Despite the protestations of people living on both coasts, this year's World Series will take place entirely in the Central Time Zone with the St. Louis Cardinals, trying for their 11th title, playing the Texas Rangers, who are hoping to win their first after losing to the Giants in last year's series.
For the East Coast, the World Series likely stopped mattering once the Red Sox collapsed at the end of the season and the Yankees were knocked out in the Division Series by Detroit and the Cardinals took out the Phillies. Out West, Arizona was as close as those of us in Southern California had to a local interest. Or, in other words, there was no local interest.
What we are left with are two teams, one with a loyal and rabid fan base in the Cardinals, and the other that still draws well despite playing in a state where football is king, emperor, and pope all wrapped into one in the Rangers.
And whenever the Yankees aren't in the World Series, the storyline about the World Series seems to be more about what the TV ratings will be, rather than how the games will play out. Because, you know, if people don't start watching the World Series, they'll just have to cancel it. Jon Weisman in Variety reports that Fox isn't particularly worried about the ratings. Nevertheless, expect the media to look at each game's overnight rating as a sign that baseball is dead and we should all surrender to our NFL overlords.
If the casual fan does not want to watch the likes of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton slug it out in a best of seven series, that shouldn't make any difference to a baseball fan. This is still the World Series, the sport's premier event. There will be a lot of people watching even if the players don't wear pinstripes. (Or drink beer in the dugout and eat fried chicken or whatever Red Sox players do.)
In most years, the Cardinals would be a great story. They were 10 1/2 games behind the Braves for the wild card starting play on August 25. They had just come off a sweep at home by the Dodgers and looked horrible. Three days earlier, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had published a "what went wrong with the Cardinals season" that read like a post-mortem.
Then, the Cardinals got hot. They would win 18 of 26 games in September. They beat the division champion Brewers 5 of 6 times. They beat the Phillies 3 out of 4 times in Philadelphia. The Braves stopped hitting and stumbled to a 9-18 record in September, allowing the Cardinals to claim the wild card on the final day of the season. (So far, the Braves collapse has had far less fallout compared to the Red Sox meltdown.)
St. Louis upset the heavily favored Phillies in the NLDS in five games with Chris Carpenter winning a 1-0 pitchers' duel against Roy Halladay in the final game. The Cardinals then slugged their way past Milwaukee in six games, outscoring the Brewers by a margin of 43-26. Series MVP David Freese hit three home runs and batted .545 against the Brewers. Pujols, a free agent at the end of the World Series, hit two home runs and could only scratch out a meager .478 batting average.
Texas had far fewer dramatics this season. The Rangers led the AL West for 151 of 168 days with the Angels providing some competition in September, but the Rangers cruised home with a 10-game lead. One of the Rangers top hitters was Mike Napoli, who had played for the Angels in 2010, but was traded to Toronto in the offseason. The Blue Jays quickly flipped Napoli over to Texas.
Napoli had never been of Angel manager Mike Scioscia's favorites. Scioscia didn't like Napoli's defense. Also, the Angels worried about injuries to Napoli that might keep him from catching.
Although injuries limited Napoli to just 113 games, he still managed to hit 30 home runs and put an OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) of 1.041. The player Napoli was traded for, Vernon Wells, managed a meager .248 OPB and .660 OPS. The general manager for the Angels, Tony Reagins, who engineered the trade, is now looking for a new job. (The Angels also traded Juan Rivera to the Blue Jays along with Napoli. The Blue Jays would later give Rivera to the Dodgers for essentially nothing at midseason and Rivera turned out to be a passable hitter in Los Angeles.)
Napoli is just one of many heavy hitters on the Rangers. In addition to Napoli, second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Adrian Beltre both topped 30 home runs, each with 32. Last year's MVP Josh Hamilton hit 25 and Nelson Cruz, who hit a record 6 home runs in the Rangers six-game win over the Tigers in the ALCS, hit 29 homers in the regular season.
Neither team has much starting pitching to speak of. Aside from Carpenter's shutout in the NLDS, the Cardinals starters have been shaky. The Cardinals had more innings pitched by their bullpen than their starters in the NLCS against the Brewers. The Rangers did not have a single win from their starters in the ALCS.
Both teams have deep bullpens and managers who are not afraid to go to it early. Rangers manager Ron Washington may hold the better hand as he can use Alexi Ogando for multiple relief innings. Ogando was a starter during the season, but has been shifted to relief for the playoffs. In seven games and 10 2/3 innings pitched in the playoffs, Ogando has struck out 12 and given up just four hits and one run.
The Cardinals bullpen was shaky during the regular season, blowing 26 save opportunities. (For comparison purposes, the Dodgers, whom people thought had a bad bullpen at the start of the year, had just 13 blown saves. The Rangers had 19 blown saves.) Jason Motte has become the closer and pitched eight innings in the postseason giving up just one hit, no walks, with seven strikeouts. Even Octavio Dotel, whose brief stay in Los Angeles last season is best forgotten, has given up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings of relief and has managed to pick up two wins.
No World Series has gone seven games since 2002 when the Angels beat the Giants. That series featured several high-scoring games marked by long home runs and either very good or very bad relief pitching (depending upon whom you were rooting for). I think this year's World Series will play out in a similar way. Even with cold weather forecast for the first two games in St. Louis, I expect runs to be plentiful. I would give Texas a slight edge in the series because of a deeper lineup, but this series is not one where I would want to bet anything on the outcome greater than a quarter. (The mayors of St. Louis and Arlington, Texas are wagering quite a few things, much of it meat-based.)
Things to expect:
- lots of trips to the mound by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Rangers manager Ron Washington to change pitchers,
- nonsensical analysis by Tim McCarver on the Fox broadcast,
- indifferent play-by-play calling by Joe Buck,
- too many commercials for Taco Bell with Brian Wilson,
- too many shots of Rangers president Nolan Ryan frowning when his team is losing,
- a minimum of 20 times that Cardinals fans are called "the best fans in baseball", complaints by me complaining about the media being too fixated on the ratings instead of the action on the field.
And after the World Series is over, Angelenos can look forward to a Halloween battle in the Federal courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and MLB Commissioner are due to both give testimony that day. The 2012 season will start early for those of us in Southern California.