Every year, every major sport comes down to two teams. Usually, there's some sort of grandiose narrative framing that championship match-up. This year, MLB does not disappoint, and gives the people a trope they've come to expect: team on a roll, delivered through improbable circumstance, versus a team that is defying some odds.
The St. Louis Cardinals get to play the role of the former, shocking most casual fans with their astonishing run through the post-season and winding up only four wins away from the ultimate validation. The Texas Rangers, on the other hand, are a firm lock in the latter category, having raced to the World Series last year, after a long, long drought, and battling all year to get back.
When these two teams meet tonight at 6:05 p.m., they'll start things off in St. Louis, which has home-field advantage thanks to the National League’s win in the All-Star Game. The best of seven series follows a 2-3-2 format, ensuring that Texas' fans will be packing the stands in the middle of the series, regardless of the result.
There's the mini-drama over Lance Berkman, a free agent last year who was pursued by the Rangers, but ultimately spurned them for the Cardinals. There's the lockdown pitching of the Rangers’ bullpen, which is producing at a rate that is almost embarrassing for the starters. And, of course, there's the danger of St. Louis' powerful offense, combining Albert Pujols—perhaps the best hitter in baseball—with David Freese and the aforementioned Berkman.
Predictions, however, are hard to come by. These teams, with their varied styles and the differing ways they got to this point, play a somewhat even game. When forced to come with a prediction, though, I've got to go with the Rangers in seven games. These teams are so close, it's going to be a full series. We're going to see some beautiful baseball. But ultimately, only one of the familiar stories will get to be told. This is the year for the Rangers.