The Long-Awaited Rematch At Hand

Filed under Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, World Series
October 1, 1968

After the Tigers swept the St. Louis with four one-run victories in the 1967 World Series, Bob Gibson and the Redbirds finally have their rematch with the Bengals. Gibson guided the Cardinals to the promised land of a pennant with a strong September performance that has many pundits thinking Most Valuable Player laurels for the hurler. But when it comes to sizing up the Cardinal aspirations for a championship, these same pundits give the nod to Detroit on intangibles carrying over from last year’s sweep. On paper, however, these two clubs are equal.

The Tigers come into this World Series with a much more potent attack than the 1967 Motown edition. Detroit hammered their way to the American League pennant with a lineup that led the AL in average (.240) and all of baseball in home runs (192). The pitching staff, led by Denny McLain’s 28 victories, finished third in the league in ERA. The Cardinals led the NL in pitching and finished second in batting average (.254). Their offense is not geared for long distance, but rather for speed game, led by NL stolen base king, Lou Brock. But, Manager Red Schoendienst’s game is not the tried-and-true formula of pitching and defense contrasted by the Tigers’ power punch lineup. No, the Cardinals ranked tenth in the NL in fielding percentage, and the Tigers finished second in the AL in fielding. Yet, Manager Mayo Smith’s curious decision to move outfielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop for the Series has many experts discounting the Tigers’ fielding prowess. Stanley shifts to the infield in order to allow veteran Al Kaline to play right field. Kaline missed time this season with an arm injury that allowed Jim Northrup, Stanley, and Willie Horton to cement themselves to tending to the Tigers’ outfield garden. Many suggest adding Kaline to an already potent lineup not worth the defensive liability of playing Stanley out of position in the infield. Stanley committed two errors in seven starts at short in the final week of the season.

On the hill, Gibson (26-6; 1.32 ERA) is paired with Ray Washburn (17-9; 2.11 ERA) as a formidable one-two punch. Denny McLain chairs the Tigers staff as he led all of baseball in wins (28) and strikeouts (305). Mickey Lolich (13-15; 2.97) and last year’s Cy Young winner Earl Wilson (14-10; 3.16) fell off from last season, but both can contribute as they did in last year’s Series. If the games remain tight in the late stages, it is the Cardinals with the bullpen advantage. The Redbird pen anchored by Joe Hoerner had the highest success rate for converting save opportunities. Meanwhile, the Tigers bull pen never found its fireman ace and blew 35% of their save opportunities, tied for ninth with the Yankees in the American League.

In last year’s Series, the Cardinals’ strengths were cancelled by the Tigers. Brock was successful only once in four stolen base attempts against the strong arm of Bill Freehan. The power pitching of Gibson faltered in last year’s Series opener as eventual Series MVP Norm Cash tied the game with a two-run home run off Gibson in the ninth. The Tigers prevailed in thirteen, and the Cardinals’ misfortunes followed from there. Detroit has the championship under their belt, and though many  believe the Cardinals have the ability to dethrone the Tigers, it remains to be seen if they can do it. One thing is agreed, however, it will be tremendous fun to watch these evenly-matched team again vie for the world’s championship.

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