Posted on: October 19, 2011 5:40 pm
 

Cards, Rangers in final preparations for Game 1

ST. LOUIS -- The tarp is on the field. The place is on near-lockdown with First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden due tonight. The rain has been falling off and on all afternoon.

Though MLB officials are confident that the Cardinals and Rangers will play tonight (and on time), it is cold, wet and raw here -- which means Mother Nature may have a better chance of slowing down these two big-hitting lineups in Game 1 of the World Series than any starting pitcher.

The cold, wet conditions will not help Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, who experienced some swelling in his right elbow following his Game 3 start against Milwaukee in the NLCS. (He says he's fine.)

The weather will not be comfortable for Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, who has experienced some severe swelling in his postseason numbers this autumn: He's 0-2 with an 8.04 ERA. (He says he's fine.)

But the conditions may be even worse for hitters, because the colder it gets, the less the baseball carries. And it is expected to dip into the upper 30s tonight.

The Rangers clubbed 13 homers, 20 doubles and scored 55 runs in their 10 post-season games so far, and they're hitting .276 with runners in scoring position. Josh Hamilton has hit safely in five consecutive postseason games, and he hopes to take that momentum into this World Series to erase the memories of last year against San Francisco: Hamilton was just 2 for 20 against the Giants and looked even worse than those numbers do.

The Cardinals, meantime, averaged 5.6 runs per game in the NLCS. They led the NL in runs scored this season, and their +70 run differential was third in the AL. Albert Pujols is coming off of a torrid NLCS, and Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday are doing a fine job of protecting him. Holliday, battling tendinitis in his right hand, says though it's about the same as it was in the NLCS, it's far better than it was against Philadelphia in the first round.

Both of these clubs are fairly experienced in October, the Rangers having gained theirs more recently. Michael Young talked extensively Tuesday about how this year should be better for Texas because the Rangers know what's ahead of them, know better what to expect out of the World Series. That no doubt goes for manager Ron Washington, too, who is has guided the Rangers to their second World Series in two years.

This is the sixth World Series for St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, and as the wind blew and the rain fell outside, he spoke of how he's changed from that first one with Oakland in 1988 until now.

"The first one, I wouldn't say I was clueless," La Russa said. "You have a little clue. But it was like in '83, the first time in the playoffs [managing the White Sox], you're just hoping you don't pass out during the game.

"That was painful in '88 because no doubt, Tommy [Lasorda, then the Dodgers' manager] did a much better job of getting his club ready for the World Series than I did for the A's."

All these years later, La Russa has become the master. And over in the Texas dugout, Washington has earned his stripes -- though he doesn't want to hear about "matching wits" with La Russa.

"I don't think I can ever live up to matching a wit with Tony La Russa, but what I will try to do is put my players in the right position," Washington said the other day. "And if my players perform, I don't have to worry about matching wits. They'll take care of things."

Rangers-Cardinals, we're just about there.

Well, as soon as they take the tarp off the field.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 9:11 pm
 

Bullpen bragging rights at stake in Series

ST. LOUIS -- Arthur Rhodes pitched in Texas' bullpen from opening day until early August.

Then he pitched in St. Louis' pen the rest of the way.

And after the Cardinals clinched their 18th World Series berth in club history Sunday, Rhodes had an emphatic -- if biased -- opinion:

"I know our bullpen is better than theirs," he said of his Cardinals.

Each pen was splendid in the LCS. Texas' earned the W in all four of the Rangers' wins over Detroit in the ALCS. St. Louis' earned three wins in the NLCS.

Texas' bullpen compiled a 1.32 ERA in six ALCS games while fanning 25 Tigers and walking only six.

St. Louis' bullpen compiled a 1.88 ERA in six NLCS games while fanning 21 Brewers and walking only seven.

"If that's how he feels, that's how he feels," said Rangers set-up man Mike Adams, whom Texas acquired from San Diego in a July 31 deadline deal that came in just under the buzzer.

And?

"We have the best bullpen in these playoffs," Adams continued. "Let's put it that way."

Rangers lefty Darren Oliver was amused.

"He said that about St. Louis?" Oliver said. "I guess we'll see in a week. He's supposed to say that. That's his team."

Rhodes was a little more modest on Tuesday.

