RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The World Series starts tonight in St. Louis. The National League champion Cardinals host the American League-winning Texas Rangers. This is the second year in a row that Texas has made it to the World Series and the Cardinals won the title back in 2006.
NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us for a preview now. Good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: So national TV ratings are down for baseball's postseason so far. But I gather there's more excitement than usual in St. Louis, where you'll be for game number one tonight. What's going on?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know, the Cards were in the World Series in 2004 and, as you mentioned, 2006. Those were good teams. There were high expectations going into those seasons. This year, the expectations were way down and as early as spring training, when St. Louis lost one of its best pitchers, Adam Wainwright, to an elbow injury. And then the teams struggled and by late August they were 10-and-a-half games behind in the race for the wild card spot in the playoffs.
But then, as many baseball fans know, this amazing turnaround helped by the Atlanta Braves' epic flameout, St. Louis earned the wild card spot on the last day of the regular season, then shocked the best team in baseball, Philadelphia, in the first round of the playoffs, dominated Milwaukee in the National League Championship Series, and here they are.
So yes, the excitement is a lot greater for St. Louis fans. It's a feeling of where did this come from?
MONTAGNE: Okay, three World Series appearances in the last eight years there in St. Louis. Are they daring now to think dynasty?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GOLDMAN: You know, it's hard to use that word in an age of baseball parity. We've had nine different World Series champions in the last decade. But while three in eight is very good, this could be the end of their run for while. They're a fairly old team. They could lose their beloved slugger Albert Pujols to free agency. So along with the excitement in St. Louis, there is this feeling of urgency that the Cards need to win now.
MONTAGNE: Of course, standing in the Cardinals way are the Texas Rangers, a very good team from what is, after all though, football country.
GOLDMAN: Absolutely. You know, its tall order for the Rangers to knock the NFL's Cowboys from the number one position in the hearts of Dallas fans. But, you know, there's time to make inroads and the Rangers seem to be catching on. Every game in the postseason at the ballpark in Arlington has been sold out, 50,000-plus. And the second straight World Series appearance, Renee, for Texas is not a fluke.
The Rangers are a young and talented team and they stand to get better, thanks in large part to a recent TV deal that's going to pay the team an estimated $80 million a year. So while the Red Sox and the Yankees always get the attention, Texas is the king of the American League the last two seasons. And that may not change for a while.
MONTAGNE: Tom, devote this last minute that we have to talk here to a little preview. How is this World Series going to play out?
GOLDMAN: Pitching is key, as always is the case, especially the postseason. Up to now, neither team has been getting much from their starting pitchers in the postseason - both bullpens have been great. St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa has been especially aggressive with his relievers. He made a record 28 pitching changes in the National League Championships Series versus Milwaukee.
But, you know, with all the relief work, the relievers may need a little relief. And so, the advantage is to the team whose starting pitcher start to earn their keep.
Another key, can St. Louis pitchers deal with Nelson Cruz. He is the Texas Rangers' right fielder who absolutely went off in the American League Championship Series. He made baseball history with six home runs, 13 RBIs - look to see how they pitch against him.
The Rangers are favored. The Cardinals keep defying the odds and they have the home-field advantage for the potential seven games that are in St. Louis. I don't know how to pick this one.
MONTAGNE: OK. Well, we'll leave it at that. Tom, thanks.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
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