This post was first published on BaseballDigest.com
The 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals enters Game 6 with both teams looking to prove they belong at the top of the mountain as the best team in Major League Baseball. The Texas Rangers have already proven that 2010 was not a fluke, and they’re looking to put the finishing touches on the first franchise title which they were denied just a year ago. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals busted many of the pre-season experts playoff charts when they knocked off the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers to reach the Fall Classic.
With two teams stacked with pitching and offense, the World Series has offered one of the most compelling match ups in recent years. Aside from the lopsided 16-7 score of Game 3, the two teams remaining have combined for a total of 18 runs in the other 4 games of the series. Much of this can be attributed to the great pitching that has kept both of these teams in the series. There are a pair of players, one of each team, that emphasis the importance and evolution of pitching, and they’ve played for both teams during their careers.
Darren Oliver has held the middle innings together for the Texas Rangers all season long. Oliver’s dominance in the middle innings was not an overnight discovery, and his career is a terrific example of how the Rangers have evolved over the years. When Darren Oliver’s career began in Texas during the early 1990’s, he was inserted into the rotation and had moderate success. Like many of the Texas Rangers rotations during the 1990’s, Oliver filled the role as an adequate innings eater supporting an offensive juggernaut that had lineups that included Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer. In his(and the franchise’s) first postseason appearance, he threw 8 innings of 3 run ball in an ALDS loss to the New York Yankees in 1996.
In a July 2004 article in Baseball Digest, Troy Renck of the Denver Post wrote about pitchers like Darren Oliver reviving their careers by adding to their pitching repertoire. Click here to check it out!
Within two years of the postseason appearance, Oliver’s ERA rose to 6.73 during the 1998 season and he was shipped off to the St. Louis Cardinals, which started an seven team(eight, if you include his second tour in Texas) odyssey that lasted a decade and included missing the entire 2005 season. Upon his return to the big leagues in 2006, Oliver became a full time reliever and immediately became a huge component to bullpens in New York and Anaheim. After three seasons in the Angels bullpen, Oliver joined the Rangers for his third tour. His season ERA has remained below 3.00 during his first two years in Texas, and for the last four years straight.
Darren Oliver’s transformation from mid-rotation starter to bullpen ace has played a role in shedding the long held theory that pitchers can’t succeed in the Texas heat. Despite giving up a home run during Game 3, Oliver remains a key factor in the series. For a half-season Cliff Lee continued to dispel the theory of pitching in Texas as well, helping the Rangers in 2010 to their first World Series berth. Despite Lee’s departure for Philadelphia, C.J. Wilson anchors a new era of pitchers who are defying the Texas heat and pushing the Rangers to the brink of their first title. Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando rounded out the rotation with regular season ERAs that sank below 4.00.
The St. Louis Cardinals know all to well about the importance of the relief pitcher, especially with Tony LaRussa at the helm. Aside from his Game 5 bullpen issue involving reliever Jason Motte, LaRussa has mixed and matched his bullpen like he has for his entire career, arguably being the first manager to make a bullpen a focal point of his roster. One such key component of LaRussa’s bullpen is a player who has been around nearly as long as LaRussa, 42 year old Arthur Rhodes.
Rhodes was a long time member of the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners before becoming a journeyman reliever, logging time with 7 different teams over the last 8 years which included missing the entire 2007 season due to Tommy John surgery. Though he has spent 2 decades in the big leagues and reached the postseason four times before joining the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2011 World Series is a career first for the well traveled lefty.
In a June 2001 issue of Baseball Digest, Bob Finnigan of the Seattle Times wrote about pitchers like Arthur Rhodes dealing with injuries and playing through pain. Click here to check it out!
His 2011 season may prove to be the most fascinating of his career. He began the season as a member of the Texas Rangers, and struggled mightily in July. He was put on waivers and passed through in mid-August. Just days later, the St. Louis Cardinals scooped up the veteran, who rebounded with a strong finish in August and September. He has seen action just twice, but has rose to the occasion for both batters he faced. Tony LaRussa has used Rhodes primarily as a left handed specialist since he was acquired, and the choice has paid off nearly perfectly.
With Game 6 pushed back a day, there is little doubt that both Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver could see action as the Texas Rangers try to seal their first franchise championship against the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that looks to even the series and prove the pre-season critics wrong in the best way possible, by extending the season by one more game.