10/06/09 6:56 PM ET
A whole new season for Cards, