Despite not facing a dominant pitching staff throughout the playoffs, the Cardinals offense has struggled to score runs; averaging a paltry 3.8 runs per game in their trek to the World Series. Teams have begun pitching around Albert Pujols, a trend I expect to see continue against the Tigers. The Cardinals have the horses – when healthy – to score plenty of runs, but with an ailing Scott Rolen obviously not at his best, a nicked up David Eckstein, and a shell of the old Jim Edmonds, they could be hard pressed to touch up a Tigers staff that has been dominating since Game 2 of the ALDS. The Tigers are going to force guys like Scott Rolen, Juan Encarnacion, Ronnie Belliard, and Yadier Molina to beat them; and Molina's NLCS heroics aside, I don't think the Cards offense – outside of Pujols – is capable of carrying the load.
The Tigers offense on the other hand, has been rolling since the opening game in New York; posting a strong 5.5 runs per game, and closer to six runs per game during their current 7-game winning streak. The Tigers have been driving the ball out of the park with regularity, as everyone in their regular starting lineup (except Placido Polanco) has at least one homerun, and three players have jacked three already this post season. While the Tigers have been dubbed free swingers all season long, when they're rolling, those free swings tend to make consistent, hard contact. With an offense that's led by Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco setting the table at a combined .405 on-base clip, and followed up by the red hot slugging of Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, and Craig Monroe, scoring runs shouldn't be a terrible problem.
Advantage: Detroit, by just a hair.
Everyone's heard all about it, it's been big time news throughout the playoffs; the Tigers starting pitchers have been positively electric. Kenny Rogers has been down right filthy, not having allowed a run in either of his post season starts, spanning 15 stellar innings. Jeremy Bonderman has been almost equally as dominant, no-hitting the vaunted Yankee lineup for just over five innings, and spinning another valiant effort to close out the American League Pennant. Nate Robertson and Justin Verlander haven't been quite as spectacular, but both have flashed moments of brilliance, highlighted by Robertson's five shutout innings against Oakland in the opening game of the ALCS. Having a week of rest should help rookie Justin Verlander, who has certainly tired under an immense workload this season. All four starters have been great at different points of both the regular season and playoffs, and that trend should continue in the World Series.
While all the talk has been about the Tigers starting pitchers, the Cardinals have managed to fly under the radar, while being nearly as dominant. Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver have been nearly perfect in their combined six post season starts, posting a 2.00 ERA over 36 innings. Cardinals ace, Chris Carpenter, hasn't been too shabby himself with a 3.70 ERA in three starts. The Cards fourth starter, rookie Anthony Reyes, has been hit or miss all season long, and has the electric raw stuff to dominate a playoff game. The largest hurdle facing the Cardinals starters will be keeping men off the bases, as none of the four starters has shown a real ability in the playoff to avoid walks and strike guys out. The way the rotation appears to be falling out, it should be interesting to see how the volatile Jeff Weaver, handles pitching in his old home ball park, with fans that are certain to be less than gracious in his return.
The five key pitchers out of the Cardinals bullpen have been great so far in October, notching a combined 1.23 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 29.1 innings. Surprise closer Adam Wainwright has struck out 10 in only 6.2 innings while walking only one batter. Tyler Johnson has been Tony LaRussa's go-to lefty, with 11 strikeouts in 8 appearances. Josh Kinney and Randy Flores have been very stingy, not having allowed a run so far, and aside from a rough Game 6 outing against the Mets, Braden Looper has been very good as well. In total, the Cardinals bullpen is very good, if unspectacular, and has done well to help carry the team this far without Jason Isringhausen.
The hallmark of the Tigers bullpen is gas, and lots of it. With plenty of hard throwers, headlined by 21-year old rookie Joel Zumaya, the Tigers bullpen has the ability to get out of jams via the strikeout. While Zumaya routinely sits above 100 mph with his fastball, middle relievers Fernando Rodney, Jason Grilli, and Wilfredo Ledezma can all reach 96-97 on the gun with regularity. Leading lefty Jamie Walker has been one of the more underrated LOOGY's in baseball over the last several seasons, and he should help neutralize someone like Jim Edmonds or Chris Duncan in the latter innings. With the "Rollercoaster" handling the back end of games, the Tigers have suffered a few heart attacks along the way, but he's consistently gotten the job done.
The Detroit Tigers have struggled to put together a solid bench unit for several years, and this year was no different. With Marcus Thames playing nearly every game, that leaves the bench very thin, with infielders Ramon Santiago, Neifi Perez, and Omar Infante, sitting along side outfielder Alexis Gomez, and backup catcher Vance Wilson. Santiago and Perez are both slick fielders, but struggle mightily when up to bat. If the Tigers are forced to play either of these two for significant portions of the World Series, they could be in trouble. Infante and Gomez both have good skill sets, and are versatile off the bench. Infante can play second, short, or third, and has enough power and speed to be a threat in all facets of the game. Gomez had a huge Game 2 in Oakland, but Tiger fans shouldn't expect that type of showing on a routine basis.
With a left-field platoon that mixes Preston Wilson, Scott Spiezio, and Chris Duncan, the Cardinals have some solid offensive options remaining on their bench. All three players are capable of driving the ball out of the park, and Spiezio carries the added versatility of being able to play third in a pinch. Backup infielder Aaron Miles and outfielder So Taguchi have both been very good in limited playoff action, and both provide Manager Tony LaRussa with legitimate pinch-hitting options late in games. Utility guy John Rodriguez and backup catcher Gary Bennett are unlikely to see much action in the series. Taguchi and Duncan have both provided late game heroics in the playoffs so far, and both are trusted performers who could see time at designated hitter during the World Series.
Advantage: St. Louis
St. Louis Manager Tony LaRussa and Detroit Manager Jim Leyland are very close friends, and both tend to be very similar within the context of the game. With both having experienced playoff and World Series success on numerous occasions, neither should be hesitant to make instant decisions and bold moves to help their teams win games. Both Leyland and LaRussa have demonstrated a willingness to play hunches and work outside the box in the past, and that should be a continuing trend in the October Classic. One advantage for LaRussa is the likeliness that he won't have to work as much to settle his team down. The Tigers are new to the post season, and have been waiting on pins and needles all week to get this series underway. Expect Leyland to have to do some significant work to keep the Detroit crew calm and collected; at least heading into Game 1.
While both teams faultered down the stretch, they've turned it around and are playing some of their best baseball in the post season. The pitching staffs have carried both teams to this point, and I expect this series to be tightly fought, with teams scratching for runs on a regular basis. The Tigers have faced a bit stiffer challenge on their road to the World Series, and have rolled along without much trouble. If the Tiger bats can remain hot after a week off, they should take home their first World Series title since 1984.
Prediction: Tigers in 6