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Inside the Game previews Cards-Phils Division Series

PHILADELPHIA -- In the 2 1/2 weeks since clinching the National League East, the Phillies have suffered through an eight-game losing streak before righting themselves with four consecutive victories to end the season.

They played, really, like a team with an eye on something much bigger and better.

Well, bigger and better is finally here.

"This is where everything gets going," said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

Starting Saturday, the Phillies get back to playing meaningful games when they play host to the Cardinals -- who have played nothing but meaningful games since the start of September -- in the first game of the NL Division Series at 5:07 p.m. ET at Citizens Bank Park.

"We've been ready for a few days," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

The Cardinals haven't had that luxury.

St. Louis had to overcome a 10-1/2 game deficit in the NL Wild Card race as late as Aug. 25 to pass the Braves on the final day of the regular season, capping a furious finish in which the Cardinals went 23-9 down the stretch.

Their reward? Playing the 102-win Phillies, with the first two games of this best-of-five series in their cozy ballpark that sits a long fly ball from Broad Street.

"I think it's going to be loud, electric and crazy," said Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence of the atmosphere he's expecting for his first playoff game.

And pay no attention that the Phillies are facing the NL Wild Card entry, cautioned Howard, who said that he is expecting a competitive series and not because the Cardinals won the season series from the Philadelphia, 6-3.

"Everybody's dangerous," Howard said. "Some of the time ... the Wild Card are the most dangerous teams because they had to scratch and claw to get there."

The buzzword in the interview room at Citizens Bank Ballpark during Friday's workout was "underdog" as it applied to the Cardinals. The players didn't bristle at the suggestion, though they weren't embracing it either.

"I mean, I guess if you ask anybody, they look at us as the underdogs," said Kyle Lohse, who will start Game 1. "These guys [Phillies] coming in, you look at their rotation, their lineup and they've won 100-something games.

"I think we've shown that we don't care who we're playing. We've traveled a long road to get to this point, and we've played about a month's worth of must-win games to get to where we're at right now. I don't think we view ourselves as underdogs."

If history is any indication, Lohse could have his hands full on Saturday.

Howard has a .500 average with two home runs against him. Raul Ibanez is hitting .273, but with three home runs. Placido Polanco (.357) and Pence (.317) have also had some success against Lohse.

The Cardinals will counter with an offense that includes a few thumpers of its own in Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman. Berkman is a .333 career hitter off Phillies Game 1 starter Roy Halladay and has four walks. Pujols is 4-for-23 off Halladay, but Allen Craig and Ryan Theriot have each hit one home run off the Phillies ace.

"It's going to be a challenge, the guy is an unbelievable pitcher," Craig said of Halladay. "But I feel like we have the talent in this room to give him a run for his money."

There's a chance Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday might not be available in this series. Holliday re-aggravated an inflamed tendon his right hand on Tuesday. He missed nine games in September with the injury.

If he can't play, Craig has proved to be more than an apt fill-in, hitting .375 in the last 10 games. The two teams don't have to finalize their rosters until 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

St. Louis shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has battled a sore left hamstring issue as of late, is expected to play.

Halladay is ready for the start of baseball's second season where anything can happen, as well evidenced by the no-hitter he tossed against the Reds in the NLDS a year ago. The Phillies were later eliminated by the Giants in the NLCS.

"I know you come out and play 162 games and you get to this point, this is the fun part," Halladay said. "Yeah, I think we're looking forward to it. Obviously the ultimate goal is to give ourselves a chance to win a World Series."

It all begins Saturday.

"I think that we're looking forward to it, and I'm sure they are, too," Manuel said.

Cardinals: No 100-RBI man, no problem
• With Pujols falling one short of the century mark, this was the first St. Louis team without a 100-RBI man since 1997, when Ray Lankford topped the team with 98 RBIs. Those '97 Cards went 73-89.

• Lohse's 14 wins were the lowest team-leading total for a postseason St. Louis team since 1987, when the Cardinals went 95-67 to take the old NL East with Danny Cox, Greg Mathews and Bob Forsch tying for the team lead with 11 wins apiece.

Phillies: Still on the run
During their four prior postseason appearances, fans kept hearing (well-deserved) props for first-base coach Davey Lopes' influence on the team's running game. What was the effect of Lopes' departure to the Dodgers on that? During Lopes' four seasons, Philadelphia was 501-for-594 in steal attempts, or 84 percent. The Phils stole their fewest bases (96) since the season prior to Lopes' arrival -- but their 80 percent success rate was still among the league's best.

The Phillies' NLDS foes, incidentally, ranked last in the NL in both categories: Fewest steals (57) and lowest percentage (59).

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is a three-time defending NL Gold Glove Award winner, but he caught 29 percent of basestealers this season -- down from 49 percent last season and well off his career mark of 44 percent.

Worth noting
• The Phillies had the poorest September (16-14) of the eight postseason teams. That may have been related to the fact they were the first to clinch, on Sept. 18.

• Since the start of the 2008 season, the Phils have won 384 games -- tied with the Yankees for the most in the Majors.

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