10/12/06 5:55 PM ET
Delay could change NLCS dynamic
East champs feeling good; Central champs holding it together
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
However, the recent Division Series proved these Mets are not doomed to repeating their personal history. In their prior cumulative playoff exposure, Mets players had been 17-34 in all postseason series.Postseason stripes aside, the teams share a lot more in common, foremost a shared goal: A return to the World Series. And don't even bring up that stuff about this NLCS being waged merely to choose the Series loser, given the documented strength of the American League. "Yeah, the AL has been better in Interleague, if you want to go there," Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca said defiantly, "but now it's all washed out, so we need to go out and play." The Cardinals need more than just Edmonds' and Rolen's names in the lineup. They need their bats, to protect Pujols in the St. Louis batting order. The Pujols Factor has dominated talk for two days at Shea Stadium. Do you challenge, or run away from, the man who drove in 42 more runs and hit 27 more homers than any teammate? "To me, he's the best player in the game," Floyd said. "I don't think you'd want to allow the best player in the game to beat you. I don't feel like you pitch to him and let him burn you." "That's why the key is having Edmonds and Rolen around him," said St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein. "You wouldn't really want to put runners on if those guys are driving them in."
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Edmonds missed more than a month after a typical mid-August meeting with a wall left him with post-concussion problems. From Aug. 11 to the end of the regular season, he had only one home run and five RBIs -- while striking out 19 times in 29 at-bats, a clear indication he still wasn't seeing the ball. He stirred to life in the Division Series, going 4-for-13 with two RBIs against the Padres.Rolen has been of little help to Pujols. Since busting loose for seven RBIs in a 14-4 win over the Giants on Sept. 15, Rolen has driven in only six runs -- and that includes the Division Series, in which he didn't have any while going 1-for-11 before sitting out Game 4. According to their sparkplug shortstop, the Division Series put the hop back into the Cards' strut. "We understand how things work," Eckstein said. "The whole point is to get into the postseason, and then it's a dead sprint where anyone can get hot. We have a very confident club and we knew once we got healthy, we'd be fine." The Mets are ready to start work on their second century. The Division Series sweep of Los Angeles set their 2006 victory total at 100. "That celebration lasted about a day or so," said Wright. "We were glad to beat the Dodgers, but didn't waste any time focusing on the Cards." "This is a small step," said New York closer Billy Wagner. "We're excited, but we know we have to get ready again. We know there's a lot we want to accomplish." If these Mets truly want to make their indelible mark, they may find motivation in the chance to still have an undefeated postseason. Last October, the White Sox became the second team to make an 11-1 march to a World Series championship, matching the 1999 Yankees. But no one has ever run the table. St. Louis is the first postseason team ever to survive three losing streaks of seven-plus games -- the last of which did not end until Sept. 26, by which time the Cards were on the brink of blowing their seven-game lead over Houston with 13 games to go. "That's 23 under in the three streaks," said La Russa, doing the math, "and we still had a winning record. That tells us that when we've been good, we've been really good. "When we've struggled, we did it right: We kept playing, no one pointed any fingers." Nothing impacted the Cardinals' late-season wobble as much as Jason Isringhausen's surrender to arthritis in his left hip. From the day of the closer's valiant last attempt to pitch with the pain -- on Sept. 6 -- the Cardinals went 9-14. And there was a direct correlation between the two. La Russa's bullpen was chewed up and spit out in those four weeks. But the work of the same taxed relievers keyed their triumph over the Padres. Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson and, principally, Adam Wainwright have removed the dread from the seventh inning and beyond.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.