gets too itchy in the trigger seat. The American League style of play does not suit him well, especially because he does not have the kind of speed (and therefore the ability to steal and/or hit and run) that he had as manager of the Oakland A's in the 1980s and 1990s.
It's not hard to imagine a scenario wherein La Russa simply makes a move he need not make that costs St. Louis. Don't believe it will happen? It already did. In Game 2, La Russa pulled David Freese as soon as St. Louis took the lead, subbing in Daniel Descalso at third base. In the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Cardinals in position to pad their 1-0 lead, Descalso grounded out with two men on base to end the inning.
Berkman is a great switch hitter, but for his career, there's a .227 disparity between Berkman against right-handed pitching and Berkman facing southpaws. Matt Harrison, a lefty- starts for Texas tonight, and if need be, they can also run out Darren Oliver and/or Mike Gonzalez. Berkman might be neutralized for most of the next two games by a bad series of match-ups.
Jackson's repertoire is pure power on the mound. No National League starter threw harder this season. Ninety percent of the time, Jackson throws either a mid-90s fastball or a power slider.
Sometimes, though, Jackson overthrows those pitches. He tries to light up the radar gun too much, or to get two strikes with one pitch, or whichever bad cliche is your preference. One way or another, Jackson's heater flattens out, his slider loses all depth and he becomes ironically hittable, given his great stuff. It falls to Yadier Molina to ensure that Jackson pitches in rhythm but does not overexert himself pitch-to-pitch.
In Game 5 of the ALCS, Cruz hit a 100-MPH Justin Verlander fastball out of Comerica Park, barely keeping it fair to his pull field in left. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what cheating on a fastball looks like, but it's also remarkable, impressive bat speed.
Cruz against Motte feels like a bad match-up for the Cardinals closer to me. I've said so in other places already. It's hard to shake the feeling, though, that once Cruz sees a few of those heaters and is able to lay off a couple pitches so as to draw Motte up in the zone, there is going to be big trouble for St. Louis.
Scrabble has faced four batters over the first two games of the Series, retiring all four. La Russa might not mind that pattern, but he definitely does not want Rzepczynski to be restricted to one-batter usage. Therefore, a key match-up will continue to be Young (who bats behind Josh Hamilton, and will therefore see Scrabble more than any other non-Hamilton Ranger) against the southpaw specialist. A double in the right spot could break the series for Texas, and leave many wondering how we all fell so hard for Marc Rzepczynski.
After Molina pegged Ian Kinsler in the first inning of Game 1, the Rangers did not run for about 18 innings, and a huge deal was made of it. Were they intimidated? Had Molina sent a message?
No. The reason the Rangers did not attempt another steal until Kinsler successfully stole second Thursday night was simply that they did not have a productive opportunity to do so in the meantime. Molina had by far his worst season throwing out runners from behind the plate in 2011, and anyway, both Kinsler and Elvis Andrus are supernal base runners with very high success rates. For some reason, many analysts do not account for runner skill when asking whether a fast guy should run on a great catcher.
It's the closer theory, really: Commentators can talk until they are blue in the face about how running is out of the question against Molina, or about how Mariano Rivera makes it an eight-inning game in the post-season, but in reality, if Kinsler or Carlos Beltran is running, it's a fair fight, and if Pujols, Holliday and Berkman are due up in the ninth, Rivera is not going to magically make them each into Nick Punto. Texas will run, and they might well beat Molina another time or two in this series.
Seriously, watch out. Albert Pujols might break something tonight.
This is unscientific, but his swings in Game 2 were right on the money. On a cold night in a hitter's park, he missed the good part of the bat and still sent Nelson Cruz crashing into the fence to make the catch. Moving into warmer climes, a much cozier park and facing left-handed Harrison, Pujols might hit two homers tonight. The Machine's targeting system is locked. Ready.