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Cardinals-Dodgers matchups
10/03/2004 7:00 PM ET
Mike Matheny is a Gold Glove catcher, yet he's still a relative unknown outside of St. Louis. He took a slight step backward offensively from his 2003 career year, but he'd be a definite asset to the club with virtually no bat. Primary backup Yadier Molina follows a similar pattern with exceptional defense.

The Dodgers' decision to let All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca go in the blockbuster dealings of July left them with previously untested David Ross and veteran backup Brent Mayne. Ross struggled at the plate but developed a rapport with the pitchers behind it. Mayne seems a prime candidate to come up with a big postseason moment.

Is Albert Pujols lulling us all into thinking what he does is normal, that this was just another Pujols year? Pujols put up huge offensive numbers again in 2004, joining Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio with 500-plus RBIs in his first four seasons. The amazing thing is he's only 24. Time to put his stamp on October?

On the other hand, it was too much to ask for Shawn Green to keep up the pace he set with 49 homers and 125 RBIs in 2001. That said, Green has been healthy and productive again. Surrounded by other big bats in the lineup, Green is a great fit in Dodger blue.

Tony Womack is a big part of the Cardinals' run to the postseason because he's been a lot more like the leadoff man who was a key cog in the Diamondbacks' run to the World Series title in 2001. Still no defensive gem, he used his speed to score 91 runs this year.

Alex Cora represents the heart of the club in many ways. As evidenced by his phenomenal 18-pitch at-bat against the Cubs' Matt Clement early in the year, Cora is a tough out, and he knows how to handle the bat. Defensively, he gives the Dodgers a second baseman with shortstop skills.

The epitome of the cornerstone at the hot corner, Scott Rolen represents the linchpin of the new era of Cardinals baseball. His acquisition in 2002 took the club to a new level, and he has proven to be an elite performer ever since, both offensively and defensively. A left calf strain kept him out of action for 2 1/2 weeks in September, or his name would be louder in the MVP conversation.

This is the Adrian Beltre everyone in the Dodgers organization has been waiting for. Beltre led the Majors in homers, eclipsed 200 hits and might have led the league in clutch moments. His defense ranks second only to Rolen in the league, and his durability and overall excellence was vital to his team's success.

It's time to recognize Edgar Renteria as one of the game's top shortstops. A two-time defending Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipient, Renteria is a winner. His excellence transcends the numbers that define the elites in the National League. He does things on defense and at the plate that are simply clutch.

Like his counterpart, the Dodgers' Cesar Izturis is the type of player you must see on a regular basis to appreciate. Izturis, who very well might claim the Gold Glove Award that Renteria won last year, not only makes the spectacular play, but he almost never blows the simple one. He has reached the elite.

Finally, Reggie Sanders found a home, signing a two-year deal with St. Louis after playing with six other teams the six previous years. He got off to a blistering start with the Cardinals, but tailed off to skew backward from his last few years. The Cards didn't mind having yet another 20-homer guy.

With all the movement in the Dodgers' outfield, the job in left has fallen to a player they acquired just before the season began -- Jayson Werth. Lanky and athletic at 6-foot-5, Werth took over after the Dodgers' roster juggle and contributed nine homers the final two months of the season.

Jim Edmonds took his game to a new level when he came to the Cardinals in 2000, and he's been consistently strong through five years there. He's the top power-hitting center fielder in the game over the last several years, and he still patrols his beat with the best of them.

Obviously, two months of Steve Finley can do a whole lot of good. The veteran had a number of heroic moments before his NL West-clinching grand slam, and singlehandedly made the Dodgers' midseason shakeup make sense in the short term. His dedication to fitness has helped him continue to elevate his game while pushing 40.

It's a nice luxury to get a player the caliber of Larry Walker in August, adding a cherry to the league's most powerful offense. Walker hasn't disappointed, though his September knee injury and subsequent slump has to be cause for some concern. Walker returns to the postseason for the first time since 1995.

He was the spark of the Dodgers' hot start but had an unfortunate explosion in the final week. Will Milton Bradley put his competitive fire to good use in the postseason? Exiled from Cleveland, he was a flexible, team-first key to the Dodgers' success before his bottle-throwing blowup. His athleticism makes him a factor.

A veteran unit that combined to win the Major League relief ERA title, the Cardinals' bullpen is managed by the king of situational pitching. Granted, Jason Isringhausen has a well-earned reputation as a heart-stopper, but he remains one of the game's top closers. Lefties Ray King and Steve Kline could be a big factor against the Dodgers' portside power.

It's amazing the Dodgers managed to take the relief ERA title down to the last day with the Cardinals, but when it includes a guy nicknamed Game Over, maybe nothing's surprising. Eric Gagne had another Cy Young-caliber season, even if his saves streak ended -- but a cortisone shot in the shoulder the last week of the regular season is alarming, to say the least. The Dodgers' bullpen was a savior for the team amid much transition, but there were some struggles down the stretch for the oft-used bunch.

While John Mabry has put together another solid season as a reserve, the Cardinals don't need a ton of depth with the strength of their everyday lineup. There are some veteran options to choose from in late innings, but nothing that has opponents quaking with fear.

The Dodgers have a good mix of reserves, with veterans like Robin Ventura, Jose Hernandez and Olmedo Saenz bringing a more powerful brand of offense off the bench than they've had in the past.

By leading his team to the one of the finest seasons in a storied franchise's history, Tony La Russa has added another strong entry into one of the best managerial resumes around. His ability to take this team to the next level, of course, will be the true judgment of his 2004 performance, but La Russa took a very good team and helped it become great.

In the end, the job Jim Tracy did with a first-place team in so much transition was nothing short of remarkable. Always positive, and always behind his players, Tracy weathered more storms than one would think a team that led its division the entire second half of the season would have. In what was a pivotal year in his managerial career, Tracy managed to shine.

The Cardinals' strengths are quite tangible -- scary power, Gold Glove defense, pitchers who can step up. They have a definite winning attitude, no question about that, and La Russa will always strive to do his part to come up with some sort of advantage. Their biggest intangible might be St. Louis itself, with its rich baseball history and genuine rabid support for the Redbirds.

When you win a team-record 53 games coming from behind, you've got the intangibles down pat. The Dodgers were a team of destiny, overcoming enough adversity to fill a few seasons and coming up with walk-off homers and huge rallies that made their clincher just seem like a natural occurrence. There's been a winning atmosphere in the clubhouse since they started playing William Hung's dulcet tones after wins in April. They haven't missed a note yet.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.