"Both bullpens are great," Rhodes said. "Both bullpens throw strikes and get guys out. We have two left-handers in our pen [Rhodes and Mark Rzepcynski]. They have one, Darren Oliver.

"I think we have an advantage."

Except, Rhodes was off by one. While snapping up relief help at midseason, Texas GM Jon Daniels not only acquired Adams from the Padres and Koji Uehara from Baltimore, but Mike Gonzalez from the Orioles as well. In Gonzalez, the Rangers have a former closer and one more lefty in the pen.

Does that swing the advantage Texas' way?

We'll see.







Posted on: October 18, 2011 8:06 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 8:09 pm
 

Focused Pujols appreciating the moment

ST. LOUIS -- The questions continue to pelt Albert Pujols like the cold rain of early autumn: Has he taken moments here and there during this postseason to soak in the sights and sounds of what could be his final days as a Cardinal?

His answers remain steadfastly the same: No, he isn't thinking about his impending free agency right now, hasn't thought about it since addressing the matter this spring. And can we please talk about the World Series now?

But here's the thing: You know Pujols can't help but be thinking about it because of his incredibly classy gesture in Milwaukee on Sunday.

When Prince Fielder stepped in to lead off the bottom of the eighth with the Brewers trailing 12-6, Pujols called time from first base in an effort to extend the standing ovation Fielder was receiving from the Miller Park crowd.

It was a gesture that got lost in the post-game champagne as the Cardinals clinched, which was too bad. Because it shouldn't have been.

"I've been in that situation here with the best fans in baseball, and I wanted Prince to have the same feeling that I have here, and the same chills," Pujols said when I asked him about it as the teams worked out Tuesday preparing for the World Series opener Wednesday. "I wanted him to have almost the same tears that I have when I have the standing ovation from our fans in my last at-bat, at least they thought that was going to be my last at-bat here in Busch Stadium at that time.

"And I wanted to make sure that Lance [Lynn, St. Louis pitcher] gave Prince a really good opportunity. I think what Prince has done for the organization and for the city of Milwaukee, what he's done in turning the organization around, is amazing. I just wanted him to have his moment. That was his moment.

"At that moment I didn't look at the scoreboard, I didn't look at who was winning or losing. At that moment, I was looking at the person, at the guy who deserved that standing ovation. I wish it would have been a little bit longer. I tried my best. That's how much respect I have for him and the Brewers and those guys."

In a rare philosophical mood Tuesday, Pujols continued.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," he said. "It didn't matter what uniform you were wearing. Things like that, seeing Jeter get his 3,000th hit, seeing the standing ovation that the Yankees fans gave him, those are moments you can't replace. Those are moments that you always are going to take with you and I wanted him to have that opportunity just like I have here."

I still think Pujols will re-sign with the Cardinals this winter.

But if not, this is one of the longest goodbyes on record. Busch Stadium fans cheered for Pujols on the final Sunday of the season when it appeared as if that would be his final home game of 2011.

Then they cheered him in Game 4 of the Division Series in case the Cardinals were eliminated by the Phillies in Game 5.

Then they cheered him in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series in case the Cardinals didn't come back alive from Milwaukee.

Now, the next potential Pujols' farewell at-bats in Busch could come in Game 2 of the World Series here Thursday ... or in Game 6 or 7 here next week.

For now, Pujols is just concerned with attempting to win his second World Series ring in his third Fall Classic appearance with the Cardinals. They were swept by Boston in 2004, then they beat Detroit in 2006.

The big question is how the Rangers will pitch Pujols, who has taken six walks -- including two intentional passes -- so far this postseason.

"I don't know," said Pujols, who is hitting .419 this postseason with two homers and 10 RBI. "Hopefully, I can have the same series I have against Philadelphia and Milwaukee. I'm very patient at the plate, I know that I have great players in front of me and behind me who are going to be able to do damage.

"My main goal is to go out and if I get a good pitch to hit put my best swing on it. And if not, try to take my walk. That's something I've been doing the past two months that I wasn't doing earlier in the year."
Posted on: October 18, 2011 7:20 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 7:24 pm
 

Beltre lands in World Series after 14 years

ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Beltre has played a long time for a guy who has never reached the World Series.

A long, long, long time.

"You got that right," Beltre says. "It took me 14 years. But I'm here, man."

