Play ball! The 2011 World Series begins Wednesday night, with the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Texas Rangers. Both teams were considered underdogs heading into the playoffs, before making exciting postseason runs in which they dispatched heavily favored teams like the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees. Now, with the first pitch of this year's Fall Classic just hours away, here are five talking points to bring you up speed before tonight's game:
1. It's an unlikely matchup
Each team arrives at the Fall Classic with a great story, says Albert Chen at Sports Illustrated. The Cardinals are gunning for their 11th championship, but only after pulling off one of the most impressive comebacks in recent memory. The Cardinals clinched the National League wild card spot on the final day of the season, after being behind by 10.5 games with barely a month left to play. The Rangers, on the other hand, have never won a World Series in their 51-year history, losing to the San Francisco Giants in last year's championship — which was also the Rangers' first World Series appearance. Whoever wins, "the 107th World Series should be a dramatic and entertaining final act to a thrilling October."
2. Texas has a deeper lineup
Not only are the Rangers more experienced than they were last year, says Fox News, "but on paper, they are just better than the St. Louis Cardinals." The team boasts one of the deepest lineups in baseball, from powerhouse former MVP Josh Hamilton down to Nelson Cruz, who set a playoff record with six home runs in the Rangers' six-game win over the Detroit Tigers in the last round. It's a sign of how stacked Texas' lineup is that Cruz still bats only seventh.
3. But St. Louis has plenty of sluggers, too
For all the talk of the Rangers' hitters, says Bob Dutton at The Kansas City Star, it's easy to overlook the Cardinals' impressive "mid-lineup punch." The combination of sluggers Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, and Matt Holliday is "the National League's best attack." And thanks to ace Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals have the better starting pitching rotation, says Chris Toman at The Sports Network. The team's biggest advantage, however, is its momentum, says Dutton. The Cardinals had to reel off an incredible string of September victories just to make the playoffs. It's a run that's not to be taken lightly.
4. In the end, it may come down to pitching
Both teams are coming out of League Championship Series plagued by atrocious pitching, says Bernie Mikiasz at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Each series devolved into an extended home run derby, with the Cardinals' starters logging an embarrassing 7.03 ERA. The Rangers' starters didn't fare much better, with a 6.59 ERA. Both rotations will "need to earn some respect." Game 1 will be particularly interesting. Rangers' starter C.J. Wilson has had a brutal October, says Chen. That would seemingly give the advantage to Cardinals ace Carpenter. But he's been weakened by an inflamed elbow, says Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated, which will even the playing field.
5. It could be the lowest-rated World Series telecast ever
Baseball playoff ratings have been on a downward slide, says Anthony Crupi at Ad Week. Last year's Fall Classic was among the "least watched in TV history," and ratings for the playoffs this year have already dropped 25 percent. Making matters worse, both St. Louis and Dallas are small-market cities. Traditionally, ratings fall sharply for World Series that don't feature franchises from New York, Boston, or Los Angeles.