New feel for World Series
It’s a World Series straight out of Central casting.
David Freese, the local boy who became a big hit for the St. Louis Cardinals. Big Tex himself, Nolan Ryan rooting on the Rangers. A pair of teams cut from a center slice of the country, set to meet in the middle.
Makes for a different feel this October, doesn’t it?
No coasting in this Series. None of the Derek Jeters, Dustin Pedroias, or Chase Utleys from the East we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. None of the Tim Lincecums or Brian Wilsons we watched from the West last fall.
They begin at Busch Stadium tomorrow night, with C.J. Wilson starting for Texas against Chris Carpenter.
Oh, and no need to change any clocks. Every game is scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. local time (8:05 p.m. Eastern). Kind of nice to avoid those late-afternoon shadows in California and skip those post-midnight final outs in the Northeast. Provided there’s no rain or extra innings, that is.
With MVPs Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and several other All-Stars involved, it’s certainly an interesting matchup. Adding to the intrigue: The teams are hardly acquainted, having played only three games against each other - and that lone series was back in 2004.
According to STATS LLC, the Rangers-Cardinals matchup equals the fewest games between two opponents in the majors, tying the Mets-White Sox.
Freese was eager to get going. A prep star in suburban St. Louis, he emerged as the MVP of the National League Championship Series, helped by his three-run homer in Sunday’s clinching Game 6 at Milwaukee, a 12-6 Cardinals win.
Whether sports fans in other spots will watch this Series remains to be seen.
Last year’s pairing of the Giants and Rangers drew television ratings that equaled the lowest ever. The numbers were down 28 percent from the year before when the New York Yankees played the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Cardinals still have a national profile, dating to a half-century ago when St. Louis was the most western point in the major leagues. In those days, the vast Cardinals radio network developed a broad fan base all over the country.
This week, the Rangers make their first trip to St. Louis.
“The Rangers are scary. They’re a scary team,’’ Freese said. “You look at that lineup, you look at that staff. It’s going to be a battle.
“I think we’re a team that can match up with them a little bit. And they’re confident, we’re confident. It’s been a tough road. I’ve definitely been watching the ALCS for sure. That’s some good ball over there.’’
Manager Tony La Russa and the wild-card Cardinals make for a good story. Trailing by 10 1/2 games in late August, St. Louis made a late run and earned its playoff spot on the final day of the regular season.
The Rangers, guided by manager Ron Washington, were in control for most of the season. Both teams can score, and both wound up relying heavily on their bullpens in the playoffs.
They also share this: Neither had a payroll in the majors’ top third on opening day. The Cardinals were 11th at $105 million, Texas was 13th at $92 million.
Not exactly a matchup that anyone predicted in spring training, at the All-Star break, or down the stretch.
“This is a year where if you know anything about baseball,’’ TBS analyst John Smoltz said, “throw it out the window.’’
With small markets and bad weather, the two league championship series drew far fewer television viewers than last year. The NLCS on TBS, with the Cardinals beating Milwaukee in six games, averaged a 2.9 rating. That was down 43 percent from the 2010 ALCS on the cable channel, when the six-game Rangers-Yankees series averaged a 5.1.
The ALCS on Fox between Texas and Detroit averaged a 4.4 over six games, down 20 percent from the 5.5 for the six-game Giants-Phillies NLCS last season.