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Cardinals keys to victory in NLCS
10/12/2004 1:37 AM ET
1. Get Scott Rolen untracked
Rolen was 0-for-12 in the NLDS vs. the Dodgers, but the club felt he was "close" to returning to the MVP-caliber form that preceded his calf injury. Rolen hit a two-run homer off Roger Clemens the last time these clubs met. If Rolen is producing, then Albert Pujols is even more lethal in front of him.

2. Contain the Killer B's
Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman hit a combined .400 with 21 RBIs in the five games against Atlanta. And don't take Jeff Kent for granted just because he isn't alphabetically inclined that way; he went deep off Jeff Suppan the last time the clubs played, and helped Houston set an NLDS record with 36 runs scored. Pay special attention to starting Beltran low and then expanding the strike zone -- his two homers Monday were on middle-in pitches.

Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Game 1 at St. Louis         STL 10, HOU 7
Game 2 at St. Louis Thu. Oct. 14 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 3 at Houston Sat. Oct. 16 4:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 4 at Houston Sun. Oct. 17 4:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 5* at Houston Mon. Oct. 18 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 6* at St. Louis Wed. Oct. 20 4:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 7* at St. Louis Thu. Oct. 21 8:00 p.m. FOX  
 * If necessary

3. Strike early and often
Houston can't line up its rotation the way it would like because of the NLDS, so Pete Munro and Brandan Backe are likely to be the first two starters. Backe beat St. Louis on Sept. 28, but the Cards had little on the line in that game and Houston had everything to lose. St. Louis came out hot in the first two at Busch against Los Angeles, and needs to do the same here. Especially considering the way Houston finished the regular season with 18 consecutive home victories. Chase those starters early, and you get into an Astros bullpen that is patched together after the past few days.

4. Get to "La Russa Time"
Tony La Russa has been maneuvering his bullpen to situational perfection lately, and quality starts would mean more optimal opportunities for Ray King, Steve Kline, Julian Tavarez and Cal Eldred to bridge to Jason Isringhausen. So far it has been a quintessential La Russa bullpen. Cardinal starters have generally defied critics in 2004, and with the exception of Jason Marquis' quickie outing, they were solid or better against the Dodgers.

5. Get Tony Womack on base
Womack was only 3-for-19 with no walks and one steal in the five games against Los Angeles. Womack brings some postseason savvy (he won the 2001 World Series with Arizona), and the Cards would love more RBI opportunities for Larry Walker and the big bats that follow him.

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

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