Rangers-Cardinals: Position by position

Rangers-Cardinals: Position by position

The Rangers are back, trying to seize the prize they couldn't quite nail down a year ago. The Cardinals are riding the momentum of an improbable September that has become an impressive October.

In the World Series, the brute force of the lineup and a good-enough pitching staff will make the American League's Rangers the favorite to win it all. But it would be unwise to dismiss the chances of St. Louis, which features a formidable slugger headlining a surging lineup and a legendary manager's flourishes of creativity with bullpen arms and bench players.

In other words, when the first pitch of Game 1 is thrown at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night, expectations and prognostication will disappear into the cool autumn air and leave us with a matchup full of intrigue and question marks.

The Rangers don't have Cliff Lee this time around, but their pitching staff hasn't had to be great this October based on the way their lineup has been putting runs on the board. The Rangers were by and large shut down by the Giants in five games during last year's Fall Classic, but they've added Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli to the mix since then, and the extra oomph has paid dividends, as has Nelson Cruz's October for the ages. The same can be said for the bullpen, which general manager Jon Daniels fortified over the winter and in the middle of this season and has been nasty throughout Texas' postseason run.

As for the Cardinals, they barely beat out the Braves for the Wild Card entry in the National League, but it took a scorching final month of the season, and apparently that was only the beginning. Third baseman David Freese, winner of the NL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award, has been doing his best Albert Pujols impression at the plate, Pujols is starting to do a Pujols impression of his own, offseason acquisition Lance Berkman is his old self, and manager Tony La Russa has gone to his suddenly dominant 'pen early and very often. The Cards steeled themselves for the NLCS by winning an NL Division Series Game 5 in Philadelphia, and they rode that momentum to a six-game triumph over Milwaukee.

So whom do you like? The clubs didn't play each other during the regular season, and they don't even hold Spring Training in the same state. That's why we've broken down each probable World Series roster -- position by position -- and left it up to you to agree, disagree and offer your opinions of how this year's Fall Classic will shake out. Have at it.

CATCHER

Rangers
Mike Napoli: .320 BA, 30 HRs, 75 RBIs, 1.046 OPS
Yorvit Torrealba: .273 BA, 7 HRs, 37 RBIs

Cardinals
Yadier Molina: .305 BA, 14 HR, 65 RBIs
Gerald Laird: .232 BA, 1 HR, 12 RBIs

The Rangers acquired Napoli for his bat, and the slugger responded with his best season as a Major Leaguer. Napoli also quieted some concerns about his skills behind the plate with some good defense in Texas' AL Championship Series victory over the Tigers. The Rangers could decide to go with more depth at this position by adding Matt Treanor to the World Series roster, so stay tuned.

Molina has long been considered the premier defensive player at his position in the NL, and some would say all of baseball. This year, he put it all together at the plate, too, and his mastery in calling pitches continued throughout what could have been a nightmare of an NLCS in which the Cardinals used got 24 1/3 innings out of their starters and 28 2/3 innings of their bullpen. Any decision on which team has the edge here is based on personal preference: Do you prefer a slugger who isn't nearly as adept behind the plate, or do you value defense and the pitcher-catcher relationship more (while getting a pretty good bat to boot)?

Edge: Cardinals

FIRST BASE

Rangers
Michael Young: .338 BA, 11 HRs, 106 RBIs
Mitch Moreland: .259 BA, 16 HRs, 51 RBIs

Cardinals
Albert Pujols: .299, 37 HRs, 99 RBIs
Lance Berkman: .301 BA, 30 HRs, 94 RBIs

Young, the veteran and team leader, gets the call at first base with the Series beginning at the NL park and therefore without a designated hitter. Young has been incredible in 2011, playing a number of positions and turning in his best offensive season in years. Moreland will likely take over first base in Arlington as Young shifts back to DH, and he is a legitimate long-ball threat toward the bottom of a stacked order.

What more needs to be said about Pujols, other than the possibility that Games 1 and 2 could be the last time we see him suit up in a Cardinals uniform in front of his home crowd? The big man was down in the main offensive categories this year, but he's looked awfully healthy this October -- he even singled in NLCS Game 6 after bruising his right forearm in a collision -- and the importance of his presence in a lineup cannot be overstated.

Edge: Cardinals

SECOND BASE

Rangers
Ian Kinsler: .255 BA, 32 HRs, 77 RBIs
Michael Young: .338 BA, 11 HRs, 106 RBIs

Cardinals
Skip Schumaker: .283 BA, 2 HRs, 38 RBIs
Nick Punto: .278 BA, 1 HR, 20 RBIs

Kinsler is a big-time power presence at the top of the order, and he had six RBIs in the ALCS. He brings speed on the basepaths, solid defense, the ability to draw a walk and postseason experience. It's a rare and potent combination for a second baseman and a leadoff hitter, and he gets things started the right way for these powerful Rangers.