Beltre's 1,959 regular-season games are the third-most among active players for a guy who has never set foot in the Fall Classic, trailing only Bobby Abreu (2,247) and Miguel Tejada (2,118).

But as that great baseball man, Branch Rickey, once said, luck is the residue of design. And Beltre's splashdown in St. Louis for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday is more design than luck.

When he signed a five-year, $80 million deal last winter to play third base in Texas, he had plenty of other options. One was with the Los Angeles Angels, though, as he told me this spring, he spurned them because he thought the Rangers had a better team and, as such, a better chance to go to the World Series.

Beyond the Angels, Beltre had a few other options as well. Oakland. Baltimore.

"If it was the money, I'd be somewhere else," he said. "Money wasn't my main issue. I could have had more money [elsewhere] or I could have stayed home in L.A.

"It was a hard decision to come here, but it's been the best one."

Beltre was everything the Rangers were hoping for. He played Gold Glove defense. He hit .296 with a .331 on-base percentage. He slammed 32 homers and collected 105 RBI in 124 games. Only a hamstring injury slowed him late in the year.

Now that he's back strong, the Rangers' lineup is as dangerous and deep as there is in the game. Their second consecutive World Series appearance proves that.

Beltre said he never felt pressure in Texas because he was surrounded by so much talent, guys like Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli.

"I came here, but I wasn't the guy," says Beltre, who played exceedingly well in Boston in 2010 before signing with Texas. "I was just one of the guys.

"It's different when they bring you in to be the guy."

Asked about the Red Sox's meltdown and ongoing drama, Beltre quipped: "Why? What happened to the Red Sox? I don't watch TV."
Posted on: October 17, 2011 3:25 am
Edited on: October 17, 2011 3:26 am
 

NLCS MVP Freese having breakout autumn

MILWAUKEE -- The wordplay is irresistible: Mr. Freese. The Iceman. Freese It. Freese Frame.

All we need now is for Cardinals third baseman David Freese to grow into a star. And with his NL Championship Series MVP, he's taken a long leap in that direction over these past several days.

"There are a lot of guys who have talent," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said as the celebration hit full-blast in the winning clubhouse Sunday night. "To be successful in this league, you've got to be tough and you've got to have good character.

"He is very tough. He's had bad breaks with his ankle and his feet, but this guy is very tough. If he can stay healthy, he's going to be a star year-in and year-out. I'm talking about a clutch, clutch star."

That's what Freese looked like against the Brewers. He hit safely in all six games, collected multiple hits in four of them and, by the final out in Game 6, was hitting a sizzling .545 (12 for 22) with three doubles, three homers, nine RBI and six runs scored.

Though the Brewers battled and eventually cut St. Louis' lead to one run, Freese's three-run, first-inning homer against Shaun Marcum essentially put Milwaukee on life support.

For a guy who grew up not far from St. Louis, in Wildwood, Mo., it was a dream come true.

"I think not too many people get a chance to do this in their hometown," Freese said. "And it's an unbelievable feeling. To be a part of this team, this group of guys, this organization, it means a lot."

Freese, 27, batted .297 with 10 homers and 55 RBI in 97 games for the Cardinals this season. He missed 51 games after fracturing his left hand when he was hit by a pitch against Atlanta on May 1. It continued a string of bad luck for Freese, who had surgery on each ankle in 2010 -- part of the reason why he played in only 70 games in '10.

Acquired from the Padres for outfielder Jim Edmonds in December, 2007, the Cardinals have been waiting for him to blossom. And by the looks of it, he's doing so at an opportune time.

"He's an unbelievable player," reliever Octavio Dotel said. "Unbelievable. And he's going to be a real tough player for the next five, six, seven years. He's a guy you're going to see on ESPN, hear all over the radio, see on Fox Sports ... he's going to do some damage to the other teams, because he's a really, really great player."
Posted on: October 17, 2011 3:00 am
Edited on: October 17, 2011 10:22 am
 

Cards' Rhodes: 'I know our bullpen is better'

They've been serious underdogs since, oh, at least August. So why should now be any different as the Cardinals get set to tee it up with the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Except, one thing that might be worth remembering: Last time the Cardinals were here, in 2006, the Tigers were supposed to maul them. Next thing anyone knew, David Eckstein was hoisting the MVP trophy.

