If you happen to read this blog on a regular basis (thanks to both of you!) you might be a little surprised that with all of this great baseball happening I haven't said word one about what's going on in this year's MLB playoffs. Well the plain truth is that like a lot of fans and guys that actually play the game, your boy is very, very superstitious. Especially when it comes to my favorite team, the Detroit Tigers. If I were a proper journalist, I suppose I would have to eventually learn to wean myself off of the love I have for my favorite teams, but as is I can't help but be a fan first, writer second, and as a result I've had to keep quiet on the baseball playoffs while the Tigers were still fighting with the Yankees and Rangers, trying to reach their first World Series since a loss in 2006 to the St. Louis Cardinals.
It basically comes down to what ol' Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh in 'Bull Durham': never fuck with a winning streak. The Tigers were on one and in the myopic mind state of a dedicated Tigers fan, I had the feeling that if I started to gloat, comment, or complain about anything that had to do with the AL playoffs, I would somehow initiate some kind of new, alternate universe where my comments would eventually screw the Tigers over. Turns out, they went ahead and did that to themselves, so I am now free to say anything I care to about the MLB playoffs and give the world my two cents on how I think things will shake out in the 2011 World Series, which is set to begin less than an hour from now.
I could start with all of the usually effusive stuff that comes to my mind every year around playoff and World Series time, but if you want to go back and read about why I think that baseball is so pure and romantic and makes me go all school-girl silly, you can do that at another date. Instead, lets just get right to what led us to this year's World Series match-up and how I think it will affect how the Series plays out. The first thing I noticed watching the AL side of the things? The Texas Rangers line-up is really, really good. Top to bottom, there are threats for big hits or the long ball, and there aren't many teams in the league outside of New York City that can make that claim. It's why the Rangers just did the boys from Motown dirty and why they ended up in the World Series, because although their starting pitching has been solid, it has not been incredible, which is usually the case for a team that makes a deep playoff run. Oh yeah, and one Nelson Cruz is absolutely on fire. Not bad for a guy in the bottom third of your line-up.
The Rangers' starting pitching staff has been just good enough, performing at a level just high enough to let their big bats and their bullpen do all of the talking. Like I said before, I'm a huge Detroit Tigers fan and that has screwed with my bias to some extent, but as I watched, I definitely noticed that the Rangers are flat out better this year. I don't think that there pitching is better than Detroit's, but the Tigers found out that even though superior starting pitching always seems to win championships, a team that has a line-up that is as good as the Rangers, adequate starters and a deadly bullpen can still win the day. Sometimes, being able to swing a bat really well can overcome weaknesses in starting pitching, and allow your bullpen to do the lion's share of the work while you crush the ball over the fence and leave your opponent in the dust.
As for the St. Louis Cardinals, I don't think even the most keen-eyed of baseball observers saw them ending up in the World Series. They were left in the middle of the NL Central for much of the season, but got hot at the right time, with a blistering performance down the stretch run of the regular season that carried them to a Wild Card birth on straight through the NL playoffs. The soon to be free agent Albert Pujols, easily the game's best pure hitter, was particularly brilliant, shutting up Nyjer Morgan and his loud-mouthed Twitter account to knock out the Brew Crew and advance to the Series. Unlike the Rangers, the Cardinals do have stellar starting pitching, anchored by their ace Chris Carpenter. The Series will be an interesting contrast in styles, as the Cardinals hope to ride their starters and rely on manager Tony La Russa's manic manipulation of the bullpen to carry them through most games. They also have bats to help with their cause, led by the aforementioned Pujols and augmented by guys like Matt Holliday, who can certainly give the Rangers pitching staff fits on a given night.
For those of you who don't watch baseball on the regular, I think that the most intriguing part of the Series for the casual fan will be the philosophies of the teams' managers, La Russa and the Rangers' Ron Washington. La Russa is the epitome of the cerebral clubhouse guru, willing to do whatever it takes whenever he sees fit to give his team (particularly his pitching staff) the best chance to win. Washington is a shoot-from-the-hip wild west gunslinger in comparison, with the kind of enthusiasm in the dugout and go-for-broke base path strategy that sees the Rangers running whenever a guy gets on base and an improvisational style that can be hard to counteract at times. La Russa may have the rings, laurels, and published accounts of unprecedented shrewdness to accentuate his managerial prowess, but Washington brings an insouciance and will to take risks that was only emboldened by the Rangers' experience in their World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants last year.
As a guy who puts out opinions on the world of sports, I of course have to make my prediction for the Series. As such, I'm taking the Rangers in 5. I won't lie, with the Tigers in the ALCS I definitely watched more of their series with the Rangers than I did the Cardinals/Brewers showdown, so that might have led to a bias towards Texas, but I just think they are the best team on the field right now. That line-up is just absolutely too much to handle for any starting pitching staff, the Cardinals' included. I know La Russa is the mad genius and St. Louis has perhaps the best player of his generation in Albert Pujols, but I like Texas to continue their winning ways and make quick work of the Cardinals. If my Tigers can't be there to avenge their 2006 World Series loss, I'd like to hope that their AL brethren that just sent them back to the Motor City will take care of business. Here's to the World Series, have fun watching and if you never have, go ahead and pop your cherry on what should be an exciting bit of action as fall once again settles in and baseball takes center stage.