Friday, October 28, 2011

Is it just in the Cards?

They are the team that just won’t die. Like the main character in a character in a B horror flick. No matter how many vampires are inches away from the fatal bite, no matter how many zombies are closing in, no matter how many werewolves are chasing, death is not written in the script. Now, they have re-written the show, as the sun raises forcing sudden death upon The Texas Rangers in a game seven. They are the St. Louis Cardinals.

Last night’s two run comeback in the bottom of the 9th was just the latest act. Of course they couldn’t wait to follow up with another two-run comeback in the bottom of the 10th also down to the final strike of the season. As if those two drama filled rallies weren’t enough, the hometown kid in David Freese finishes off this scene of the World Series with a solo home run in the 11th to close the curtain on game six. But this team’s flair for the dramatic shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, this is the team that was ten and a half down in the wildcard race on August 24th. They then swept the Braves in a three game set at Busch stadium September 9th thru the 11th. Next, they won two of three from the Pirates, then, three of four from the Phillies. We all know how the movie finished up, St. Louis stealing the last playoff breath or should I say birth from Atlanta.

They weren’t supposed to beat Philadelphia in the Divisional series but they did. They lacked home field advantage against the N.L. Central Division Champion Milwaukee Brewers but they clinched the series in six games at Miller Park. Is the theme starting to make sense to the entire playoff picture? These Cardinals take flight just in time when it appears the season is about to come crashing down. Trailing in the series three games to two, St. Louis should have lost game six several times. Back to back homers by Rangers Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz in the 7th on their way to a 7-4 lead should have finished the game with just nine outs left. With two outs and two strikes in the 9th trailing by two runs, the shot Freese hit to right should have been caught by Cruz but it wasn’t. Down by a run again in the 10th with two outs and Jon Jay on second with first base open, Texas Manager Ron Washington should have walked Lance Berkman and pitched to Allen Craig but he didn’t.

So now it all comes down to game seven and you know what? Because of the rain-out postponement of game six, moving it from Wednesday to Thursday, St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter was able to get an extra day of rest. So now instead of him being unavailable for tonight’s deciding game, he’s had three days off and is able to start. Carpenter is the only true ace pitching in this series and now the Cards have a distinct advantage on Friday Night. So even if they have used up every last rally, every favorable bounce or every ticky-tact call that goes their way, they now have the best pitcher in the series on the mound. To win one game that’s all you need. Especially, if it’s already written in the cards.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Napolizing His Opportunities

Since the post-season started 25 days ago, Rangers catcher Mike Napoli has been doing everything but napping! His latest contribution to Texas’ playoff success which has seen the Rangers dispose of both Tampa Bay and Detroit, another clutch 8th inning one out hit to score the go-ahead runs in the Rangers crazy 4-2 win in game five of the World Series against the Cardinals. Texas is now just a win away from the franchise’s first ever title in the Lone Star State, with a chance to pop the bubbly on Wednesday Night in game six. You know Napoli will be ready for the biggest game in his life because he’s played big since being traded to the Rangers.

This is a guy who both the Angels and Blue Jays handed over in the off-season and now he’s on the verge of becoming the World Series MVP. While the Texas crowd chants Na-Po-Li, all he’s done has hit two homers and driven in nine runs. His teammates have only managed four homers and ten runs batted in combined in the Fall Classic. Behind the plate he threw out Allen Craig in both the 7th and 9th innings. His game has been all-around solid and that’s why the Rangers need to win just one more game to enjoy their summer this time. Napoli goes by the nickname of “dirt bag” affectionately given to him by manager Ron Washington because of his grit, guts and emotion. That emotion has followed up an amazing overall post-season with three homers, 16 hits and 14 RBI. His batting average is .314, down just six points from the regular season. With spotlight directly on him, he has risen to the challenge and now his team riding his back to maybe history on Wednesday Night.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rangers mess with Cardinals closure plans, for now.

