Tigers, Cardinals have plenty of positives

Jayson Stark presents five reasons why the Tigers and Cardinals can win the World Series.

Originally Published: October 20, 2006
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

The New York metropolitan area isn't going to get too enthused about this World Series. But apparently, baseball is going to hold this thing anyway.

No hallowed baseball curses that we know of will be placed on the endangered-curse list in this World Series. But apparently, it is still legal to play a World Series even if neither participant is fueled by the emotion of not having won one since somewhere around 1788.

Before Game 1, Jayson Stark talks about why the Tigers will win the World Series.

Roger Clemens won't be making any more "final" starts in this World Series. A.J. Pierzynski won't be allowed to cause any controversies whatsoever in this World Series. And we promise Brad Lidge won't give up a single ninth-inning home run in this World Series.

But you know what? That's OK.

Every World Series is what it is. And there's nothing wrong with this one, whether Derek Jeter thinks so or not.

There is history and tradition to Tigers Versus Cardinals. Bob Gibson-Mickey Lolich kind of history. Dizzy Dean-Schoolboy Rowe kind of history. Nothing wrong with that.

OUTSIDE THE LINES
This Sunday, Outside the Lines examines the nostalgia associated with the the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers, both teams steeped in baseball lore.

Also on Outside The Lines: A report on 1980 World Series hero Willie Mays Aikens, who sits in a federal prison convicted of a drug charge, while many, including Cal Ripken Jr., advocate for his release.

Watch Outside the Lines, Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET on ESPN.

There is managerial intrigue to Tigers Versus Cardinals. Two of our most brilliant and riveting managerial figures, Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa, get to renew their friendship, match brainwaves and duke it out for the honor of joining Sparky Anderson as the only managers ever to win the World Series in each league. Boy, nothing wrong with that, either.

It's a World Series that will match Cy Young (Chris Carpenter) versus Cy Future (Justin Verlander), the Best Hitter on Earth (Albert Pujols) versus The Hardest Thrower on Earth (Joel Zumaya), one bottom-of-the-order home run hero (Brandon Inge) versus another (Jeff Suppan) and, of course, the epic cultural clash between pizza (Tigers owner Mike "Little Caesers" Illitch) versus beer (Busch Stadium, named after Cardinals former owners, Anheuser-Busch). Can't beat any of that.

So when you get right down to it, there's really only one thing wrong with this World Series, as best we can tell:

Pretty much the entire portion of the continent not known as "Missouri" already knows who's going to win it.

And it isn't that team from St. Louis.

We surveyed six of the most incisive scouts we know Friday. Normally, if there's one thing in life we can count on, it's that these six guys won't agree on anything -- not even which Marriott is closest to the ballpark. But they agreed on this:

Magglio Ordonez
Amy Sancetta/AP PhotoMagglio Ordonez and the Tigers head into the World Series as overwhelming favorites over the Cardinals.
The Detroit Tigers should start plotting that World Series parade route right now.

And it wasn't even that all six of them picked the Tigers. It was how they picked the Tigers.

Let's just say these men were even less consumed by doubt than they are about who should be picking up the bar tab. Listen to some of these reviews:

"The only question I have," said an NL scout, "is whether the Cardinals can win a game."

"The only way the Cardinals win," said a scout who covers both leagues, "is if they play perfect baseball."

"The only thing that gives the Cardinals a little hope is the [Tigers' six-day] layoff," said another NL scout. "But there's no rational way you should be saying anything but 'Tigers.' "

"It's hard to imagine that [Cardinals] team winning," said yet another NL scout. "I honestly don't see how Detroit loses this thing."

"That layoff may have done something to quell the Tigers' emotion and momentum," said an AL scout. "But other than that, there's no chance."

Sheez, should we even bother playing this Series? Maybe it's not too late for Fox to tape an emergency "American Idol" marathon.

We listened to these guys make their case. We respect their wisdom. We value their opinions. But we're not convinced.

Not after watching the Cardinals keep finding ways to beat the Padres and Mets over the last two weeks. Not after watching So Taguchi, Jeff Suppan, David Eckstein and Yadier Moina do their David Ortiz imitations in that NLCS.

We've been around long enough to know you should never think any World Series is over before it starts. So we're going to do the kind of professional balancing act we're famous for -- and present five reasons each team can win it all:

Joel Zumaya
Zumaya

Why the Tigers will win

1. The power that be: That Cardinals offense didn't exactly bludgeon the Mets into submission in the NLCS -- and that was against largely a command/finesse/slopball staff. So can they possibly score against a Tigers staff where, apparently, you don't even get meal money unless you throw 97 mph? "They're going to face guys who throw harder than anyone they've faced," said one scout. "Even the middle-inning guys, like [Wilfredo] Ledezma, throw hard. This is a team that swings and misses a lot. So they're going to have to lay off the high fastball, because if they chase it, there's no way they'll catch up to Zumaya, Verlander or [Jeremy] Bonderman."

2. The domination factor: One of our longtime theories is that, to win a World Series, you need a pitching staff that can dominate some area of the game. Either your starters need to dominate the front of the game, or your relievers need to dominate the end. But you'd better do one or the other. The Tigers often do both. But especially, said one scout, "they can play that six-inning game as well as any team in baseball." Zumaya gets all the pub, but the secret weapon is Fernando Rodney, who pumps it up there at 96-97 mph with a stop-the-world changeup. "He can get left-handers and right-handers out, and you can stretch him out over two innings," said an NL scout. "He's one of the best, and most versatile, set-up guys in the American League." Meanwhile, as smart and well-prepared and well-coached as the Cardinals' staff is, what part of the game do they totally dominate? "None," said an AL scout. "Even their best starter [Carpenter] hasn't dominated lately."

