Motown has more muscle

Originally Published: October 20, 2006
By Keith Law | Scouts Inc.

Two teams that decided to mail in absentee ballots for their post-Labor Day games meet in one of the least-anticipated World Series ever. You can make a reasonable argument that we're going to see the fourth-best team in the American League against the sixth- or seventh-best team in the National League, and we've got very few players involved with any kind of star power to draw in the casual fan. I think we're about to get a graphic depiction of how much worse the National League is than the American League.

When the Cardinals are up

• The book on pitching to these guys is so well-known it's practically in the public domain. Preston Wilson and Juan Encarnacion both showed they're looking fastball in any count and will chase hard stuff out of the strike zone when they're behind in the count (and sometimes when they're ahead too). Jim Edmonds will see a lot of breaking balls from the Tigers' left-handed starters. Scott Rolen will get pounded with hard stuff up. And Albert Pujols probably won't get much to hit at all, at least not in any situation where he can hurt the Tigers with a homer. (By the way, why aren't the media calling Pujols a non-clutch choker after his one-RBI performance in the NLCS? Why aren't people arguing that the Cardinals would be better off if they had traded him?)

Catcher
St. Louis Cardinals

Profile
2006 POSTSEASON
AVG HR RBI R OBP SLG
.333 2 7 2 .385 .556
Yadier Molina's improbable NLCS performance should come to a halt, assuming the Tigers were paying any attention. Look for the Tigers to go hard in on him, preventing him from going the other way as he did through most of the series against the Mets.

• Look for plenty of action for Jamie Walker, as the Cardinals' primary pinch-hitting options are all left-handed (except for So Taguchi).

When the Tigers are up

• The Cardinals' starters all throw strikes, and the Tigers' hitters don't take a lot of pitches. I'm expecting a ton of balls in play when the Tigers are up, and given their speed and the sheer randomness of the process, that's going to mean a lot of men on base even without free passes.

• Besides Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals don't have a starter with a plus fastball. I expect the Tigers to put a few more balls in the seats, which has been a big part of their October success.

• On the flip side, several Cardinals pitchers (Carpenter, most of the relievers, Jeff Suppan with his changeup) have good secondary pitches and are willing to use them, which doesn't bode well for some of the Tigers' fastball-or-bust hitters, including Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames.

• Don't expect many stolen bases by either club; this series features two of the best-throwing everyday catchers in baseball.

Keys for the Cardinals

• The Cardinals have three starters who probably wouldn't last a month in an American League rotation. Getting similar stints out of them in the World Series as they got in the NLCS will be difficult, but it's going to be nearly impossible for St. Louis to win if they don't, because they're not strong enough to win slugfests against Detroit.

• St. Louis' relievers, particularly Josh Kinney, Randy Flores and Adam Wainwright, played critical roles in the NLCS, pitching extremely well in high-leverage situations. Since the Cards aren't likely to run away and hide in any of these games, getting more of the same from these three relievers is going to be a huge part of any Cardinals victory.

• Working the count. That's not something the Cardinals do well, but if you want to beat Justin Verlander or Jeremy Bonderman, you have to make them work, something neither the Yankees nor the A's did in their losses to those two starters. The Cardinals' lineup is not built for that approach, and it's hard to see them doing it effectively enough to win those games.

Keys for the Tigers

• Get to them early. The Cardinals' starters have all had their struggles in the first inning, particularly Carpenter. Scoring a few first-inning runs and running up the starter's pitch count is always a good strategy, but it's particularly important against Carpenter, Suppan and Jeff Weaver, all of whom have shown they can settle into a groove if given the opportunity.

Relief Pitcher
Detroit Tigers

Profile
2006 POSTSEASON
W L ERA IP BB K
0 0 0.00 3.2 1 4

• Six good innings. If the Tigers can continue to get quality starts out of each of their four starters and then hand leads over to Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney in the seventh, they'll win the series. Although that's not a realistic goal in most cases, the Tigers are about to face the weakest offense of the three they've faced this month, so if they could do it against Oakland and the Yankees, they should be able to do it against St. Louis.

• Don't get cute. The talent mismatch in this series is substantial. The Tigers need to avoid the temptation to try to play small ball or mess around with their lineup. What has worked for them all month should continue to work for them in the next 10 days.

Prediction

The one sure thing for this series is that the ratings will be terrible. The 11th- and 21st-largest media markets, only one or two really recognizable stars, and a widely held belief that at least one of these teams isn't World Series-worthy are adding up to a major pre-Series buzz kill. They'll play the games whether or not anyone's watching, though, and I don't see how this Cardinals team could hang on against the superior pitching and offense of any American League representative, least of all one with the pitching depth of the Tigers. The expected return of Zumaya makes it a little more of a mismatch, although I still think they would win this series without him. Tigers in five.

Keith Law, formerly the special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc.

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