Here we go – the Fall Classic is just a few hours away, and both teams are rested and ready to send their aces to the hill for Game One. Let’s take a look at the match-ups and see how this break’s down from the numbers.
Rangers Starting Pitcher:
C.J. Wilson: 8.1 BB%, 22.5 K%, 49.3% GB%, 3.24 FIP (76 FIP-), 3.41 xFIP (84 xFIP-)
Cardinals Starting Pitcher:
Chris Carpenter: 5.5 BB%, 19.2 K%, 46.6% GB%, 3.06 FIP (82 FIP-), 3.31 xFIP (86 xFIP-)
Wilson and Carpenter are both groundball guys who also can rack up strikeouts if need be, which is why they’re among the best pitchers in baseball. Carpenter’s GB rate this year was actually the lowest he’s posted since 2002, so that probably slightly undersells his ability to get opposing hitters to beat the ball on the ground.
The main difference between the two (besides handedness, of course) is that Carpenter generally has terrific command, while Wilson is prone to bouts of wildness. He was able to get his walks under control this year, but he’s struggled with location during the playoffs, and if he doesn’t keep his fastball down, he’s certainly hittable. Carpenter’s less likely to struggle hitting his spots, but since he’s more reliant on balls in play being turned into outs, his potential path to failure is more about balls just finding holes.
Still, both are legitimate frontline starting pitchers, and there’s not much here to make you think that one team has a legitimate advantage on the mound at the start of the game. In terms of the starting pitching in tonight’s game, I’ll call this a push.
Rangers Starting Line-Up:
Vs RHPs: .283/.338/.460, 7.3% BB%, 14.6% K%, .178 ISO, .345 wOBA
Texas’ line-up skews heavily to the right-hand side, but despite an unbalanced set of hitters, they still performed well against RHPs this year – only Boston had a higher wRC+ versus RHPs than the Rangers did. Carpenter also doesn’t boast much of a platoon split over his career, as he’s about equally as effective against hitters from either side of the plate. The right-handed heaviness of the Rangers offense could come back to hurt them when St. Louis dips into their bullpen, however, as Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn, and Fernando Salas all dominated RHBs this season. With six of their first seven hitters batting from the right side, the Rangers line-up makes it fairly easy for the Cardinals to leverage their very good RH setup men, so Texas may need to build something of a lead off of Carpenter.
Vs LHPs: .265/.339/.425, 9.5% BB%, 15.6% K%, .163 ISO, .334 wOBA
With two premium right-handed bats, it’s not that surprising that the Cardinals hit southpaws well, and they can run out a line-up with eight right-handed bats against C.J. Wilson. Berkman has struggled against southpaws, so Wilson will have the ability to be careful with Pujols and Holliday and then make Berkman be the one to drive in runs. The Cardinals don’t have the same depth in their line-up that the Rangers do, but their best hitters are better than on the other side, and against an LHP, their advantage lies most heavily in the #3 and #4 spots. If you need to rely on two guys to get hits, you can’t do much better than Pujols/Holliday, but it still condenses their offensive potential into how those guys perform.
The two offenses are both terrific, and the Cardinals will have the platoon advantage in most at-bats while the Rangers will not, but overall, I’d call this a push as well.
We’ll eschew each team’s overall bullpen totals for the season here, as the current make-ups of each bullpen is pretty different than it was during the regular season. Texas’ bullpen has been nothing short of fantastic so far in the playoffs, and with Wilson’s propensity for running up his pitch count early, expect to see a lot of them tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ogando was asked to go three innings to counter the heavily right-handed St. Louis line-up, while Gonzalez and Oliver will likely be used as specialists to just get Berkman out in big spots. The team’s decision to bump Koji Uehara from the roster in favor of Mark Lowe might look a bit strange, but Scott Feldman has clearly passed him on the depth chart, and Lowe might be a better option as a righty specialist, more of a need versus St. Louis’ line-up than Uehara’s ability to get lefties out.
The Cardinals don’t have a guy like Ogando who they can hand the ball to for length, but they counter with one extra reliever and will likely make more frequent calls to the bullpen because of it. The fresh-reliever-every-inning strategy can certainly be effective, though with an RHP on the mound to start, LaRussa won’t have the same incentive to go the bullpen early. My guess is that the Cardinals won’t ask their relievers to go as many innings, so if the game is close, you’ll likely just see a lot of Dotel, Salas, and Motte, with a sprinkling of Rzepczynski for when Hamilton comes up to bat.
Again, we see another situation where there’s not a significant advantage to one side or the other. Ogando’s ability to work multiple innings may give Texas a slight advantage, but the back-ends of the bullpens are similarly excellent. Yes, we have another push for tonight’s game.
+25.9 UZR, +45 DRS, 170/46 SB/CS, .278 BABIP
-29.8 UZR, -13 DRS, 128/25 SB/CS, .296 BABIP
We finally have an area where one team showed a significant advantage over the course of the regular season, as the Rangers are a pretty terrific defensive team while the Cardinals simply are not. However, Yadier Molina’s value is likely not being fully captured here, so the gap isn’t as large as might look on the surface, and the Rangers defense is slightly worse with Michael Young at first base. Still, Texas has a pretty clear advantage here, as they’re simply better at turning balls in play into outs than the Cardinals are.
The teams are fairly evenly matched almost across the board, with the only obvious difference in tonight’s game being Texas’ advantage in the field. The platoon advantages favor St. Louis, and they also have home field advantage, so it’s probably fair to say that the Cardinals should be slight favorites tonight. Still, the match-ups are close enough that you’re probably not looking at more than a 55-45 split, and either team could easily come on top in Game One.
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