By C. Trent Rosecrans
The Cardinals were left for dead in late August, trailing in both the NL Central and the wild card by more than 10 games. There was even talk they'd trade All-Star right fielder Lance Berkman once he cleared waivers. Instead, they held onto him and went 23-9 in the last five weeks of the season. A season-ending 8-0 win over the Astros propelled the Cardinals into the playoffs as the Braves lost in 13 innings. As their prize, the Cards now get to face the best team in baseball in a short series. The Phillies won the NL East for the fifth straight season and ended up with a franchise-record 102 wins. The Cardinals recently took three of four in Philly, but the Phillies weren't really playing for anything. What happens this time around? We'll soon find out.
TEAM INFORMATIONPhiladelphia Phillies (host games 1, 2, 5)
102-60, NL East champions
Manager: Charlie Manuel
Team batting statistics: .253 batting average (9th in NL), .323 on-base percentage (5th), .395 slugging percentage (7th)
Team pitching statistics: 3.02 ERA (1st), 1.167 WHIP (1st), 3.22 K/BB (1st)
Star player: SP Roy Halladay -- 19-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, 220 K in 233 2/3 innings
St. Louis Cardinals (host games 3, 4)
90-72, NL wild card champions
Manager: Tony La Russa
Team batting statistics: .273 batting average (1st in NL), .341 on-base percentage (1st), .425 slugging percentage (1st)
Team pitching statistics: 3.79 ERA (8th), 1.306 WHIP (10th), 2.45 K/BB (5th)
Star player: 1B Albert Pujols -- .305/.349/.465, 37 HR, 99 RBI, 29 2B, 9 SB
|Full Playoff Coverage|
Game 2: STL @ PHI, Oct. 2, 8:07 p.m. ET. Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45) vs. Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40)
Game 3: PHI @ STL, Oct. 4 Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79) vs. Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56)
Game 4: PHI @ STL, Oct. 5* Roy Oswalt (9-10, 3.69) vs. Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3.79)
Game 5: STL @ PHI, Oct. 7* TBD vs. Halladay
* if necessary
TEAM BREAKDOWN (Click player name for statistics)Catcher
Philadelphia: Carlos Ruiz
St. Louis: Yadier Molina
This is one of the best match ups in all of the playoffs, you have two of the best defensive catchers in the game and two of the best handlers of a pitching staff. Catcher is probably the toughest position in baseball and the toughest to judge. However, these two are at the very top when they have the gear on.
Advantage: TieFirst base
Philadelphia: Ryan Howard
St. Louis: Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols struggled at the beginning of the year, but still finished with 37 homers and a .305 batting average. With the game on the line, who else in baseball would you rather have on the line? Nobody, that's who.
Advantage: CardinalsSecond base
Philadelphia: Chase Utley
St. Louis: Skip Schumaker
Even hobbled, Chase Utley is still one of the best second basemen in the game.
Philadelphia: Jimmy Rollins
St. Louis: Rafael Furcal
Furcal is struggling with a hamstring injury, and that really hurts the Cardinals because so much of his game is based on his speed. And when you start dealing with a speedster's wheels, they lose a lot of their effectiveness.
Advantage: PhilliesThird base
Philadelphia: Placido Polanco
St. Louis: David Freese
Casual fans may not know much about David Freese, but when healthy, the Cardinals' third baseman is an impressive hitter -- and right now, he's apparently healthy. Freese, 28, had a hit in eight of the team's last nine games.
Advantage: CardinalsLeft field
Philadelphia: Raul Ibanez
St. Louis: Matt Holliday
Holliday's status is unclear, but he is on the postseason roster. If Holliday plays, he's one of the game's best. That said, his palm is an issue. He took batting practice on Friday. Even at 80 percent, Holliday is a heck of a player.
Advantage: CardinalsCenter field
Philadelphia: Shane Victorino
St. Louis: John Jay
Jay has played well as the team's center fielder, hitting .297/.344/.424, but Victorino is having a great season. Not only did he hit 17 homers, he's also played Gold Glove defense.
Advantage: PhilliesRight field
Philadelphia: Hunter Pence
St. Louis: Lance Berkman
The former teammates provide perhaps the most intriguing matchup. Both have been the faces of the Astros franchise and are now beloved in their new homes. Berkman's wrapped up the Comeback Player of the Year award, hitting .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers and 94 RBI. Pence was an All-Star in Houston and even better in Philadelphia, where he's hit .324/.394/.560 with 11 homers in 54 games. Pence isn't a Gold Glover, but he's Willie Mays compared to Berkman in the outfield.
Advantage: TieStarting pitching
Philadelphia: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt
St. Louis:Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson
You may have noticed that the Phillies have a pretty good rotation.
Advantage: PhilliesRelief pitching
Philadelphia closer: Ryan Madson
St. Louis closer: Jason Motte
The Cardinals' bullpen has been bolstered by mid-season additions of Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel (the deal also allowed them to move Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen with the addition of Jackson). Since the trade, the Cardinals have the third-best bullpen ERA (2.86) in baseball. But the Phillies' pen has been stout all year long, while the Cardinals still have a bit of uneasiness when Tony La Russa makes one of his many visits to the mound.
Total advantage: Phillies (5), Cardinals (3), tie (2)
PREDICTION (click here to see full postseason predictions)
|Evan Brunell: Phillies in 3
Gregg Doyel: Phillies in 3
Danny Knobler: Phillies in 5
Scott Miller: Phillies in 4
Trent Rosecrans: Phillies in 4
Matt Snyder: Phillies in 3
Trent's take: The Cardinals have the best offense in the National League and the Phillies the best pitching, so it will be interesting to see strength-on-strength, even though I'm always inclined to take pitching in that situation. The Phillies are the favorites, there's no doubt about that. The fact that Furcal and Holliday are hobbled by injuries doesn't hurt that idea, either. La Russa raised some eyebrows when he switched up his rotation on Friday, announcing he'd pitch Carpenter on three-day's rest in Game 2. If the Cardinals can take one of the first two games of the series, the pitching difference isn't as big in the second two games, which could make the series interesting. But there are still "ifs" to get to that point.@eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.