Is NLCS MVP David Freese the new Eckstein?

In their 18th World Series in club history, the Cardinals are about to tangle with a Texas team that has not lost consecutive games in nearly two months. The Rangers have played 40 games since their last back-to-back losses, when they dropped three in a row at home against the Red Sox from Aug. 23-25.

Of course, they're also about to tussle with a Texas team that ripped through Detroit in the AL Championship Series without obtaining a win from a starting pitcher. Sound familiar? Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter earned the Game 3 win despite only going five innings, and the St. Louis bullpen earned the other three wins.

The Airborne Rangers surely will be favored in the World Series, given that behemoth AL lineup and a bullpen in which Alexi Ogando qualifies as a lethal weapon.

"It's going to be very interesting," Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal said moments after his team eliminated Milwaukee in the NLCS. "We've got to keep playing the way we do. We've got to keep playing good defense and getting a hit when we need it."

"The Rangers are scary," third baseman David Freese said. "They're a scary team. They've been doing it all along the last few years. You look at that lineup, you look at that staff, that's going to be a battle. And I think we're a team that can match up with them a little bit. They're confident. We're confident."

As the champagne sprayed, Manager Tony La Russa said he had not had time to give much thought to Texas, other than him and pitching coach Dave Duncan quietly sneaking a conversation Saturday night about which way to set up the Cardinals' rotation. La Russa said they had one plan for if the Cardinals won in Game 6 on Sunday -- the plan that presumably will be put into motion -- and another plan for if the Brewers extended them to Game 7 on Monday.

Being that ace Chris Carpenter was set to start Game 7 ... surely, he'll now get the ball for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night in St. Louis.

"Texas has an unbelievable team," reliever Octavio Dotel said. "They have great players. They have great hitters, great pitchers, a great bullpen.

"What is going to happen, I don't know. We've got to go game by game, one by one, and see what happens. Not try to win it all in one game."

Dotel talked about Texas' "great right-handed hitters", mentioning Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young.

The Cardinals will go from the very familiar against the Brewers (both in the NL Central, they faced each other 18 times this season) to the totally unknown against the Rangers (they did not face each other in interleague play this year).

"Throw strikes," reliever Jason Motte said. "You've gotta get ahead of guys. Mix and match. I've seen those guys play. If you go 2 and 1 or 3 and 1 [in the count], it's going to be a long series."

The one man who might know the most about both of these teams is Cardinals reliever Arthur Rhodes. Practically a senior citizen now in baseball years (he's 41), Rhodes started the season with the Rangers, where he went 3-3 with a 4.81 ERA in 32 games, before Texas released him on Aug. 8. St. Louis signed him three days later.

Used strictly as a left-handed specialist, Rhodes was 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA for the Cards, working only 8 2/3 innings in 19 games.

"Those are my friends," Rhodes said of the Rangers. "But I've still got my team right here. I love St. Louis. These are my boys.

"We'll do our thing. We match up good with them. We have a similar lineup, but I know our bullpen is better than theirs."

Said Freese: "I definitely have been watching the ALCS, for sure. And that's been some good ball over there. That's a dynamite team, and we definitely have to be ready for them."
Posted on: October 16, 2011 11:51 pm
 

Cards World Series-bound after record run

MILWAUKEE -- If the St. Louis Cardinals' starters pitch this lousy in the World Series ... why, they just might stand a puncher's chance against the Texas Rangers.

Go figure. Tony La Russa burned through 28 pitching changes over six games, using 34 total pitchers ... and his was the team that won. St. Louis burned through the Brewers one more time, 12-6, to seize this NL Championship Series.

And this whole "Happy Flight" thing has gotten quite out of control as the Cardinals streaked to their 22nd win in their past 31 games: They've now won 17 consecutive games leading into a flight this season. And their post-Game 6 flight was the happiest of all: It took them home, and straight into the World Series.

Who would have figured this? The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the wild-card slot in late August, and 8 1/2 out on Sept. 6. Then the Braves started losing, the Cardinals started winning and who knows when it will end?

