MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 16: David Freese #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a 3-run home run in the top of the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers during Game Six of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on October 16, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
The lineup did it, with bats, at the plate.
There has been one constant to this 2011 season, the Cardinals' run-scoring prowess. From the early season west coast road trip on the Cards demonstrated they could score runs. They did so with a balanced offensive attack that led the National League in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. The club also placed last in the NL in strikeouts. In short, they were difficult for opposing pitchers to get out at all let alone via the surest way to record an out, the strikeout.
Leading the offensive charge was Lance Berkman. Through Pujols's slow start, Freese's broken hand, Holliday's injuries, Rasmus's slump, and Corey Patterson starts, there was always Berkman. He took tough PA's, walked, slugged, and homered. To behold his career resurrection was a thing of beauty--even when the club was sitting 10.5 games behind Atlanta in the Wild Card standings. While the Puma did not carry the club this series, we saw just how good the lineup around him, Pujols, and Holliday can be. The lineup's core was complemented by the production from Jon Jay, Yadier Molina, and David Freese, which created a lethal combination for the Milwaukee pitching staff.
Of course, to categorize Freese as a complement to the lineup's heart doesn't do his NLCS justice. A deserving MVP, Freese's NLCS will go into the record books as one of the league's greatest. Further padding his stats with three hits in the deciding Game 6--one of which a game-defining first inning homer that vaulted the Cardinals to an early 4-0 lead--the third baseman finished the six-game series with a batting average of .545 and thee homers, stats that would make even Jeffrey Leonard blush.
Much has been made of the Texas Rangers' imposing lineup of mashers. This is understandable and deserved. After all, Nelson Cruz bats seventh. For the 2011 season, the Rangers hit .280/.340/.460/.800 and plated 850 runs. All of this was accomplished with a lineup that featured the abomination that is the designated hitter. Part of the fun of the World Series is that silly DH rule and how each league's champion will adjust to the other league's rules regarding it. Thankfully Prince Fielder powered the NL to an All-Star Game win, giving the Cardinals home-field advantge. This means that four games, including the first two, will be DH-less (as it should be). How the Rangers adjust to the pitcher batting will be intriguing to watch.
The Cardinals did some hitting of their own this season. .273/341/.425/.766 was their line, and it is a line that includes their pitchers. Allen Craig will likely take the DH plate appearances in Texas, perhaps even batting seventh. With Tony La Russa not having to choose two of the trio of Holliday, Berkman, and Craig, the St. Louis lineup in DH form is pretty imposing in its own right.
And so we must brace ourselves. The bombardments of and by Milwaukee may have just been a warmup for a World Series that, at least on paper, has the makings of a slugfest. The questions appear to be whether the Rangers can outscore the Cardinals without a DH and whether the Cardinals can outscore the Rangers with one. It is a matchup most ironic in a season that was supposed to be defined by pitching.