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STL@WSH: Gio strikes out eight in five-hit shutout

The National League Division Series is a classic matchup between a team that has been battle-tested in the postseason against one that is largely new to the bright lights of the playoffs.

That would be your defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who return several of the players who refused to lose last October, facing the Washington Nationals, who are in the postseason for the first time since the franchise moved from Montreal after the 2004 season. Game time at Busch Stadium on TBS on Sunday is 3 p.m. ET.

Nats right fielder Jayson Werth, who appeared in the postseason for the Dodgers in 2004 and the Phillies from 2007-10, insists his team's lack of experience doesn't matter.

"Going into the postseason, you need a lot of weapons, and this team possesses a lot of weapons," said Werth. "Postseason experience doesn't matter. You gain experience by experiencing it. That's the only way. ... [Almost] everyone is going into this situation with no experience. We'll see who stands at the end of the day. I like where we're at. I like our mindset. I like how we come to the park every day ready to play."

Matt Holliday, David Freese and Yadier Molina might disagree with Werth. They well remember Game 6 of last year's World Series, when the Cards were down to their last strike not once but twice in extra innings and came back to win against the Rangers. And they showed their mettle again Friday night by going on the road and winning their one-game Wild Card playoff against the Braves.

St. Louis has the clear edge in postseason experience when it comes to the rotations. Adam Wainwright, who will start Game 1 Sunday, Jaime Garcia (Game 2) and Chris Carpenter (Game 3) have all pitched in the playoffs.

"I think it does count for something," Wainwright said after Saturday's workout at Busch Stadium. "I think it depends on the man as well. I think some people have it inside them to step up and play great ball no matter what it is, and some people can get tight. I also think playing in big moments year after year gives you an edge. I feel like you'll be more comfortable in those situations. It gives you a sense of being comfortable in tight spots. I really do think that."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny agreed.

"I've been very clear that I think it's huge for our guys," Matheny said. "But I want to be clear with that, too. I don't claim that we have an advantage against or over another team. I think it's an advantage for our guys individually. So every day they have postseason experience, every day they have of going down to the wire in September helps them in their development as players individually. And I think that in itself helps us as a team collectively.

"So I don't think you can say enough about what those guys went through in 2011, what they overcame, how much they were the underdog and how they were ruled out and all those things that brought them together."

Gio Gonzalez led the Major Leagues with 21 wins, but he will be pitching in the postseason for the first time. In fact, the only Nats starter who has pitched in the postseason is Game 3 starter Edwin Jackson.

Also, since the Nationals decided to rest Gonzalez after clinching, he hasn't pitched under game conditions since Sept. 27.

"I was telling [pitching coach Steve McCatty] that I need to throw, still need to stay in shape, still stay where I need to be, and he understood that 100 percent," Gonzalez said. "This is a learning curve for me, so I need to prepare myself for something like this. Some way, somehow, I'll find it and try to figure it out."

Once the first pitch is thrown, though, all that will matter is which team pitches, hits and fields better. As Matheny put it: "I look at our club [and] I see a team that's tough to beat. They're going to continue to believe in themselves. You can talk about it, but you've got to execute."

Cardinals: Don't look back
The Cards hosted the Nats in the next-to-last series of the season and won two out of three at Busch Stadium, winning the opener, 12-2, and the series finale, 10-4. Washington needed extra innings to win the middle game, but Matheny reacted strongly to the idea that his team won "handily."

"There was nothing 'handily' about it," the manager said Friday night. "A very good team. We have the utmost respect for Davey Johnson and that club. They have all the components to a winning team. It's just going to be an opportunity for our guys to go out and compete, and that's all they're looking for. You can take your predictions and underdogs and do whatever you want with them, because it all happens out on the field, and our guys are prepared to go and compete."

• This is the 18th year there has been a Division Series. The Cardinals have appeared in 10 of them.

Nationals: Past and future
Teams waiting to see who their next opponent will be in the playoffs routinely deny that they have a preference. And in the case of the Nats, the regular season doesn't provide much guidance.

Washington was 4-3 head to head against St. Louis this season, winning three out of four at Nationals Park before dropping two of three at Busch Stadium in September.

• Count Werth among the firm believers in his team.

"We have a great clubhouse, we have a great group of guys, we have a manager who is tough as nails, but also is real easy to play for," the veteran outfielder said. "We have a great support staff with our coaches and trainers. We have kids coming up from the Minor Leagues helping us win ballgames. We have a group of guys ... who have more heart than maybe any other team I ever played on."

Worth noting
• Believe in the hot-team theory in the postseason? The Cards went 12-4 to finish the regular season before winning Friday night's Wild Card playoff at Turner Field. The Nats, by contrast, were 9-10 down the stretch.

• Gonzalez won his only start against the Cardinals this season, pitched a five-hit shutout at Nationals Park on Aug. 31. St. Louis, on the other hand, had the third-best record in the Major Leagues against lefty starters at 31-17.

• Wainwright was 1-1 with a 7.27 ERA against the Nats in 2012.

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