x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rangers and Cardinals been bailed out by the bullpens

Both teams have made up for the poor form of pitchers but can they sustain is the question.

For years, we have been told that nothing is more important than the starting pitchers. Evidently, however, someone forgot to tell the Texas Rangers and St Louis Cardinals.

The Rangers and Cardinals, who begin the World Series tonight, won their respective pennants without much in the way of contributions from their starters.

The Texas rotation had a collective 6.59 earned run average (ERA) during the American League Championship Series. Incredibly, the Cardinals won the National League title over the Milwaukee Brewers with a starters' ERA that was even higher, at 7.03.

Instead, the teams relied on their bullpens to bail them out. Both teams' relievers had an ERA of under 2.00, and the Cardinals actually got more innings out of their bullpen than they did from their starting pitchers.

Of course, it helped that the two teams were able to mash. The Cardinals scored 43 runs - a tick over seven per game - in the NLCS while the Rangers scored 39 for an average of 6.5 runs per contest.

Texas have table-setters in Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus at the top of their line-up, with a fearsome middle of the order featuring Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Adrian Beltre.

Young slumped until Game 6 when he knocked in five runs and Hamilton has been somewhat limited by two groin pulls, first suffered in September.

Nonetheless, the heart of the order is dangerous, made even more so by the presence of Nelson Cruz, who proved to be a one-man wrecking crew in the ALCS.

Cruz set a record with six homers in the series and also established a new mark for most RBI (13) in a single post-season series. That the Rangers can have him in the lower third of the batting order speaks of their tremendous depth.

The Cardinals are led, naturally, by Albert Pujols, who has been his otherworldly self in this post-season. Thanks to some time lost to injury, Pujols saw his string of 100 RBI seasons come to an end during the regular season, but he has been his usual menacing self in October, averaging nearly an RBI per game while compiling a 1.211 OPS.

Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday represent tough outs, but the Cardinals' secret offensive weapon is David Freese, the third baseman, who came seemingly out of nowhere to capture the NLCS MVP.

Game 1 will feature a match-up between the Texas left hander, CJ Wilson, and the Cardinals ace, Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter was masterful in out-duelling Philadelphia's Roy Halliday in a classic Game 5 in the NLCS, but less effective in the next round.

Wilson, too, has been inconsistent at a time when a big post-season could increase his value on the free agent market this winter.

It is an open question how much both bullpens will have left for the series, given their workloads in the League Championship Series.

The Rangers rate a slight edge in depth in this department, though the specific match-up of line-up versus relievers might favour the Cards.

The Cardinals, who stood ten-and-a-half games out of a play-off spot in the final week of August, are a team playing with no pressure.

"It's kind of surreal that we're here,'' said Freese in the celebration which followed the pennant-clinching game on Sunday night in Milwaukee.

In contrast, the Rangers made it a goal in spring training to return to the World Series for a second successive year and help erase the sting of last year's loss to the San Francisco Giants.

They are not satisfied with being the first team in a decade to repeat as league champions - this time, they want it all.

THE MATCH-UP

Offence
In general, American League teams have a considerable edge over their National League counterparts when it comes to offensive strength and this match-up is no different. The Cardinals might have the game’s best hitter in Albert Pujols, right, but the Rangers have a far deeper, more powerful line-up. Need proof? The Rangers’ Nelson Cruz, who set a record with six homers in the ALCS, bats seventh in the Texas batting order. Edge: Texas

Starting pitching
Improbably, neither team got much out of their starting pitchers in the League Championship Series, with only one Texas starter getting past the fifth inning while the Cardinals got more outs from their bullpen than their starting pitchers. The Cardinals might have the single-best starter in the series in Chris Carpenter but the ace has been out of form, while the Rangers have the advantage in quantity. Edge: Texas

Relief pitching
St Louis relievers compiled a 1.88 ERA in the NLCS and essentially won the series for the Cardinals, with just over 28 innings of relief – an average of nearly five innings per game. Lefties Arthur Rhodes and Mark Rzepczynski would play big roles in neutralising Josh Hamilton. But Texas have a more dominant and experienced closer in Neftali Feliz and converted starter Alexi Ogando can provide multiple innings in the middle. Edge: Texas

Bench
The Rangers boast two speedy reserves in the outfield, but National League teams, by definition (no designated hitter), rely more on their bench over the course of the year. Tony La Russa has quality role players in Nick Punto, Ryan Theriot and Allen Craig, the latter of whom can play everywhere but shortstop and catcher. Edge: St Louis
* Sean McAdam

sports@thenational.ae