Schumaker is the wild card here. He missed the NLCS because of a strained right side suffered in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, but he expects to be ready for the World Series. If he is, the Cardinals will get back a talented defender and tough out, but La Russa will have to determine whom to leave off the World Series roster, and Ryan Theriot could be the odd man out.

Edge: Rangers

THIRD BASE

Rangers
Adrian Beltre: .296 BA, 32 HRs, 105 RBIs
Michael Young: .338 BA, 11 HRs, 106 RBIs

Cardinals
David Freese: .297 BA, 10 HRs, 55 RBIs
Daniel Descalso: .264 BA, 1 HR, 28 RBIs

The Rangers' decision to sign Beltre to a six-year, $96 million deal after a stellar season with Boston last year has already started to pay off. Beltre is one of the best defenders at his position in baseball and has put up AL MVP-caliber numbers, including a three-homer game in Texas' ALDS clincher over Tampa Bay.

Freese returned from injuries at the right time and played well in the regular season. Then the NLCS came along, and he was ridiculous. En route to winning NLCS MVP honors, Freese hit .545 (12-for-23) with three homers and nine RBIs and looked supremely confident on both sides of the ball. One should take an entire season's body of work into consideration when deciding who gets the edge here, but the hot hand shouldn't be ignored, either.

Edge: Rangers

SHORTSTOP

Rangers
Elvis Andrus: .279 BA, 5 HRs, 60 RBIs, 37 SBs
Michael Young: .338 BA, 11 HRs, 106 RBIs

Cardinals
Rafael Furcal: .231 BA, 8 HRs, 28 RBIs
Nick Punto: .278 BA, 1 HR, 20 RBIs

Andrus is a fantastic defensive shortstop and a player who gets the job done on the offensive end primarily with speed. His 37 stolen bases led the Rangers and created a versatile attack that can beat teams in many ways. He needs to get his bat going in what has been a slow October.

Furcal was one of St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak's adroit midseason acquisitions. Furcal shored up the Cardinals' defensive situation at the anchor position of the infield and contributed with big hits down the stretch. He, too, hasn't gotten things going at the plate yet this postseason, but he's a dangerous baserunner when turned loose.

Edge: Rangers

OUTFIELD

Rangers
Josh Hamilton: .298 BA, 25 HRs, 94 RBIs
Nelson Cruz: .263 BA, 29 HRs, 87 RBIs
David Murphy: .275 BA, 11 HRs, 46 RBIs
Endy Chavez: .301 BA, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, 10 SB
Craig Gentry: .271 BA, 1 HR, 13 RBIs

Cardinals
Lance Berkman: .301 BA, 30 HRs, 94 RBIs
Matt Holliday: .296 BA, 22 HRs, 75 RBIs
Jon Jay: .297 BA, 10 HRs, 37 RBIs
Allen Craig: .315 BA, 11 HRs, 40 RBIs
Adron Chambers: .375, 0 HRs, 4 RBIs

Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, was banged up all year but still put together statistics that make him as fearsome as ever, especially in a big-stage setting. Meanwhile, Cruz stole the spotlight from his teammate by winning ALCS MVP honors with a postseason record six homers and 13 RBIs. Murphy, Chavez and Gentry, who will all see time in manager Ron Washington's varied schemes, bring some power, clutch hitting, speed and defense to the mix.

Berkman, the NL Comeback Player of the Year, headlines a very good offensive outfield that could ignite at any moment. Wondering about which Holliday will show up? Well, he hit .435 with eight RBIs in the NLCS. Jay has been solid at the plate all year and looked great in the outfield in the NLCS, and Craig is a talented newcomer who hits for average and can go deep, too.

Edge: Rangers

DESIGNATED HITTER

Rangers
Michael Young: .338 BA, 11 HRs, 106 RBIs

Cardinals
Allen Craig: .315 BA, 11 HRs, 40 RBIs

Young will return to this role in Arlington, allowing Moreland to take over first base, and that's the attack that makes the Rangers so potent, particularly in their home park. Young was frigid at the dish in October until he went 3-for-6 with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs in the ALCS clincher at Detroit. That bodes well for the Rangers.

Berkman has said that Craig would probably hit cleanup for a lot of teams in the NL, and that's a good thing to have when an extra bat is needed in Arlington. The Cardinals love his bat and will try to make use of it as much as possible in the Series.

Edge: Rangers

STARTING PITCHERS

Rangers
C.J. Wilson: 16-7, 2.94 ERA
Colby Lewis: 14-10, 4.40 ERA
Derek Holland: 16-5, 3.95 ERA
Matt Harrison: 14-9, 3.39 ERA

Cardinals
Chris Carpenter: 11-9, 3.45 ERA
Jaime Garcia: 13-7, 3.56 ERA
Kyle Lohse: 14-8, 3.39 ERA
Edwin Jackson: 12-9, 3.79 ERA

The Rangers' starting four didn't pitch particularly well against Detroit, save for Harrison's solid outing, but this is a talented group that will throw different looks at teams even though three of the four are left-handers. Holland might have the best stuff of the bunch, but he has to become more consistent, as he was in the second half of 2011.

