Archive for October 21st, 2006

Saturday: 10.21.2006

The Preview

If you had told me in March, when I started this blog that my post on October 21st would be a World Series preview involving the Detroit Tigers, I would have laughed. The fact of the matter is, I expected improvement from my team this season, but no one could’ve imagined this kind of success. That said, I’m absolutely ecstatic to be here writing this preview.

Both of these teams entered the playoffs on a sour note. We all know how the Tigers lost out on a division crown, instead settling for a wildcard berth after dropping three straight to the Kansas City Royals. Meanwhile, the Cardinals had to hang on for dear life as the Houston Astros charged and nearly swiped the divsion away from them. St. Louis was 12-16 in September and were swept by the Astros in four games from September 21-24. That is all history now, of course, as both teams have thoroughly disproved the notion that September momentum matters.

The Rotations
Having defeated the “Best Lineup Ever Assembled” and powering a sweep of the Athletics is bound to draw some attention to a rotation. The praise has been merited as the Tigers showed that their league-best ERA in the regular season was no fluke. Justin Verlander draws most of the press, though he hasn’t been anywhere near the most effective of the foursome. In fact, he and Nate Robertson have matching 5.91 earned run averages in their 10 and 2/3 innings of work apiece. Still, Verlander is being handed the ball in game one. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I trust Verlander enough to be effective aganist a struggling lineup that features one bonafide threat. On the other hand, both Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers have been more effective and have more veteran presence than the rookie. As has been the case with these playoffs, I’ll let Jim Leyland make the call and wait for the results. Dual lefties in the form of Rogers and Robertson will follow Verlander with Bonderman pitching game four. I do take issue with Bonderman set up to pitch just once in the series, but again, with each passing game it becomes increasingly tougher to question Leyland. Rogers has not only held New York and Oakland scoreless in 15 innings, but he has notched 14 strikeouts as well. Bonderman, usually a strikeout pitcher, seems to have switched roles with Rogers as he has half as many punchouts as the old man.

The Cardinals will match the Tigers in game one. Not only will they also throw a rookie, but Anthony Reyes holds the highest earned run average amongst Cardinals starters in the playoffs. Of course the similarities stop there, Reyes is a talented young arm, but is a far cry from Verlander. He has pitched just once in these playoffs and lasted just four innings. He walked four and allowed three hits in a no-decision. His flyball tendencies got the best of him in that playoff start with two home runs allowed. A flyball pitcher against a home-run hitting team could prove costly. Following Reyes is former Detroit Tiger Jeff Weaver. Weaver has been excellent during the playoffs after an abysmal season split between Los Angeles and St. Louis. In three starts, Weaver is 2-1 with a 2.16 earned run average and 1.14 WHIP. He has not been dominating with just five strikeouts in 16 and 2/3 innings, but he has avoided walking too many (7) and kept the ball in the park by allowing just one home run. I’m sure the mainstream press will hype up his return to Detroit as extra incentive as well. The Cardinals most talented pitcher, Chris Carpenter, will go third while LCS MVP Jeff Suppan will be relegated to just one game as he finds himself in the four slot after coming up huge in the deciding game against the Mets. Of course, without him, the Cardinals wouldn’t be here. Suppan has a 1.86 earned run average in 19 and a third innings of work. For all the mettle shown by this staff in their two series so far, they lack one key ingredient that would allow them to exploit the Tigers: they don’t strike many hitters out. Of the three starters with three or more starts in the playoffs, only Carpenter has hit double digits in strikeouts and even his rate is only 6.3 per nine innings.

Edge: Detroit – and it isn’t that close. With Suppan only going once and Reyes a complete wildcard, the Tigers hold a serious edge here.

The Bullpens
If anything has received more press than the Tigers rotation in the playoffs, it has been their bullpen. Led by the explosive Joel Zumaya, the six-man crew have allowed a whole four runs in 19 and 2/3 innings work (1.83 ERA) and consistently worked out of jams. No jam was bigger than the one Jason Grilli dug in clincher against the A’s, and yet Wilfredo Ledezma pulled him out of it. Todd Jones has made it exciting at times, including loaded the bases in game two against Oakland with Frank Thomas bearing down on him, but he has kept teams scoreless in five appearances and notched three saves. Say what you will about Jonesy, and I’ve said plenty including this tirade on June 15th, but he has gotten the job done in these playoffs. The aforementioned star of the pen, Zumaya, was unavailable for most of the Oakland series making the week off something to cheer for as he is now back and ready to go as needed. Jamie Walker, the lefty specialist, has been the least effective of the relievers allowing two of the four runs. Still you should expect to see him in key at-bats against the likes of Jim Edmonds.

The Cardinals have ran out seven different arms on various occasions during these playoffs and received mixed results. Their closer, Adam Wainwright, has been very effective with three saves of his own. He has held his opponents scoreless in six and two-thirds innings with 10 strikeouts against just one walk. He and Tyler Johnson have both been strikeout pitchers in these playoffs. Johnson, a lefty, has 11 in six and one-thirds innings and racked up four holds. Randy Flores is more of a situational lefty, like Walker for Detroit. On the other end, Braden Looper, Brad Thompson and Josh Hancock have allowed 11 runs in nine and two-thirds innings for a 10.24 earned run average. Coincidentally enough, 10/24 is my birthday! I forgot to mention Josh Kinney. He has come pretty much out of nowhere to deliver some very effective innings.

Edge: Detroit – and it’s because of Zumaya. His dominance gives the Tigers a slight edge in the department by my estimation. I’m not especially sold on Johnson or Kinney. Wainwright has been excellent, but he is the only one I think they can count on unconditionally.

