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Cardinals-Dodgers: Quick hits
10/04/2004 12:19 AM ET
Reasons the Cardinals will win:

1. You might say there are 105 reasons, as in the number of victories it took to be the winningest team in the Majors this year. The Cardinals shocked the baseball world with how easily they ran away with the NL Central. It's obvious this is a special team.

2. Offensive stars aligning, literally. Not only is Albert Pujols on a roll heading into October, but Scott Rolen's available, if not perfectly healthy, and that could be a huge plus over 2002's near-miss. Add Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker in his first postseason since '95, and that's a powerful core.

3. There aren't too many home field advantages bigger than Busch Stadium, where the home fans are knowledgeable and classy and just plain rabid. It's a big plus with the first two games of a best-of-five at home.

Achilles' Heel: It was the biggest question mark heading into the season but the biggest reason the Cardinals were so highly successful this year. Starting pitching remains the one area on the Cardinals that seems exploitable, especially with Chris Carpenter out. That, on the other hand, opens up another told-you-so situation for a solid if not spectacular group.

Key showdowns:

1. Woody Williams vs. Dodgers power: With Steve Finley owning three career homers off Williams and 2004 Major League home run king Adrian Beltre having one, keeping 'em in Busch Stadium will be a good way to start for Williams and the Cardinals.

2. Cardinals vs. September: It wasn't the smoothest ride down the stretch and the Cardinals clinched very early. Will that make a bit of difference?

Darkhorse:

It's hard to think of Reggie Sanders as someone who might emerge from the shadows, but when your offense is loaded like the Cardinals', the caliber of darkhorse is increased. Some pop from Sanders -- who has almost 150 postseason at-bats -- from the lower part of the order could be big.

Reasons the Dodgers will win:

1. They're the Comeback Dodgers of all time, winning a team-record 53 games in come-from-behind fashion. So even if the Cardinals' core of crushers puts them in a hole, the Dodgers have the know-how to snap back, and that's especially huge in the postseason.

2. There might not be a better streak hitter around than Finley, and if he gets locked in, he can spark the Dodgers to big things. Example: The NL West title.

3. If Eric Gagne gets involved, it's -- ready, 1, 2, 3 -- Game Over. His shoulder's a concern, but he's as jacked up as possible for the opportunity to finish off a postseason game.

Achilles' Heel: The Dodgers' bullpen, which remained one of its greatest strengths despite a lot of turnover, was abused down the stretch by a rash of short starts. Especially in regard to youngsters like Yhency Brazoban and Duaner Sanchez, will there be enough left in the tank to get the ball into Gagne's hands?

Key showdowns:

1. Comeback Dodgers vs. the odds: As remarkable as their run of comebacks has been, there are much higher stakes in the postseason. They hardly know any other way, but maybe in October they can try working with a lead.

2. Gagne vs. his shoulder: If the Dodgers do get the ball to Gagne but his shoulder isn't sound, Game Over might not be such a certainty. Knowing Gagne, there's nothing that will stand between him and the third out of the ninth.

Darkhorse: The postseason is the time when someone like Alex Cora makes something happen. Maybe he won't pull a three-homer game like Anaheim's Adam Kennedy did a couple of years ago in the ALCS, but Cora definitely could pull one of those pesky at-bats at a crucial time to lead to a big hit.

Prediction: Cardinals, in four games.

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


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