The World Series is now down to a best of 3 with the Cards holding home field advantage. Now if you’re a cards fan and someone told you in May (or better yet August 19) that you would have that scenario, you would take it 8 days a week and twice on Sunday. However when you left Arlington on Sunday night you would have thought it was 3-1 Texas. I think that’s because no one in the Cardinals clubhouse or even in the state of Texas thought Derek Holland would not only pitch the game of his life but one of the best in Series history. However at the end of the day the Cards have a favorable rotation matchup for both games 5 and 6, with Carpenter on the bump Monday and he’s due for a career defining game with all the lights on. Also with phat Albert going ofer in game 4 you would have to think he’ll be back with a vengeance in such a crucial game. At the end of the day it’s still a must win for the Rangers as nothing really has changed for St. Louis, just hold serve and your adding another ring to the collection, but win in game 5 and you can take the balloons, streamers, and bubbly with you because they’re not coming back for any parade.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

All the pressure shifts to the Cards for more reasons than one

It’s no secret, St. Louis the heavy underdogs needed to win the first two games at home to really be competitive in this World Series. On Wednesday night they got halfway there with game one win that was very competitive and well played. On Thursday they were three outs away and couldn’t have asked for a better scenario as their closer was on the bump who has been unhittable thus far in the post season. Then the wheels fell off. A flair with eyes, a stolen base, a base knock with one of the few bad plays you will ever see phat Albert make as his deflection of the ball allowed Elvis Andrus to take another base. Normally no big deal but two sac flies later and the Rangers have two runs off of one solid and one that would looked more like it belonged in Williamsport than Busch Stadium. The Cards laid down in the bottom half of the 9th, not giving the Texas closer a chance to wilt under the pressure as they swung and almost every pitch, regardless of location, not forcing him to master his control. In the end the takeaway is not so much that the Cards dropped one of the first two games, that may have been expected but now in addition to the normal pressure of the series the Cards have to keep a small companion on their back for the rest of the series and their lives if they don’t find a way to win three more games. The monkey is now solely on backs of the birds as they know they let a 2-0 series lead slip away, not quite as bad as a ball through the legs, but one that hurts just as much as Texas may be better but not so good they could take 4 out of 5, and it will be an endless summer of contemplation in LaRussa can pull one more rabbit out of his hat but this gambler may have finally crapped out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Destiny vs. Dynamite: A World Series Preview

The Fall Classic couldn’t possibly match-up two teams who took more different paths to get to October. The Cardinals flew out of nowhere from ten back in the wild-card race to catch and pass the Braves on their road to a date with the Rangers. Texas was chosen by many to repeat as the American League Champions and after winning the west, they powered their way past Tampa and Detroit. Two different journeys: two different styles, and of course two different teams.

The Cardinals birth in the 2011 World Series marks the fourth decade in which manager Tony LaRussa has guided a team to the National or American League Championship. That in itself is a remarkable achievement so it’s no wonder his Cardinals never game up and continued to believe, because he’s done it so many times before. St. Louis reached this point on the strength of some hot bats but hotter relief pitching. The Red Birds go six or seven deep in the pen and then turn Jason Motte loose to seal the deal. He’s been outstanding, pitching a combined seven innings versus the Phillies and Brewers in the playoffs. The right-hander has struck out seven, surrendered just one hit, walked no one and allowed zero runs. But the Cardinals are hoping on Wednesday they won’t even need him to break a sweat! Chris Carpenter steps on the bump in game one and he has been unbeatable so far. In three post-season starts, he beat favored Philadelphia twice, including a 1-0 shutout and also handled Milwaukee giving up three earned runs on six hits. His second start against the Phillies in the close-out game was the most impressive however. A 1-0 shutout complete game victory in which he gave up just three hits! If he has anywhere near that type of stuff in game one, those Texas bats could be silenced. Another advantage the Red Birds possess is they can stack their line-up with right-handed bats against those lefty Rangers starters. Texas will start C.J. Wilson in game one, Derek Holland in game three and Matt Harrison in game four. None of these three have made a quality start since the divisional series and none of the Rangers starters including Colby Lewis won a game in the ALCS. They’ll be facing Rafael Furcal, David Freese, Albert Pujols, Yodier Molina, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Ryan Theriot all right-handed hitters.