Ace Chris Carpenter seemed gassed after his beautiful Game 5 classic over Roy Halladay in Philadelphia, but it didn't matter. Edwin Jackson? Lasted two innings in Game 6, but it didn't matter. Jaime Garcia? Kyle Lohse? Neither was sharp but ... you got it. Just didn't matter.

The Cardinals clearly were the better team, and right now it's looking like their TKO of the Phillies was no fluke. The Cardinals led the NL in on-base percentage this season for the first time since 2003, and they're only getting better.

And this was more than Albert Pujols, who flexed for five RBIs in Game 2. This was David Freese's coming out party. With Matt Holliday nursing a sore hand, Freese was unstoppable. In running his postseason hitting streak to nine games, he batted .459 (17 for 37) with five doubles, four homers and 14 RBI. In the six-game NLCS, Freese rolled out the barrel on the Brewers to the tune of a.545 (12 for 22) average with three homers and nine RBIs.

But despite all this, the real stars were those odd-named (Mark Rzepcynski), bespectacled and bearded (Jason Motte), Ryan Braun-killing (Octavio Dotel, who whiffed the Brewers outfielder again Sunday and now has struck him out in nine of 11 career at-bats) and old men (Arthur Rhodes) in the bullpen.

The six consecutive games in which a starting pitcher failed to work into the sixth inning is the longest such postseason streak in St. Louis history.

Normally, that's a recipe for disaster. But with La Russa mixing matchups more expertly than a master bartender mixes drinks, it suddenly wasn't. Time after time, La Russa was able to get Dotel to trump Braun, or the lefty Rzepcynski to face the left-handed Fielder.

Against a Texas lineup that is deeper than most in the National League, La Russa and the bullpen will have their work cut out for them. But if you're going to bet against this club after the month they've put together, well, that's on you.
Posted on: October 15, 2011 6:43 pm
 

Cards, Brewers so close they deserve Game 7

MILWAUKEE -- This NL Championship Series simply cannot end on Sunday, in Game 6, without the Cardinals and Brewers extending it to Game 7, can it?

Until St. Louis blasted the Brewers in Game 5, the two teams for the year (including this series) were 11-11 against each other. Total runs were almost as close: Milwaukee was edging St. Louis 90-88.

Now, the Cardinals lead the series 12-11 and have outscored the Brewers 95-91.

The teams went 9-9 against each other during the regular season.

"We've both got good teams," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina says. "The numbers don't lie.

"They have good hitters, and we have good hitters. They have good pitchers, and we have good pitchers."

The Cardinals, who will send Edwin Jackson to the mound for Game 7, have history with them: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in a best-of-seven series that was tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win 36 of 52 series -- including 10 of 13 in the LCS.

The Brewers, who will start Shaun Marcum, have home-field advantage with them: Including the playoffs, they're 61-25 in Miller Park this year. Close the roof, as MLB says it will do for Game 6 because a chilly afternoon/night is expected, and the Brewers are 26-12.

St. Louis infielder Ryan Theriot says he "loves" the atmosphere in Milwaukee, and while acknowledging that these two teams probably deserve to go seven games ... you can guess which way he's leaning overall.

"I don't want to go to Game 7," Theriot says. "You want to get that win as soon as you can. Momentum is a big deal."

Likes: We've got a chance to have a Game 7 in an LCS for the first time since 2008 (Boston-Tampa Bay). ... Last time we had two Game 7s? Try 2003: Yankees-Red Sox and Cubs-Marlins. ... Chuck Berry in St. Louis participating in the national anthem the other day. ... Autumn colors now in Technicolor in Milwaukee and St. Louis both. ... Culver's frozen custard in Milwaukee. Did I mention this? I'm sure I have. But man, their concretes with ground up Twix bars are terrific.

Dislikes: A short flight of only about an hour ... delayed for two hours. Talk about feeling like you're going backwards. ... The very nice waitress at breakfast in the St. Louis airport Saturday morning who crossed over the line when joking that when she turned 51, she got a mustache for her birthday. ... Those hideous uniforms in Saturday's Michigan-Michigan State game. Man, between all this conference shifting and gawdawful uniforms, college football is starting to go to the hounds. ... Aw, they canceled Charlie's Angels so soon? I've been on the road so long I never even saw it.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Deadlines and commitments
"What to leave in, what to leave out"

-- Bob Seger, Against the Wind
 
 
 
 
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