When the Texas Rangers ended the 2010 season, it was in the most painful way possible. They watched as the San Francisco Giants celebrated a World Series championship. A title the Rangers were favored to win.
A year later, the Rangers are back in the World Series, while the Giants watched the playoffs from home. Their opponent, most would argue, could be better than the team they faced in this same series last year.
The St. Louis Cardinals.
The Rangers just got finished dealing with the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Delmon Young and Ryan Raburn in the American League Championship Series. And just when they thought they were through the hardest test, they now have to deal with a Cardinals lineup with as much power as Detroit brought.
It starts with former Colorado Rockies slugger Matt Holliday, former Houston Astros star Lance Berkman, rising star David Freese and the leader of the pack, and one of the best hitters the game has today, Albert Pujols.
This isn’t a World Series the Rangers will talk through. It’s not even one that will come easy to them.
Say what you want about Texas and its offense, the starters have been struggling through the entire ALCS and haven’t gone more than five innings in any of their starts. The bullpen needed this rest after being forced to work more than anyone anticipated.
So, just 24 hours prior to the first pitch of the 2011 World Series, the Rangers will need to gather their strength and look forward to what they couldn’t accomplish last year. Just getting to this point is great, but not bringing home the ultimate prize will be nothing less than failure.
C.J. Wilson needs the start of the year
If there was ever a guy who needed to shake whatever problems he’s had over his last two starts in the playoffs it’s Rangers ace C.J. Wilson.
While his first start against Detroit was solid, he was unfortunately taken out by a long rain delay that ended up killing whatever groove he had going. His pitches became wild and his command was gone.
In the second start against Detroit, he never got off on the right foot. His fastballs were up in the zone, and he never got into any sort of rhythm with his command (or confidence). What could have been a game-five clinching victory in the Motor City turned into a loss, bringing the series back to Arlington.
When the World Series opens, Wilson will need to do the one thing Cliff Lee never did last season — win.
Getting his team off on the right foot and shutting down the Cardinals offense will give Texas the momentum it needs to begin the biggest series this franchise has ever been in. Say what you want about last season, this will be their best, and possibly last, shot at bringing home the championship.
Michael Young has his groove back
If there’s anything the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t want it’s for the Rangers’ regular season MVP, Michael Young, to finally find his stroke and get hot right when his team needed it the most.
When Young is on, he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. A guy who has put up career numbers this season. What’s even more amazing is the fact that Young was almost traded prior to this season beginning.
His personal problems with general manager Jon Daniels were well documented, and the quotes between them almost sent the long-time Ranger, and face of the franchise, packing.
If what we saw in game six against the Detroit Tigers is any indication, Young is back and he’s going to make sure his team doesn’t end the season without the one thing they came for.
A battle of the bullpens
If you’re the Texas Rangers, from your starting rotation to your offense, you believe you have the best shot at a title you’ve had in franchise history. Even though they were in this exact spot one year ago, they are in better shape this time around.
Why? Just ask their bullpen.
From lefty specialists Darren Oliver and Michael Gonzalez and middle reliever Scott Feldman to the three-headed monster in Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz. These six relievers make sure that when they get the ball and the lead, there isn’t an offense in baseball, no matter how potent, that can get the lead back.
They have done their jobs from the beginning of the playoffs to this point. They can beat you with the fastball, and then they can keep you off balance with the off-speed stuff. Either way, most will tell you they are just one thing — dominant.
If the World Series becomes a battle of the bullpens, it will not go the way the St. Louis Cardinals want it to go. In fact, this series could get ugly very quickly.
Game two starter changed
Prior to the World Series, Derek Holland was given the ball for game two in each of the last two playoff series. Not this time.
According to ESPN, Colby Lewis, a better pitcher on the road than at home, will take the ball in game two behind Wilson. Also, manager Ron Washington told Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas that he has not decided if he is going to go with Holland or Matt Harrison for game three.