Saturday, October 21, 2006


St. Louis Cardinals @ Detroit Tigers

Game 1
Detroit, Michigan

Anthony Reyes (5-8, 5.06ERA; o-1, 4.50 postseason) vs.
Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.63ERA; 1-0, 5.91 postseason)

In the immortal words of Ice Cube in his epic anthem "N***a You Love to Hate": Once again it's on!

The Fall Classic gets underway tonight and it should be a great series if all the telltale signs hold true. On the one hand you have the upstart new kids on the playoff block, Detroit, who have overcome all odds to make it to this point just 3 seasons after losing a mind-boggling, near-record 119 games. The Tigers have a great balance of young guns (Verlander, Bonderman, Zumaya), old horses (Rogers, Jones) and a bunch of talented hitters both young and old (Monroe, Granderson, Rodriguez, Polanco, Ordonez), but this is their first trip to the big dance since 1984 and their first postseason berth since 1987, so needless to say other than the vets like Jones, Rogers & Pudge-less, they are a bit green in this setting.

On the other side you have the wily veteran playoff squad, St. Louis, who were just in the Series two years ago, albeit with a horrendous result (4-0 Bosox sweep, anyone?) But this is a team that knows its business, and that business is playoff baseball. The Cards have been in the postseason 6 out of the past 7 years and have a number of playoff vets (Rolen, Pujols, Carpenter, Suppan, Eckstein) throughout their roster. Simply put these guys are not about to be intimidated by playing on the game's biggest stage; it remains to be seen if the Tiger cubs will be or not.

There are also some great storylines to watch out for: the friendship between the 2 managers, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony LaRussa, who have been buddies for decades, will be beaten to death by FOX and other networks, but it does create an interesting angle. Both of these leaders are considered the best in the game, and what Leyland has done with the Tigers this year is nothing short of managerial brilliance; ironically both are vying to become only the 2nd manager in history to win a Series in 2 Leagues, joining Sparky Anderson, who accomplished the feat with the '75& '76 Big Red Machine & that magical 1984 Tiger team.
Other points of interest will be the heat of the young Tiger pitchers, especially 100mph blowtorch Joel Zumaya; the play of Phat Albert Pujols, who had an off-series in the NLCS, production-wise(1HR, 1RBI) and will be out to show why he is the best player in the game;the leadership of Tiger catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who left the Marlins after their Championship 3 years ago to join this (then) terrible team and bring it to the promised land; and can Chris Carpenter, the probable Cy Young winner this year, bounce back from 2 shaky LCS outings and carry this raw pitching staff on his shoulders?

