Playoff preview: Cards vs. Phils
The Cardinals have the Phillies to thank for helping eliminate the Braves from the National League wild-card race. Alas, the Phillies are now the Cardinals' reward.
A first-round matchup against Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt is more like punishment, but you know the Cardinals and their manager, Tony La Russa.
They're going to show up. They're going to compete. They're going to scratch and claw and seek any edge they can.
La Russa already is at it, choosing right-hander Chris Carpenter to make his first career start on three days rest in Game 2. Carpenter, coming off a 106-pitch shutout of the Astros in the season finale, would come back on normal rest for Game 5, if necessary.
Right-hander Kyle Lohse will pitch the opener for the Cardinals, leaving lefty Jaime Garcia to start Game 3 at home, where his ERA is 2.55 this season compared with 4.61 on the road. Righty Edwin Jackson, who has pitched well since joining the Cardinals in late July, will start Game 4.
Against any other club, that rotation would be more than adequate. Against the Phillies, the Cardinals will be at a disadvantage in every game, even though Garcia's ERA in four starts against the Phillies this season is 0.96.
Here's the worst part:
The Cardinals’ lineup is not 100 percent healthy.
Left fielder Matt Holliday (hand) and shortstop Rafael Furcal (hamstring) are expected to be on the team’s Division Series roster, but both remain physical questions. Holliday was not in the Game 1 lineup. And the Cardinals’ best chance in this series might be if their 3-4-5 hitters — Albert Pujols, Holliday and Lance Berkman — get hot at once.
A diminished version of the team would make an upset that much more unlikely.
The Phillies took a mid-September nap after clinching, losing eight straight at one point. But they rallied to win their final four games, sweeping the Braves in impressive fashion to close out the season.
Each of the Phillies' four infielders has faced recent physical issues, as have outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. It didn't show in Atlanta. The Phillies looked sharp, right down to Oswalt, who was lights-out in the season finale, and lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo, who had struggled for much of September.
This is the Phillies' fifth straight postseason appearance; little will faze them. True, crazy things can happen in a best-of-five, but it's virtually impossible to imagine a total meltdown by the Phillies' rotation. Halladay, Lee and Hamels combined for quality starts in 78 percent of their outings this season — and usually that was just the baseline of their excellence.
The Cardinals spent the entire season defying the odds, first by overcoming a season-ending injury to right-hander Adam Wainwright in spring training, then by rallying from a 10½-game wild-card deficit on Aug. 26 to catch the Braves.
The Phillies will not be impressed.
Prediction: Phillies in four.