3. Give it a rest: "Rest" isn't necessarily a synonym for "rust." And while the Tigers' six-day vacation may have some temporary effect on their offensive rhythm, our guess is that this time off will help the Tigers more than it hurts. It has given one of the most prepared managers alive a week to prepare. It has given Zumaya and Sean Casey a chance to get healthier. And it has given all those live arms a chance to rest and recharge. "I think it helps those power arms," said one scout. "And it gives Zumaya a chance to recover, which is big. The Tigers are actually a lot healthier than the Cardinals. So it really would have been better for the Cardinals to have six days off, but that didn't happen." The big proof that too much is being made of this: Of the previous five teams to have a six-day break before the World Series, four of them won the Series.

4. Albert vs. the world: "I think Albert Pujols is the best player on the planet," says one NL scout. "But the Tigers are just a great team. In the past, you could say that about the Cardinals. But I don't think you can anymore." True, the Cardinals got invaluable contributions from their bench players in the NLCS, especially Taguchi and Chris Duncan. But David Eckstein is batting .195 in the postseason. Preston Wilson, who hits in front of Pujols against left-handers, has as many strikeouts (five) as hits. Scott Rolen is at .188. Juan Encarnacion, who batted cleanup in four of the seven LCS games, is at .222. And while Jim Edmonds had a big Division Series, he hit .227 against the Mets. "One area that really hurts them now," said the same scout, "is the production Rolen, Edmonds and Encarnacion give Albert. If that doesn't change, there's no reason to let Albert beat you."

Pudge Rodriguez
Rodriguez

5. Best in show: Sometimes we tend to complicate this analysis stuff. But maybe it's way more basic than it seems. The Tigers are just better -- in every way. "It's hard to find an area where they're not better than the Cardinals," said one scout. Said another: "Better offense. Better defense. Better starting pitching. Better bullpen. Even in terms of controlling the running game, Yadier is better than any catcher in the National League at that, but he's not better than Pudge (Rodriguez)." And as yet another scout put it: "Usually, you'd at least give Tony the edge over most managers, but I don't think there is an edge in this Series."

We'll concede those are five darned convincing reasons. But it's not like there isn't any other side to this story. There is, and here it comes:

Why the Cardinals will win

1. Remember the Royals: Do we all have total, incurable amnesia here? Wasn't it a mere three weeks ago that this team everyone thinks is a prohibitive favorite to win the World Series lost three straight games to the Royals -- a club that that came in riding 100 losses and an eight-game losing streak? (The Tigers also gave up 28 runs in those three games.) So there isn't just precedent for the Tigers to come unglued. There's precedent for their pitching to come unglued -- against a team from Missouri, no less.

2. The Swing's the thing: For some reason, all those people who were dumping on the Tigers' undisciplined offensive approach down the stretch seem to have forgotten that now. But we haven't. This team did finish 28th in the big leagues in walks and 24th in on-base percentage. Not to mention it struck out more than any team in the AL except the Indians. Don't think the Cardinals haven't noticed. The Mets have a more disciplined, more versatile offense than Detroit, and the Cardinals still managed to discombobulate their hitters nicely (holding them to a .231 average, .310 on-base percentage and .393 slugging percentage). "If the Tigers come out swinging wildly, the way they can sometimes," said one scout, "that gives the Cardinals a chance."

3. The big-pitch theory: Remember back when the Cardinals were "collapsing" in the last two weeks of the season? If you look back on those games a little more closely, you'll find they led in nearly every game of that seven-game September losing streak, and four of those games were one-run or two-run losses. "Almost all of those games came down to one big pitch or one big at-bat," said injured closer Jason Isringhausen. "We just weren't making those pitches or getting those big hits. Now we are again." How many big pitches have they made these last three weeks? Their opponents are 3 for 44 (.068) in this postseason with two outs and runners in scoring position. If they keep that up, it's almost impossible for them to get blown out.

Scott Rolen
Rolen

4. The mulligan theory: It was just two Octobers ago that the Cardinals survived another exhausting seven-game NLCS, only to get swept in the World Series by the Red Sox. Well, the nine Cardinals who remain from that team think they learned a lesson from that sweep. "In 2004, it felt like that World Series just slipped by us," said Rolen. "We were down, 2 games to 0, before we even knew what happened. And the next thing we knew, we got swept. This, to me, is an opportunity to get it right. This time, I think we're going to make sure we enjoy being in the World Series." History tells us that's almost always the way it works out, too. If you count the 1922 Yankees (who never won a Series game but did tie one), we found five teams that were swept in a World Series and then got back within two years. The '22 Yankees won the next year. So did the 1939 Reds. And the 1976 Yankees rebounded to win the next two. Even the two teams that returned to the Series and lost went down a lot tougher. The Cardinals were swept in 1928, then lost in six in 1930. And the 1963 Yankees lost in seven (to the Cardinals) the next year. So we just have a feeling we'll be looking at a similar plot line.

5. Remember the '88 Dodgers: Finally, here's one simple truth we need to remind ourselves of: It's baseball. Stuff happens. And it especially happens in October. How the 1988 Dodgers ever beat the mighty Oakland A's, we're still not sure. But that happened. And the 83-win Cardinals just finished upsetting a 97-win team. So how can it be impossible for them to upset a 95-win team, even if the Tigers come from the better league and have a pitching staff whose most important members are not all hanging around Dr. James Andrews' office? "Funny things happen in October," one scout conceded. "Strange things happen. In these seven-game series, I never cease to be amazed by the quirky things that happen. I know how this looks on paper. But I also know that every spring, when we all break camp, we all think we've got things so figured out, you wonder why we even play 162 games. But fortunately, we do." And fortunately, they're going to play out this entire World Series. Maybe that won't inspire the population of Queens. But we can't wait.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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