For Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli not to with the World Series MVP would take a huge twist during the final two games of the Series, which begin Wednesday in St. Louis. Napoli has two home runs and, after a bases-loaded double that broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning, nine RBI in the Series, not to mention the fact that he threw out Allen Craig on the bases twice last night.
Napoli did blow Game 3 with his poor defense at first base, but with the series headed back into an NL park, one can only assume he will be behind the plate for both potentially remaining games, with Michael Young manning first base so as to keep his bat in the lineup.
Napoli is one good reason the Rangers will complete their defeat of St. Louis in Game 6. Here are 10 others.
When Albert Pujols launched three home runs in Game 3, the whole world treated him like a demigod. During the rest of the Series, as Pujols has been held hitless and walked repeatedly, those same writers, analysts and fans have subtly suggested he has choked.
Neither is a fair characterization. Pujols' second and third home runs were not important in Game 3, but then again, he has hit the ball hard several times while making outs in the other four games of the set.
None of that really matters, though. Perception is not Pujols' problem. Pujols' problem is the high fastball.
He got on top of a 96-mph heater from Alexi Ogando for the first and most impressive home run in Game 3, but in general, Pujols has chased too many high fastballs, and has gotten himself out by doing so. With Colby Lewis on the mound in Game 6, the Rangers figure to attack Pujols above the letters, hoping he will continue to wave at those offerings and neutralize himself.
Colby Lewis pitched a great game in St. Louis in Game 2, a contest Lewis was unable to win only because Ron Washington ill-advisedly pulled Lewis in the bottom of the seventh inning. Lewis is ideally suited for what both teams must deal with at Busch Stadium Wednesday. His lone major vulnerability is to the home run, but with temperatures in the 40s and 50s and rain in the forecast, balls are not going to soar out of Busch the way they did in Texas.
Lewis might not be exactly as effective--he had a great game against a terrific lineup in Game 2--but he will be good enough to get the ball into the hands of Mike Adams, Neftali Feliz and the rest of the Texas relief corps.
Speaking of Adams, he would be ready to go two innings in Game 6, and possibly even more. Having not appeared since Game 2, Adams is as rested as any reliever ever ought to be, and he should be a tremendous weapon for Ron Washington out of the bullpen in Game 6.
Lewis need only go six in order to hand things off to Adams and Feliz, and the chances of the Cardinals scoring on either of those men in the anticipated conditions (Adams is another homer-prone guy, but cold weather dampens power big-time) are very low.
The Rangers are better defensively at six of the eight positions on the diamond, and they are better by wide margins at many of those. Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina are the only men standing between Texas and a sweep in this regard, and while both are very good, they are not nearly as good at what they do as are Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler at what they do.
Double plays have been a big problem for the Cardinals in this series, largely because the Rangers are the best team in baseball at turning them. That will continue. Whereas the Rangers gave a bit back by having David Murphy in left field Monday, though, they will send Craig Gentry to center field and Josh Hamilton to left in order to counteract Jaime Garcia's left-handedness in Game 6. That makes the outfield defense nearly as impenetrable as the infield defense, a scary notion.
Garcia was a stud in Game 2, fanning seven and allowing only four base runners (none of whom scored) in seven innings. He faced 24 batters.
He might face 24 this time around, too, but he will not survive seven innings. The Rangers are going to benefit hugely from seeing Garcia a second time, and whereas Lewis will be relatively unaffected by the cold, Garcia might lose some feel on his curve or change-up because of the weather.
It will not necessarily be the right-handed Murderers' Row in the Texas order that does Garcia in: For his career, he has allowed a .686 OPS to right-handed batters and a .672 to left-handed ones. That difference is tiny, which makes intuitive sense because of Garcia's repertoire. It may just as well be that Josh Hamilton will lean into an unsuspecting first-pitch fastball and break the game open. One way or another, though, Garcia is simply not ace material enough to roll so easily through the Rangers order twice in one week.
It only makes sense that an American League team forced to send some hitter to the bench would have a strong bench as a result, and so it is with the Rangers. David Murphy will not start, though he probably could in light of what we know about Garcia's splits, but will be available and could come up with a big hit. Yorvit Torrealba could pinch hit if needed against a real left-handed pitcher like Marc Rzepczynski. Mitch Moreland, who homered for the first Rangers run Monday night, will also be waiting in the wings.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have a lot of eggs in Allen Craig's basket.
Tony La Russa just cannot help but make himself a part of things. He manages his teams all the way to Series titles at times, but at others, he manages his teams into oblivion. On Monday night, La Russa authorized two terrible hit-and-run/stolen base attempts. He issued two intentional walks, neither of which made much sense. He laid down sacrifices throughout the three games in Texas that made no sense whatsoever. And he failed in communicating with his bullpen coach via the dugout phone, thereby forcing some strange shuffling of pitchers in the crucial bottom of the eighth inning.
It cost the Cardinals the game, and La Russa's return to NL rules only provides him with more opportunities to mismanage the Cardinals' bullpen and bench.
I predicted this before the Series. The Cardinals bullpen is worse than weary; it's exposed. Honesty compels one to report that these guys simply are not overwhelmingly talented, and their remarkable run through September and October was in jeopardy from the jump against these slugging Rangers. Game 2, 4 and 5 went to Texas because the Cardinals could not get key outs with their relievers.
It might well happen again in Game 6. This Series could functionally end when Jason Motte tries to throw a fastball past Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli or Nelson Cruz, and finds his neck twisting insufficiently fast in an effort to watch a screaming line drive leave the park.
When the weather is cold, the baseball gets slick. The seams get tight, the hide smooths and the result is a slippery ball that gets away from those throwing more often than it would under normal conditions.
With that in mind, the Rangers might be well-advised to get aggressive on the bases again. Yadier Molina has a tall order if a good Texas runner takes off Wednesday night, having to make an exceptionally quick transition from mitt to hand and throw accurately, all without falling victim to the ball's treachery. It could be a critical advantage for Texas at a key moment, not least because their running game is miles ahead of that of the Cardinals.
This is the truth people have been skirting all Series. It's not considered sportsmanlike or informative to simply declare that one team will win a series because it is better. Nonetheless, that's the truth. Texas is deeper; they are more well-rounded. Every player they use regularly has some positive quality, more than can be said of Rafael Furcal, Skip Schumaker or Jon Jay. Texas is a better team in virtually every phase, and is decisively better overall. One win from a title, don't expect them to let the Cardinals steal their glory.