The 2011 World Series has been an exciting back-and-forth chess match between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. So far, in this five-part game of Risk, the Rangers have outsmarted the Cardinals, and they lead the series three games to two.
Both sides have had different heroes stepping up to produce valuable performances in each game, with Texas catcher Mike Napoli delivering a game-winning two-run double in the eighth inning of Game 5 last night.
Undoubtedly, the Cardinals deserve as much blame for their losses in this World Series as the Rangers deserve credit. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa has been outfoxed, with every tactical maneuver of his being counter-punched by Texas’ timely bats.
The brunt of the blame lies on La Russa’s over-management of his relievers. Whether he intended to call for someone else in the bullpen or he meant to dial 9-1-1, La Russa can only point to himself for the loss of reception.
But if St. Louis loses this World Series, the real reason could end up being the inefficiency of their offense. The Cardinals’ pitching staff has held a powerful Texas lineup to 19 runs in five games, posting a respectable 3.77 ERA. Furthermore, Cardinals hurlers have held hitting machines Josh Hamilton and Michael Young to a combined 7-for-38 (.184).
Unfortunately, it has been the Cards’ offense that hasn’t shown up. Aside from the Game 3 football scoring behind the three-home run smashing by Albert Pujols, St. Louis has scored six runs in the other four games.
So which Cardinal is most responsible for the team’s struggles on offense? Which player is the most blameworthy? Who is the least valuable player so far for the Cards?
While many fans can point to left fielder Matt Holliday’s struggles this World Series, he is not the only underperforming culprit. Cardinal shortstop Rafael Furcal has by far been the worst player against Texas.
The leadoff hitter has done the exact opposite of what his job is intended to be—to get on base. So far in the Series, Furcal has a .150 batting average and a .261 on-base percentage. Worse, he has only scored a single run, which came ahead of a Pujols home run in Game 3.
Furcal has fallen tremendously this autumn, batting .188 in the postseason, with a dismal .566 OPS. He is simply not getting it done.
St. Louis acquired the 34-year-old from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 trading deadline. The hope was that he could provide some spark at the top of the lineup as the true leadoff hitter that they lacked for most of the year. But it’s clear that injuries from previous seasons have caught up to him; and in these playoffs, Furcal has provided nary a contribution at the plate.
As the series shifts back to St. Louis, one question La Russa must consider is whether to move Furcal down to the bottom of the order in the eight-hole. This potential move is especially worth considering because Furcal has decelerated on the basepaths and is no longer a genuine threat to steal bases.
Nick Punto (.467) and Allen Craig (.438) have better on-base percentages. Maybe one of them would be a better option. Because if anybody got on ahead of Pujols, it could do wonders in affecting the psyche of the Rangers’ hurlers, who would then be pitching out of the stretch more often. Instead, Pujols comes to the plate with no runners on base, inviting Texas to intentionally walk him. That’s an easy call considering that Holliday is batting .167 for the series himself.
But at least Holliday has gotten on base, scoring five runs in the Series—tied with Pujols for the team lead. Meanwhile, Furcal, the supposed table-setter, has left his Cardinals teammates hungry for his offensive contributions to the potluck.
After all, a lineup that does not receive contributions from the top of the lineup is like a chicken running around headless. Right now, the Cardinals need a good head on their shoulders to score some runs and get back in this World Series.