But speaking of hitters the Rangers made their point by putting up a nine-spot in the 3rd inning of game six of the ALCS in which they sent Detroit packing. This Texas line-up will be a terror for the Cardinals starters to deal with. Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse will have their hands full as only Carpenter possesses World Series experience. The Texas hitters will not be gun-shy, especially after having to deal with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in last years World Series loss.
If St.Louis pitching is not around the knees, let the fireworks begin. Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz will be handing out souvenirs in the bleachers like it’s a December Fall Classic. This Rangers wrecking-crew is hitting .259 in the post-season, with 20 double and 54 runs batting in. They’ve also stolen seven bases to their opponents three. But nothing sets Texas up like losing last year to the Giants. This time around they’ll be loose, fully know the Cardinals pitching is not nearly as good was what they saw last October and will not be intimidated. So our prediction for the next six games? As one infamous sportscaster once coined….”Boom Goes They Dynamite”! Texas in six.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Texas holds serve while Cards steal it

If you haven’t been watching, too bad. Since Super Tuesday, game 182 the MLB season hasn’t lost any momentum as we’ve moved through the divisional series and now are knee deep in the Championships. The Texas Rangers look poised to make a return trip to the show after Nelson Cruz went yard twice (3 times if you count the first pitch jack that just went foul) including the game winning, walk-off, grand slam, and now the Texas Lumber Company will attempt to move its headquarters to Motown for at least two days and solidify their second consecutive trip to the World Series. True, like any seven-game series in any sport the series doesn’t truly begin until the home team loses or there is a game 7 but one has to wonder what that loss has taken out of the Tigers mojo. They will send Fister to the bump in a must win situation against Lewis for the Rangers, both attempting to notch their first win in the post-season. For the Tigers it will be home-sweat-home as over half their wins (50) came at home this year and they will need to send a message in game 3 that not only cools the red-hot sticks of the Rangers but wakes up theirs as the lack of timely hitting has been the difference so far.

After a through beat down in game 2 the Cardinals left Milwaukee with home field, momentum, and kicked their dog on the way out. Now the series moves to the city of the arch but facing a tough pitching matchup as Gallardo (17-10) will be a tough out even on the road. La Rusa’s challenge will be to not let the layoff, or rain delay, cool off the bats of Phat Albert & Co. who may be peaking at the right time as so many Wild Card winners do and ride that mo all the way to the Series.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Double Nickels to get the weekend going

It will be hard to top yesterday’s game 5 in the ALDS but I think we have a good shot at doing so as we have two game fives that promise to be tense from start to finish with every run making a huge difference. The Brewers host the DBacks in the early game and the Cards travel to Philly in the second. If the DBacks can get through the Prince & Braun Boardwalk / Parkplace neighborhood and make some of the other Brewcrew beat em’ they have a shot of winning on the road, but that task has been the toughest in baseball as Milwaukee has the best home record in the league (and that place is loud!)

The Cardinals vs. the Phillies, Carpenter 11-9 2.45 vs. Halladay 19-6. 2.35, Pujols / Holliday vs. Howard / Utley, oh yea and this is the deciding game to see who advances to the NLCS. Everything about this game indicates a winner. Often big games don’t live up to the hype but I think this one will.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

No shells will be spared

We knew the Tigers matched up well with the Yankees as they actually defeated them in their season series but I think most of us were surprised to see them push the Boomers to the brink of elimination twice as the Evil Empire has always ruled the month of October more than Halloween. However as much as we may have thought this time will be different , and as good of a story as it would have been, you normally only get one opportunity to assonate the King and the Tigers may have missed theirs in Game 4 when they were in the friendly confines of Comerica Park in front of 43,527. Now they must travel back to hallowed ground and knock off Goliath in a house that has more ghost than the old Boston Garden. We won’t bother with the cliché that there is no tomorrow and no doubt both clubs are preparing as such as captain Joe has already stated that CC will be ready for work and will get the nod if called upon. In fact all pitchers are said to be locked, loaded, and ready to fire upon request. All except the future Cy Young award winner as Verlander will be saved for tomorrow but a loss tonight and there will be no tomorrow for the Tigers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

East needs to come up Big on Tuesday

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Only two or three games into the divisional series in both the National and American Leagues and baseball’s parity is once again ruling supreme. The game’s biggest payroll in the New York Yankees, finds itself on the ropes in a must win game today at Comerica Park or it’s another epic fail for the Bronx Bombers. Philadelphia’s 102 win season along with its fantastic four starters could only manage a split at Citizens Bank Ballpark against the wild-card Cardinals. Now the home field advantage lies with the Red Birds, as they try to take total control of the series later this afternoon. All four series hit the field on Tuesday in what should be and outstanding and unpredictable day of baseball.