None of the Cardinals' four starters had an NLCS to remember, but it didn't matter the way the bullpen took over and the way the St. Louis hitters were pummeling the ball. Things will have to be better in the Fall Classic against a team of sluggers in the Rangers. At least they'll get Carpenter for Game 1 -- the veteran pitched the best game of October for St. Louis, shutting out the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, 1-0, on three hits in Game 5 of the NLDS.

Edge: Rangers

MIDDLE RELIEVERS

Rangers
Yoshinori Tateyama: 2-0, 4.50 ERA
Scott Feldman: 2-1, 3.94 ERA
Darren Oliver: 5-5, 2.29 ERA
Koji Uehara: 2-3, 2.35 ERA
Michael Gonzalez: 2-2, 4.39 ERA
Alexi Ogando: 13-8, 3.51 ERA
Mike Adams: 5-4, 1.47 ERA

Cardinals
Fernando Salas: 5-6, 2.28 ERA
Mitchell Boggs: 2-3, 3.56 ERA
Kyle McClellan: 12-7, 4.19 ERA
Lance Lynn: 1-1, 3.12 ERA
Marc Rzepczynski: 0-3, 3.97 ERA
Arthur Rhodes: 3-4, 4.64 ERA
Octavio Dotel: 3-3, 3.28 ERA

Daniels has to be commended for the deals that netted the Rangers the late-game talents of Gonzalez and Adams, but the club's decision to move reliever-turned-starter Ogando back into the bullpen for October might have been the master stroke. Ogando, Adams and closer Neftali Feliz have become airtight as the Rangers have steamed along on their postseason tear.

The only concern here is durability. The Cardinals' bullpen has been so outstanding and so ever-present throughout October that La Russa seems to be redefining playoff pitching every night. Mozeliak came up big here, too, nabbing useful situational guys such as Rhodes, Dotel and Rzepczynski midseason to round out what is becoming a remarkable unit as the season wears on.

Edge: Cardinals

CLOSER

Rangers
Neftali Feliz: 2-3, 2.74 ERA, 32 SV

Cardinals
Jason Motte: 5-2, 2.25 ERA, 9 SV

Feliz has done nothing wrong in following up his AL Rookie of the Year campaign, and after the Rangers' spring flirtations with making him a starter, he looks like he's locked up the closer role for years to come. He was unscored upon in four ALCS appearances and continues to show poise well beyond his years.

Originally a catcher, Motte started this season as a middle reliever. Then he became the closer and suddenly became unhittable. Motte converted nine out of 10 save opportunities down the stretch and has given up one hit in seven postseason games. Oh, and he can touch 100 mph on the radar gun.

Edge: Cardinals

BENCH

Rangers
Mitch Moreland: .259 BA, 16 HRs, 51 RBIs
Esteban German: .455 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBIs
Endy Chavez: .301 BA, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, 10 SB
Craig Gentry: .271 BA, 1 HR, 13 RBIs
Yorvit Torrealba: .273 BA, 7 HRs, 37 RBIs

Cardinals
Nick Punto: .278 BA, 1 HR, 20 RBIs
Daniel Descalso: .264 BA, 1 HR, 28 RBIs
Allen Craig: .315 BA, 11 HRs, 40 RBIs
Adron Chambers: .375, 0 HRs, 4 RBIs
Gerald Laird: .232 BA, 1 HR, 12 RBIs

Washington's ability to move players from position to position is the strength of the Texas bench. Any one of these players can fill in, pinch-hit, play defense and contribute in some way, and all are asked to do it within a wide-open offensive system. Chavez and Torrealba bring postseason experience into the mix, too.

Craig and Descalso will figure prominently into La Russa's chess moves, particularly during the games in St. Louis, and they are dangerous bats off the bench.

Edge: Cardinals

COACHING STAFF

Rangers
Manager: Ron Washington
Bench coach: Jackie Moore
Hitting coach: Scott Coolbaugh
Pitching coach: Mike Maddux
Third-base coach: Dave Anderson
First-base coach: Gary Pettis

Cardinals
Manager: Tony La Russa
Bench coach: Joe Pettini
Hitting coach: Mark McGwire
Pitching coach: Dave Duncan
Third-base coach: Jose Oquendo
First-base coach: Dave McKay

Washington was here last year and didn't get it done. Now he's here again with a score to settle and, most important, with more overall talent than he brought with him to San Francisco last year. Maddux is one of the best pitching coaches around, and Coolbaugh, a midseason hire after the dismissal of Thad Bosley, has been lauded by his charges for his looseness and his insistence that the hitters just work within themselves and don't try to change their swings. The results have been obvious all October.

La Russa has won two World Series -- the last one coming in 2006 with a Cardinals team that might have been a less likely contender than this one. He's the winningest active manager in baseball and not afraid to try anything that will help his team win. Just ask his bullpen.

Edge: Cardinals