Five Keys To Winning The Fall Classic

By next Thursday, the San Francisco Giants will be replaced as the reigning World Series Champion. Who will take the Giants' crown? Will the title land in Texas for the first time or in St. Louis for the 11th?'s Cardinals expert, Brian Walton, and Rangers expert, Jason Cole, identify the five keys for their respective teams to win the Series.

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Key Number One

Cardinals: Establish early leads.

The Cardinals put the first run on the scoreboard six times in the six NLCS contests, three of which were on the road. It is a formula they have followed all month, having scored in the first inning in seven of 11 games in this postseason, while winning five and losing just two. They need to continue this practice to minimize the pressure placed on the pitching staff by the potent Texas offense.

Rangers: Keep the bases clear ahead of Pujols.

For the second consecutive series, the Rangers will face one of baseball's elite hitters. Last series it was Miguel Cabrera. This time it's Albert Pujols, who is coming off a monster NLCS in which he went 11-for-23 (.478) with four doubles and two homers. Texas must keep the Cards' two top-of-the-order hitters––shortstop Rafael Furcal and centerfielder Jon Jay––off the base paths in order to limit the super-slugger's RBI opportunities.

Key Number Two

Cardinals: Don't lose the home field advantage.

Despite being the National League Wild Card, St. Louis owns the home field advantage in the World Series thanks in a large part to Prince Fielder's three-run home run off projected Rangers Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson in the 2011 All-Star Game. The Cardinals must seize on this edge and avoid heading to Arlington down in the Series. Getting back to St. Louis for Games 6 and 7 (if needed) is almost going to be required.

Rangers: The Feldman-Ogando bridge.

In the six games against Detroit, the Rangers' starting pitchers averaged fewer than five innings per outing. But it didn't matter as much thanks to righties Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando, who combined for 10.1 innings and yielded a lone run on just three hits. Both hurlers are suddenly featuring the sharpest stuff of their careers, and they're eating up multiple innings at a time––helping bridge the gap between the starters and closer Neftali Feliz.

Key Number Three

Cardinals: Get more from starting pitchers not named Carpenter.

The unseemly flip side of the exceptionally strong bullpen performance by the Cardinals in the NLCS (1.88 ERA and .155 batting average against in 28 2/3 innings) is the fact they had just one starting pitcher go five innings in the six games. Ace Chris Carpenter badly needs help from rotation mates Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson, as the latter three posted NLCS ERAs over six. This will be even more crucial if Carpenter's reported elbow ailment proves limiting.

Rangers: Get to the Cardinals' bullpen.

Texas wasn't the only team to put a strain on its bullpen during the LCS. No Cardinals hurler worked longer than five innings against Milwaukee. Both teams have talented starting rotations, but on paper, the Rangers appear to have the advantage in the bullpen. Texas' bats were excellent in working the count against Detroit's Justin Verlander, and they should have continued success if they're able to make it a bullpen game versus St. Louis.

Key Number Four

Cardinals: Handle the unfamiliar left-handed pitchers.

Much has been made about the Cardinals being disadvantaged against left-handed pitchers in recent years, but their splits in 2011 were actually close to even (.765 OPS vs. RHP, .768 OPS vs. LHP). On the other hand, they have especially struggled against pitchers with whom they are unfamiliar. The Rangers have both with three lefties among their top four starters –– Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. St. Louis must hold their own against these lefties or the Series could be over quickly.

Rangers: Be aggressive on the base paths.

It's no secret that the Ron Washington-led club likes to be aggressive on the base paths, both in taking the extra base and stealing bases. Keep in mind that Cards left fielder Matt Holliday has average arm strength, Jon Jay has a plus arm from center, and Lance Berkman has an average-but-accurate arm in right. The Rangers have attempted 12 steals in 10 postseason games, but St. Louis' mix of veteran starting pitchers and perennial Gold Glove backstop Yadier Molina will make it tough for them to run freely.

Key Number Five

Cardinals: Win the match up defensively.

Until acquiring veteran Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers at the July 31 deadline to solidify what had been a shaky middle infield, the Cardinals were giving away games by shoddy fielding. In the NLCS, St. Louis committed just two errors in six games, while Milwaukee committed an NLCS record-tying 10 miscues. Continuing that formula in the Series would go a long way toward improving the Cardinals' title hopes.

Rangers: Stay healthy.

This old cliche is stated on just about every postseason telecast––every player is dealing with his bumps and bruises from a long 162-plus game season. And it's going to take a serious injury for any player to miss time during the World Series. But Josh Hamilton recently told media that he has been playing at "about 50 percent," and Adrian Beltre is dealing with a sore left knee that has hobbled him on the base paths. The injuries caused both sluggers to skip an optional workout session last Friday.

Additional World Series Coverage

Rangers 'Pick To Click': Alexi Ogando
Title Implications: Pujols, LaRussa Futures
Growing A Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
Cardinals 'Pick To Click': Allen Craig

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