Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez vs. St. Louis' Yadier Molina
Rodriguez is 34, his power has decreased and he is no longer the sport's best defensive catcher. But he's still a complete player, and his attitude soars when he's winning. He remains the guy to have behind the plate in a big game. Ten years younger, Molina is a Rodriguez wannabe, a stocky fellow Puerto Rican with excellent defensive skills and occasional power. His ninth-inning homer in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series put the Cardinals into the World Series. But he hasn't proved he can hit consistently.
Detroit's Sean Casey/Carlos Guillen vs. St. Louis' Albert Pujols
The Tigers are in a tough spot here. If Casey (left calf) is healthy, he makes the defense better and provides a clutch veteran bat. He says he'll play and he'll likely get a chance to at least DH while the Series is in Detroit. If Casey can't play first, shortstop Guillen would likely fill in. No matter the configuration, the Cards win hands down here. Pujols, bad hamstring and all, is still baseball's best player. And he'd be the choice at 70 percent healthy against any other first baseman.
Detroit's Placido Polanco vs. St. Louis' Ronnie Belliard
Polanco, the ALCS Most Valuable Player, could be the league's most underrated player. He can flat-out hit and is solid defensively. He's also the Tigers' glue, and that was evident when he was out for a month near season's end and the team struggled. Belliard was a nice midseason pickup, and offers stability at what was a gaping hole for the Cardinals. He's only a complementary guy, though.
Detroit's Guillen/Omar Infante/Ramon Santiago vs. St. Louis' David Eckstein
This is only a carousel for Detroit if Guillen is needed at first base. Guillen has underappreciated power and is praised by teammates for doing little things well. The backups can play defense but are limited offensively. Eckstein is the quintessential underdog who gets the most out of his ability. When he is on, he is a catalyst at the plate and tremendously fun to watch. When he's off, he can bunt and run and do little else.
Edge: Tigers, if Guillen plays shortstop
It's hard to believe, but Inge may be a better bet than Rolen right now. Inge had more homers (27-22) and has made spectacular plays this postseason. Most important, Inge is healthy, and the same can't be said for St. Louis' respected veteran. Rolen is known to play injured, and his shoulder is ailing him. It's great to be a gamer, but he might be hurting his team if he can't be the Rolen of old.
Detroit's Magglio Ordonez vs. St. Louis' Juan Encarnacion
Ordonez had just four hits in the ALCS, but two went over the fence in Game 4, including the three-run series-winner. He has tremendous power and a rocket arm. Encarnacion is a solid 30-year-old veteran. Like most Cardinals, he does what he needs to do, but he won't wow you.
Detroit's Curtis Granderson vs. St. Louis' Jim Edmonds
This is a tough one. Granderson, a top defender who impressed in his first full year, provides a combination of power and speed. He's still somewhat raw, but when he gets on base, the Tigers win. Edmonds remains the best NL defensive center fielder north of Atlanta's Andruw Jones. Injury and advancing age have limited his effectiveness. He's tough to pick against during crunch time, though.
Detroit's Craig Monroe vs. Scott Spiezio/Preston Wilson
Monroe is another unsung hero on a team filled with them. He had 28 homers in the regular season and handled the bat adeptly when asked to hit second in the ALCS. Normally, he, Inge and DH Marcus Thames give the Tigers a rare power threat in the bottom third of the lineup. A solid platoon of Spiezio and Wilson - with a touch of So Taguchi or Chris Duncan - holds its own. Spiezio, who also plays third base when Rolen is out, is money in the postseason.
Edge: Tigers, slightly
Detroit's Marcus Thames and others vs. St. Louis' Chris Duncan and others
Thames is the only one with lots of pop here, but seldom-used Alexis Gomez came up big with a homer and four RBIs in Game 2 of the ALCS. And the Tigers' group of middle infielders provides flexibility. Duncan, a rookie who hit 22 homers in 280 at-bats, will likely get DH time, as might Spiezio and Taguchi, who had a big homer of his own in the NLCS. Tony La Russa loves using his bench, and this is a deep group.
The Tigers can go four deep without a blink. Kenny Rogers, once a postseason liability, has pitched 15 scoreless innings in two starts this October. Game 1 starter Justin Verlander is a rookie who intimidates with his 100-plus-mph fastball, and Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman keep their team in games. St. Louis' Jeff Weaver has had an amazing resurgence in the postseason, and Chris Carpenter is perhaps the NL's best pitcher. After that, the best option is the gutsy Jeff Suppan, who somehow continues to baffle hitters and win key games.
The Tigers had the fourth-best bullpen ERA (3.51) in baseball. During the postseason, Detroit's relievers, led by strike-throwing veteran Todd Jones and hard-throwing rookie Joel Zumaya, always have seemed to get the big out. Zumaya (right wrist/forearm) has missed more than a week, but likely is ready to pitch. The entire Tigers bullpen is rested, and that should be the key here. The Cardinals' no-name group was 14th in bullpen ERA during the regular season, but it's one of the primary reasons they have made it this far. Rookie Adam Wainwright, 25, hasn't allowed a run in six postseason games while subbing for the injured Jason Isringhausen (left hip surgery).
Detroit's Jim Leyland vs. St. Louis' Tony La Russa
These are perhaps baseball's best managers. They are good friends and worked together during the past five years while Leyland stepped away from the dugout to scout and consult. La Russa has the reputation as a top strategist, but it is Leyland whose every move has worked perfectly this month. Plus, no one is more beloved by his players than Leyland. The winner will become just the second manager to capture a World Series title in the AL and NL.
Edge: Tigers, slightly
Both teams were given no shot at the end of September before surviving and, in the Tigers' case, thriving in October. The Tigers have tremendous momentum, are rested and have home-field advantage. Combine that with Leyland's skills and the Cardinals' disadvantage of having to play 11 postseason games to Detroit's eight, and everything points to Detroit's first World Series title since 1984.
Prediction: Tigers in five games.