October 2011

“Show Me” the way to a “Lone Star” champion

2011wsIt all comes down to this.

Two unlikely league victors do battle for the top spot in the greatest sport on Earth. One is a wild card, literally. The Cardinals were just an afterthought until September, but have beaten the best get here. The season has come fairly easy to the Rangers.They have been at the top virtually all year, but still were counted out when the pressure was on.

Well, the bright lights are on and all the naysayers sitting at home can only sit back and watch. Hopefully, they’ll watch because this isn’t exactly a must-see, casual baseball fan chomping at the bit type of World Series. But it should be. The Cardinals and Rangers deserve to play in this. Even though St. Louis does have 56 World Series game victories and Texas just has one, the two are near equivalents on the field. The 107th edition of the Fall Classic will indeed be one to remember.

It’s written the stars.

Only these aren’t a million miles away. Actually, they’re just 650 miles apart; the distance between Arlington and St. Louis.

Both lineups are full of star power. From top-to-bottom, they each sport a deep lineup.

With Ian Kinsler and David Murphy, the Rangers have guys that get on base. Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young bring them in.

Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina have been heating up for the Cardinals, while Jon Jay and David Freese have emerged as clutch performers.

If each had their go-to star, though, it’s Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz.

Pujols is Pujols. It can only be predicted, on baseball’s biggest stage, that he will deliver and adapt to anything thrown at him. Pujols tallied six extra-base hits and nine RBI in the NLCS. So, he’s going to do what he does best. After all, he is a machine.

Cruz is Cruz. He’s quite intriguing. The power hitter does just as the title suggests and Cruz surely made a name for himself with clutch HRs in the postseason. That’s exactly what it takes to win this time of year. Cruz has proven he has it and a .364 ALCS BA.

While the offenses are potent, pitching will do its best to silence the bats. Both staffs surely can.

Nothing really jumps out about the starting pitching.

Chris Carpenter

and

C.J. Wilson

are the aces and get the nod for Game 1. Carpenter is the more polished of the two and has found his success already with a complete game shut out of the Phillies in the NLDS. Wilson, on the other hand, has found his way into struggles. He’s pitched just over 15 innings in the postseason, but has surrendered 14 earned run. The bullpens are relatively dismal but each has guys that are trusted to get the job done. It’s Mike Adams, Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver versus Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas and Arthur Rhodes. A unique mix of old and young may give way in the Rangers favor.

At the end of the day, there really couldn’t be a more evenly matched match up. The everyday lineup of the Rangers proves to be stronger. Especially after losing it last year, they’re hungry to fit a shiny ring on their finger. The Cardinals seem to be more consistent, all around. The “us against the world” mentality is working for them. I think it will in the end, too.

St. Louis in six.

photo credits: betvega.com, yahoo.com, nyd.com, redbirdrants.com, bronxbaseballdaily.com, freeextras.com

Capping off 161

By now, we all know what happened. In fact, we’ll never forget it.

September 28, 2011 was a baseball lover’s dream. In make or break games, the true stars shined and those watching were priveleged to witness the game being played for a reason. Four teams were battling for their lives. The chance to keep playing the game they love, the game we love to pay and sacrifice to watch. They made sure the fans in the stands and the millions watching at home got their moneys worth.

It took extra innings, but the Braves couldn’t hang with the Phillies to live another day. Even when Philadelphia was bringing in their second hand specialties, Atlanta couldn’t get the job done. The Phillies really had nothing to play for. They had their playoff berth wrapped up weeks ago. But, Michael Martinez running in an all out sprint to deep center field to rob Chipper Jones of the walk off RBI showed that a fighting effort, day in and day out, is really the lifeblood of being a baseball player. That passion was just a small step against the favor of the Braves.

On the other side of the National League coin, The Cardinals did their part. But, before they could enjoy a politically correct Budweiser shower, they had to go out and dominant the lowly Astros. They did and when have to wait for a couple excruciating hours to see the Braves blow their chance of picking up the Wild Card or at least forcing a one-game playoff. It took an 8-0 win in convincing style for St. Louis to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Evan Longoria’s magical game assured the Rays would live to see October baseball in St. Pete. Actually, an improbable comeback by the Rays guaranteed another round of playoff baseball in Tropicana Field. They surmounted an unsurmountable 7-0 deficit in the 8th inning against the Yankees. Dan Johnson forced extras, and Longoria further etched his name in Rays lore with a grand slam, earlier in the game, and a walk off blast in the 12th inning.

Just a few minutes, literally, a few minutes later Big Papi was more upset than he was at the above balls and strikes call. Mother Nature finally let up in Baltimore and the sure-fire Red Sox win gave way to perhaps the most heartbreaking loss in franchise history. After all, whenever Jonathon Papelbon enters a game, especially one as high-pressured as clinching a playoff spot, its a guaranteed win. Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino made their names known and Carl Crawford made his tarnished. Then, this happened.

With the talk of Boston squandering a sizable lead in the final month of September and the drama surrounding the aforementioned Crawford, along with his manager, well, ex-manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein have floated on thin ice. The collapse of the Red Sox has taken over the MLB world. Questions of how could this happen? And, where do we go from here? They overshadowed the real praises of the night. The Baltimore Orioles pulled an improbable upset in front of a “home” crowd that was draped in red with hints of blue. Just look at them up there, playing the game of baseball the way it was meant to be played. It’d be hard to guess that it’s a 69-93 team on the final day of the season. Just a group of grown men, celebrating with the lifeblood of children. They may have been the real heroes of the night.

A night we will never forget.

photo credits: upi.com, jimrome.com, everyjoe.com, ajc.com, baltimore.com

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