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10/20/06 12:10 AM ET

Cardinals-Tigers: Position analysis

The two best defensive catchers in the game will be showcased in Yadier Molina of St. Louis and Ivan Rodiguez of Detroit. Molina doesn't provide much offensively, although he did hit .444 (4-for-9) in the three-game series against Detroit at Comerica Park back in June. Rodriguez is still on the short list of the best defensive catchers around and his offensive skills, though not what they were five years ago, are still formidable and worthy of a No. 3 hitter. Rodriguez uses the whole field and runs well, and he is also very good at disrupting opponents' offense with his defense.

Even with a balky hamstring, Albert Pujols is probably still the best player in the game. It isn't just the home runs, RBIs and batting average the Cardinals first baseman provides, he's also outstanding in the clutch, as his .397 batting average with runners in scoring position during the regular season demonstrates. Assuming he is healthy after missing the final two games of the ALCS, Sean Casey gives the Tigers a left-handed hitter who is one of the toughest hitters in baseball to strike out. Casey hits lines drives to all fields when he's in a groove, though he doesn't have Pujols' power.

Ronnie Belliard, the latest in a line of Cards second basemen since Mark Grudzielanek was not re-signed, had a decent year offensively but has never hit well at Comerica Park (.205) or particularly well against the Tigers (.252). ALCS Most Valuable Player Placido Polanco is one of the more effective No. 2 hitters in the game and makes those around him better, as the Tigers found out when they went 13-21 late in the season when Polanco was on the disabled list with a separated shoulder. Average defensively, Polanco is a heady player who seldom strikes out, is adept at small ball and can hit the ball out of the park now and then.

Scott Rolen has been playing hurt but remains a dangerous power threat, as well as one of the best fielding third basemen in the game. Inge is the best athlete on the team, and the converted catcher/outfielder has gradually improved his play at his latest position. Inge has power and runs very well. A clutch hitter, Inge has come up with the big hit more than once in key games this season and hit .333 in the ALCS.

David Eckstein is the get-the-uniform-dirty sparkplug at the top of the Cardinals' batting order and is always coming up with the key hit or big play defensively to help his team win. Carlos Guillen, assuming he's not at first base as he was for the injured Casey in the ALCS, is a .300 hitter with some power, and he is one of the reasons the Tigers are where they are today. Guillen, one of the better all-around middle infielders in the game, hit only .188 in the ALCS.

Corner outfield production has been a disappointment for the Cardinals this season, but after acquiring Preston Wilson and teaming the right-handed power hitter with the underrated So Taguchi, the Cardinals have finally found a solution that is at least adequate, if not overpowering. Craig Monroe ranked among the league leaders in strikeouts, but he's also provided power and drives in an acceptable number of runs. Monroe, a dead pull hitter who has trouble against top right-handed pitching or when he tries to pull pitches off the plate, hit .429 with a homer and four RBIs in the ALCS.

Injuries have plagued Jim Edmonds' season, but he remains a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder and a left-handed hitter with ample power. Edmonds is capable of carrying the lineup when he's on. Curtis Granderson is an emerging talent with the speed necessary to play center field, and yet Granderson has also displayed surprising power for a line-drive hitter. Granderson has a good, accurate arm and plays excellent defense. The 25-year-old needs better plate discipline and must improve his base-stealing skills, but he hit .333 in the ALCS.

Juan Encarnacion had a decent second half, following a disappointing start. The former Tiger still chases too many pitches out of the strike zone and didn't hit for as much power as the Cardinals had hoped for the man who succeeded Larry Walker in right. Detroit cleanup hitter Magglio Ordonez, who won Game 4 of the ALCS with a walk-off home run, is usually among the league leaders in hitting with runners in scoring position, and once again he's topped the century mark in RBIs. Ordonez drives the ball to all fields with a short, powerful swing and seldom gets cheated. He is a decent fielder with an accurate arm.

The four designated hitter games at Comerica Park could help the Cardinals, in that a guy who is normally on the bench -- Chris Duncan, or whoever isn't starting in left field, Wilson or Taguchi -- could provide another potent bat in the lineup without burning a pinch-hitter. Duncan came up with a big home run off a lefty in Game 5 of the NLCS. Whoever is DH-ing for St. Louis will have a difficult time matching the production Detroit's designated hitters have been giving lately. Alexis Gomez, Marcus Thames, Omar Infante -- it didn't matter who Jim Leyland plugged in at DH in the ALCS, all contributed big time in the sweep of Oakland.

Jason Isringhausen is out for the year following hip surgery and the Cards' youngsters have had to learn on the fly. Thus far, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Johnson and lefty Randy Flores have done a better-than-expected job. Tigers closer Todd Jones has been perfect in save opportunities since the postseason began, and though setup man Joel Zumaya missed the last two games of the ALCS with a right forearm injury, he is expected to be ready for the World Series. Lefties Jamie Walker and Wilfredo Ledezma and right-handers Fernando Rodney and Jason Grilli give Leyland plenty of options for the late innings.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa has always been good at maximizing bench production and finding players who can handle multiple roles. Taguchi, John Rodriguez, Aaron Miles, Wilson and Bennett have all pitched in this season. Infante is a handy guy to have around as the good glove infielder can fill in at a number of spots and is a capable pinch runner. Vance Wilson is a capable backup to Rodriguez. Gomez has some pop, but little experience. Overall offensively, however, Detroit's supporting cast is average.

La Russa has taken a team that is noticeably weaker than the one that was eliminated by Houston in the NLCS last year, as well as the one that lost to Boston in the World Series in 2004, and yet piloted them back to the World Series. La Russa is not afraid to take chances -- like holding out Chris Carpenter on the season's final day or sending left-handed-hitting Chris Duncan up to pinch-hit against a lefty in Game 5 of the NLCS -- and more often than not, his moves work to his team's advantage. Everything Jim Leyland touches lately has turned to gold, as his decisions keep paying dividends for the Tigers, and his team has clearly rallied around its skipper.

The Cardinals have endured injuries to key players, a tough NLCS against the Mets and a seemingly uphill climb to get this far. The Tigers are playing their best baseball, have won seven in a row and are having the kind of magical run that can make for a memorable postseason.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.