The road warriors of the divisional series must be the Texas Rangers. Last year’s American League Champion won all three games at Tropicana Field to eliminate the Rays and they hope to make it five straight today. On the strength of a Mike Napoli two-run homer, the Rangers scored all four of their runs in a four-run 7th inning for a 4-3 win, taking a 2-1 series lead. They’ll now hand the ball over to Matt Harrison making his first post-season start. He did pitch a frame of relief during the 9-0 drubbing the Rangers took in game one in Arlington. He was 14-9 during the regular season with an era of 3.43 in 30 starts but that doesn’t mean anything in the post-season. The Rays turn to Jeremy Hellickson to keep their season alive. With Matt Moore he becomes the second Tampa rookie to take the hill in the series. Although this is he’s first playoff start, the right-hander does have a 2-0 loss against the Rangers on August 30th to draw from. He has also made five starts down the stretch run of the season for Tampa which could all be considered playoff games.

One of the National League Divisional Series games takes place at Chase Field where the Arizona Diamondbacks have been able to rely on their offensive bite all season long. After dropping the two opening games of the series against the Brewers at Miller Park, the Snakes are hoping a little home cooking puts them right back into the series. But in order to accomplish that, rookie right-hander Josh Collmenter is going to have cool the Brewer bats of Ryan Braun and Price Fielder, a combined 9 for 16 in the series so far. Collmenter does have 16 scoreless innings facing Milwaukee from the regular season in July, which is why manager Kirk Gibson gave him the start today. Milwaukee turns to road-ace Shaun Marcum on the mound. The 29-year-old was 8-3 with a 2.21 era in 16 road starts this season. He did however struggle down the stretch of the season sporting a 6.66 earned run average during his final four outings. This could be the man the Diamondback hitters need to see in order to get back in the series.

On the American side the Yankees season now rest on the arm of the inconsistent A.J. Burnett. The right-hander wasn’t even suppose to pitch in this series but the rainstorm of game one changed manager Joe Girardi’s plans. Burnett has posted just a record of 11-11 this season with an earned run average of 5.15. But he did turn in three solid road starts in September going 1-0, with an era of 3.18, striking out 15 in 11 and 1/3rd innings. Burnett’s last two post-season starts however were a disaster. He gave up five runs in six innings to the Rangers in the 2010 American League Championship Series and only lasted two innings of game five of the 2009 World Series giving up six runs and losing 8-6. Lifetime he’s 2-2 in four starts at Detroit. The Tigers go with Rick Porcello, making his first post-season start to close the door on the Yankees season. The right-hander dominated the Bronx Bombers at Comerica Park in his last two starts against them in Motown. Porcello gave up just two runs over 14 innings and actually beat Burnett back on May 5th. If Porcello can continue to keep the bats of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira quiet as they’ve been, he’s chances should be good. The duo is just a combined 1 for 21 so far in the series.

The Phillies will try to use lefty Cole Hamels extensive playoff experience to help them re-take their NLDS lead over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The 2008 World Series MVP has won six post-season games over his career, while over half of his victories from the 2011 season came away from Citizens Bank Park. Hamels will probably not have to deal with Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday due to that injured right middle finger which makes it painful to even just grip a bat. Allen Craig will most likely get the start in place of Holliday. St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia did win nine games at home this past season and sparkled in September with a 3-0 record with a 2.64 era. He also allowed just one earned run in 15 innings of work this season against the Phillies, holding them to a batting average of .178 overall. Should he falter, Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa will turn to his reliable bullpen of six that should be fully rested after Sunday’s win in Philly.
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