The Infields
Word is that Sean Casey will be ready to go after recovering from a torn calf muscle, another good reason for the week off. That means, the infield will be at full strength for the first time since game one of the Oakland series. Casey’s return to first base will put Carlos Guillen back at shortstop with Placido Polanco and Brandon Inge holding their normal spots at 2nd and 3rd base, respectively. Team leader, Ivan Rodriguez, remains the stalwart behind the plate. Offensively, Polanco and Guillen have carried the team with key hit after key hit and the ability to get on base at whatever cost. They are sporting .514 and .424 on-base percentages and have combined for 36 total bases. Inge broke out of his funk from the New York series to hit .333 against Oakland and totaled an equal number of walks and strikeouts (three). Rodriguez has been the least effective of all Detroit hitters with a .172/.242/.310 line.

The infield for St. Louis has produced a fair bit of their offense. Albert Pujols has been excellent as expected while Ronnie Belliard and Yadier Molina have picked up the slack for the rest of the team. David Eckstein, arguably baseball’s most overrated player, has been held down to the tune of a .195 average. I’ll have the barf bag ready in the top of the first when Tim McCarver starts waxing poetic about how gritty and tough of a baseball Eckstein is for the Cardinals. Shoot me already. He’s no slouch, but he isn’t half as good as every announcer makes him out to be. Meanwhile, Scott Rolen has been mired in turmoil about injuries, playing time and apparent spats with manager Tony LaRussa. He’s hitting a paltry .188 with no runs driven in during these playoffs.

Edge: Detroit – I’m starting to look like a homer by giving Detroit the edge everywhere, but if I truly thought the Cardinals held an edge in one of these first three breakdowns, I’d give them the nod. Pujols is the best hitter between both teams, but he can be pitched around given how poorly the bulk of the Cardinals’ lineup is performing. Meanwhile, Polanco has been white-hot is the toughest out on either team coming into this World Series. He will be the catalyst again.

The Outfields
I actually suggested maybe moving Curtis Granderson from the leadoff spot right around the beginning of the playoffs because of his strikeouts. I’m an idiot. He has been great this October and actually drawn more walks than strikeouts (four to three). His three home runs have him tied for the team lead and he has two of the team’s three playoff stolen bases. Flanking him have been two key players as well. I can’t say enough about the defensive performance of Craig Monroe making catch after catch, then you turn around and realize he’s mashing at the plate as well. Only Granderson’s 23 total bases top Monroe’s 21 and C-Mo has also scored the most runs with eight and ties for the team lead with three home runs. Soon-to-be-elected Mayor of Detroit, Magglio Ordonez rounds out the trio. His three home runs make it a three-way tie between the outfielders for the team lead in the playoffs. Of course, though the number is the same, many would agree that Ordonez is the home run leader as his two in the clincher tied, then won the game. The three outfielders have 69% of the team’s 13 postseason home runs. Ordonez is hitting just .250, but four of his eight hits have been for extra bases.

The outfield features the other former Detroit Tiger to call St. Louis home. Juan Encarnacion spent five seasons with Detroit before being traded to Cincinnati for Dmitri Young. He and his outfield mates have put on quite a lackluster performance offensively this October. Jim Edmonds has used his excellent eye to draw seven walks and post a .395 on-base percentage, but his two home runs account for all the power from the regulars in the outfield. Preston Wilson and Scott Spiezio have drawn an equal number of starts and in turn, been equally ineffective. Edmonds is the most capable by a long shot and could be a huge factor in an otherwise listless bunch. He and Pujols are the biggest threats, but Duncan, Encarnacion, Spiezio and Wilson all have legitimate power.

Edge: Detroit – by arguably their biggest advantage in any of the breakdowns. Their outfield is functioning on all cylinders, while St. Louis doesn’t even have a set three to put out there everyday.

The Benches
With 42 no-hit middle infielders on the bench, the Tigers will be tested in St. Louis with the pitcher batting. Alexis Gomez and Marcus Thames both offer significant power while Omar Infante, Neifi Perez and Ramon Santiago offer next to nothing offensively. Chris Shelton could have been added to the roster, but only as a replacement of Santiago, however he was not. Vance Wilson will back up Pudge, but has yet to swing a bat in the playoffs.

Being that they are built for National League baseball, the Cardinals do have a deeper bench. It is comprised of Gary Bennett, Chris Duncan, Aaron Miles, John Rodriguez, So Taguchi and one of Spiezio or Wilson when games are played in St. Louis. Taguchi’s hot streak has earned him a start in tonight’s first game, meaning both Spiezio and Wilson be coming off the bench as Duncan has been slotted to DH.

Edge: St. Louis – it is not only comprised of better players, but it doesn’t feature Neifi Perez, that alone is a signifcant edge.

Obviously I like the Detroit Tigers to take this series. However, at the beginning of the playoffs, I predicted that a serious injury to Orlando Hernandez would open the door for the Cardinals into the series, meaning I’m not at all discounting them. I think this thing goes six with the Tigers winning it at home for the city of Detroit. The power pitching combined with the timely hitting and sparkling defense will be too much for this Cardinals team. St. Louis does have the best hitter in the series with Pujols and the best starter with Carpenter, but it will not be enough to tame the Tigers.

Preview Central:
Tiger Tales
Tiger Blog
Mack Avenue Tigers
Where Have Gone, Johnny Grubb?
Detroit Tigers Weblog
Ken Rosenthal
Baseball Analysts
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Musings
Hardball Times
CBS Sportsline
Yahoo! Sports
Viva El Birdos
Cardinals Diaspora
Get Up Baby