The 2011 World Series starts with the Texas Rangers visiting the St Louis Cardinals for what promises to be a cracking battle.
Both sides overcame the odds when they beat Detroit and Milwaukee in their respective League Championship Series, and we're looking for some sparkle throughout the season finale - and not just from the cowboy boots of the female Rangers fans!
Skysports.com blogger Alex Ferguson has watched the 2011 baseball campaign unfurl and believes he knows where the World Series will be won and lost...
THE ROAD TO THE WORLD SERIES
The Texas Rangers came back from a horrible opening day of the play-offs against Tampa Bay to win the rest of their American League Division Series 3-1. They then beat Detroit 4-2 in a monumental Championship Series, which included series hero Nelson Cruz's ultra-dramatic, game-ending grand slam in extra innings in Game Two. The Rangers celebrated going through by hammering Detroit 15-5 in Arlington in Game Six, which should have been called off after the third inning, when they scored nine runs.
The St Louis Cardinals surprised the world when they put out World Series favourites Philadelphia 3-2, and then strung two wins together in games five and six to finish off division rivals Milwaukee in six games. The hero of the series was David Freese, who eclipsed superstar Albert Pujols by slapping out 12 hits, three home runs and nine RBIs.
Both sides have been more about their hitting than their pitching, with Freese and Cruz both leading the way in the Championship Series. Cruz is in the form of his life during the play-offs, cracking six home runs and 13 RBIS. He's absolutely mashing the ball. As discussed, his best moment was his 'Cruz Missile' grand slam in Game Two of the ALCS. The Cardinals had better be ready. Cruz also has Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, David Murphy and catcher Mike Napoli around him who are also tidy hitters and will worry the Cardinals' pitching staff.
On the other side, everyone loves Pujols. The guy is quite honestly a hitting machine. After a pretty quiet Division Series by his standards, Pujols went mad against the Brewers, pounding 11 hits, two home runs and nine RBIs. Oh, and then there's Freese. A relative no-name going into the play-offs (he only played half of the Cardinals' games this season and only debuted in the league in 2009), he's been a revelation. He outshone Pujols in the NLCS, and has been the Cardinals second-best hitter throughout the play-offs, jacking four homers, 14 RBIs and 17 hits. And let's not forget that the Cardinals also have Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and catcher Yadier Molina who can cause damage, too.
Edge: Rangers - thanks to the 'Cruzer' (we're done with bad Nelson Cruz puns now!).
First of all, St Louis' starting pitching doesn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of many teams. Chris Carpenter, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia had pretty lousy starts against the Brewers. Meanwhile, Texas' starting pitchers Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis have been competent if not spectacular.
However, St Louis wins the battle of the bullpens. Led by closer Jason Motte and relief pitcher Octavio Dotel, St Louis managed to quieten the Brewers' Prince Fielder to just one hit in the last four games of the NLCS, and Dotel is noted to be fearsome against right-handed hitting. With Texas, it's going to be down to Scott Feldman and Darren Oliver to give Neftali Feliz the closing chance (he had one in six games) and quieten Pujols & co.
The biggest thing that's going to drive both teams is the crowd. The Cardinals fans who will fill Busch Stadium - which will host the first two games of the series - simply aren't as noisy as the Texans. Detroit will tell you that after being deafened during the ALCS. And although the Texans don't have home-field advantage during the World Series (it's the first time in quite a while that the National League beat the American League in the All-Star Game so that this is the case), one win will make the task for Pujols & co all the more difficult.
A crazy, crazy series. St Louis in seven, thanks to their bullpen.