So who will come out on top? The team with the best record in baseball for 3/4 of the season(DET), or the team that tanked a 7 game lead down the stretch, limped into the playoffs, and became the team with the 2nd worst record (83-78 Cards) to make it to the Series?
Only one way to find out- let's break it down:
This is the area that the Tigers have the clear advantage, as the Stanks and A's found out in the two previous series. Detroit lead the majors in ERA in the regular season & continues to do so in the postseason(2.92.) The deep starting staff includes hard-throwing Game 1 starter Verlander, tough-as-nails Jeremey Bonderman, nasty Nate Robertson, and old playoff warhorse Kenny Rogers, who has turned around a miserable postseason past with a marvelous 2006 campaign (2-0, 0.00ERA.) The bullpen is spectacular as well, with the double-barrelled shotgun of Fernando Rodney & Joel Zumaya, both capable of hitting triple digits on the gun, and closer Todd Jones, who has been lights-out in the postseason (3 saves, no ERs) and will not wilt under pressure.
The Cards will have to rely on rookie Anthony Reyes to do the job in Game 1 because the last series went the full 7 and their aces, Chris Carpenter & Jeff Suppan, will not be available until Games 3 & 4 back in St. Louie. Reyes becomes the pitcher with the least amount of regular season wins to start a Game 1 (5.) After Reyes the Cards will pin their hopes on the erratic arm of Jeff Weaver. Although he has redeemed his miserable regular season (8-14, 5.76 w/ 2 teams) with a terrific postseason (2-1, 2,16), he still isn't someone I would want to have to win a Game 2, especially if they lose tonight. After those 2 you get to the best St. Louis has to offer, Carpenter (15-8, 3.09; 2-1, 3.70) and Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.12; 1-1, 1.86), both crafty vets who will not be fazed by either a Cardinal deficit or lead. From there things get shaky: the bull pen is a hodgepodge of kids who have banded together well so far this postseason but could very well crumble under the weight of the WS spotlight. The best of the bunch is newly installed rookie closer Adam Wainwright, who has filled in admirably for Jason Isringhausen and had an awesome outing in the Cards clinching Game 7 vs. New York; ask Carlos Beltran how filthy his breaking ball is.
The Tigers and Cards come into this one with banged up infielders, For Detroit 1B Sean Casey could be back in the lineup after injuring his calf in the ALDS, but possible only as a DH at first.
For St. Louis 3B Scott Rolen has a bad shoulder which has severely hampered his hitting (.188 in playoffs) and his normally steady fielding (1 error, numerous misplays), and SS David Eckstein is also not 100% with various ailments.
-1B: Phat Albert Pujols, last year & this years' probable MVP, against Carlos Guillen, who moves from his natural SS to fill in for Casey. Hmm, wonder who gets that edge?
-2B:Detroit's Placido Polanco was the ALCS MVP and he has had a blistering postseason(.471) and plays a mean second base. The Cards counter with Ronnie Belliard, a midseason pickup from Cleveland who has played well, if not spectacularly in the playoffs. EDGE: DET
-3B: Brandon Inge has been a sparkplug with his bat (big HR in Gm1 of the ALCS) & glove( lunging dive into the stands to shag a foul ball in Gm3.) Rolen has the bigger bat & better glove, WHEN HEALTHY, so this one could be a wash. EDGE: EVEN
-SS: Eckstein is hurting and has that ridiculous windmill motion to first base, but he's a sparkplug who won it all with the Angels 4 years ago, so he's got the know how. With Guillen covering 1st, the Tigers may have to rely on unproven Ramon Santiago- YIKES. EDGE: STL
-C: Yadier Molina won Game 7 for the Cards with his dramatic 9th inning HR on Thursday so he is the man of the hour right now. But Pudge-less Rodriguez has the experience, arm, bat, and intangibles to be the proven leader of this team. No contest. EDGE: DET
-CF: The Cards' Jim Edmonds hasn't had a great postseason as he recovers from post-concussion syndrome, but when he's healthy he's one of the best in the game. No one can match him on highlight catches in center, not even Torii Hunter. For Detroit they have had a great output from young stud Curtis Granderson(.313, 3HRs, 7RBI), who is emerging as a star for this Tiger team. But he is a youngster, so he may not adjust as well as Edmonds to the intense glare of the Series lights. EDGE: STL
-RF: Juan Encarnacion hasn't delivered the big plays that the Cards were hoping for when they signed him from the Marlins, where he won it all with Pudge & Leyland in '03; so far he is hitting .222 in the playoffs. For Detroit Magglio Ordonez is coming off of that game winning HR in the ALCS GM 4 finale, so he's riding high. Plus he's a better player. EDGE: DET
-LF: A committee approach for LaRussa should have playoff hero So Taguchi (4-4, 2 HRs) in the lineup for Game 1, but Preston Wilson & Chris Duncan will also log time there this series. For Detroit Craig Monroe has taken over for Marcus Thames and has also emerged as a rising star (.300, 3HR, 7RBI) this postseason. The Tigers also have young Alexis Gomez, the hero of their game 2 victory over Oakland. EDGE: DET
The managers are pretty much a wash. Both are experienced in these situations and both are considered to be masters of managing a rotation & lineup. Leyland has seemed to make every right decision so far this postseason, while LaRussa seems to be a little off of his usual sharp game handling tactics. EDGE: EVEN
Detroit has the home field and would have even without the stupid All Star Game rule, and 17 of the past 20 teams with homefield advantage have won it all. Not to mention the temps will be in the 30's & 40's with possible snow, so there's another advantage. EDGE: DET
The Tigers may have to contend with some Game 1 rust after not having played since last Sunday. Meanwhile the Cards are fresh off their grueling 7 gamer vs. the Mets and just got into town yesterday. They'll either be jet-lagged, tired & groggy, or ready to keep the momentum from Thursday night going. EDGE: EVEN
And last but not least the Tigers seem to be that destined team that comes along every once in awhile that defies logic, wins in numerous ways, and always seems to make the right moves. They have that something special that is reminding everyone of what it was like when the team with the English script 'D' on their unis ruled the game. And

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