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Rangers, Cards have little in common, but a lot to love

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ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals play before what they call "baseball's best fans" (and they may be right).

The Rangers freely admit that they play in a football state.

"Baseball and basketball will never replace football in the state of Texas," said Tom Grieve, who has been with the Rangers since they moved from Washington in 1972. "You could probably make the case that we can't replace high school football."

The Cardinals have won 10 World Series, more than anyone but the Yankees. The Rangers have won one World Series game, but they did beat the Yankees to get to it.

These two teams have so little in common that in 15 years of interleague play, baseball has seen fit to have them play just one three-game series, seven years ago in Texas. The Rangers have never played a game at Busch Stadium, where they'll open the World Series Wednesday night.

Baseball and its favorite television networks (who help set those interleague schedules) must not like this matchup.

We do, and here's why:

The MVPs you know: Watching Albert Pujols play has been one of the treats of this postseason. The same goes for Josh Hamilton.

2011 World Series
Analysis
Scott Miller Scott Miller
By overcoming a 10½-game deficit and 17 players on the DL, the Cards are the most unlikely Series team ever. Read>>
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Pujols should love a Rangers rotation that includes three left-handed starters. His OPS this year against lefties was .946 (and his career number is even better, at 1.085).

Hamilton won't mind a chance to make up for last year's World Series, when he went 2 for 20. And he won't mind a Cardinals rotation with three right-handers; his OPS against right-handers this year was .904.

The MVPs you may not know: I thought American League Championship Series MVP Nelson Cruz was a great story -- stuck in the lowest-level Dominican Summer League for three years, traded three times before he'd played a month in the big leagues, sent back to Triple-A after being offered to every other team for $20,000 on waivers.

Then I remembered that National League Championship Series MVP David Freese, who quit baseball after high school and enrolled at the University of Missouri as a student (and not a student-athlete). Ten years later, he helped his hometown team to the World Series.

The managers who escaped Moneyball: Back when Tony La Russa managed the A's, they didn't play Moneyball, but they did go to three straight World Series. Ron Washington later coached for the A's (and made it into the movie), but he admits that his style didn't fit their plan.

He's not a Moneyball guy. But he has taken two straight teams to the World Series.

The real moneyball: Pujols is the biggest name on the free-agent market. Cardinals Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson is the biggest name in a weak market for starting pitchers.

Pujols has done nothing but help his case this month, and the Cardinals' success has done nothing to change the impression that he'll most likely remain in St. Louis. Wilson has done little to help his case, and more and more the impression that the Rangers will be very willing to let him sign (for too much money) somewhere else.

The missing aces: The Rangers were supposed to be in trouble last winter when Cliff Lee ran away to the Phillies. The Cardinals were supposed to be in trouble this spring when Adam Wainwright ran away to have Tommy John surgery.

The missing innings: The Cardinals didn't have a starter go more than five innings in the NLCS. The Rangers haven't had a starter throw a pitch in the seventh inning since the playoffs began.

Both bullpens have been great, and while it means more mid-inning pitching changes and longer games, it also means more second-guessing!

The big deals: Speaking of second-guessing, I haven't heard too many complaints lately that Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak traded away Colby Rasmus at midseason. Perhaps Rasmus will develop into a good player, or even a great player. But without dealing for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, the Cards don't make the playoffs, let alone the World Series.

Oh, and don't forget Rafael Furcal, the much-needed shortstop and leadoff hitter Mozeliak got from the Dodgers.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels put his team in the World Series with last year's Lee trade. The Rangers may not have made it back without this year's deals for Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara (although Uehara hasn't been good in October).

The animal kingdom: I'm still not sure how the Busch Squirrel became a Rally Squirrel, since the first time he showed up the Cardinals lost to the Phillies. But if it works for them ...

Same goes for the claw, and the antlers, and whatever else the Rangers are doing now.

They finally made it: As our C. Trent Rosecrans pointed out, Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre had the third-most games of any active player who had never played in a World Series (1,959, behind only Bobby Abreu and Miguel Tejada). Furcal was also on that list, and the Cardinals shortstop had another distinction.

In his 12 big-league seasons, Furcal has made it to the postseason nine times. He has been on six teams that lost in the division series and two teams that lost in the championship series. Now, finally, he's in the World Series.

Beltre is finishing his 14th year in the big leagues, but this is just his second postseason.

And finally: ... there's Arthur Rhodes.

The Cardinals left-handed reliever has pitched for nine of baseball's 30 teams. He's been to the postseason with four of them, but he's never been part of a World Series champion.

And now he will be. Either way.

Rhodes is this year's Bengie Molina, the guy who played for both World Series teams in the same year, the guy guaranteed two rings and two partial shares. He was released by the Rangers in August, when they were already well on their way to the playoffs. He signed with the Cardinals three days later, and helped them to the playoffs.

The Rangers didn't need him, and the Cardinals did. But as our Scott Miller wrote the other day, Rhodes boldly proclaimed, "I know our bullpen is better than theirs."

We'll see. We'll be watching.

With this matchup, we can't wait.

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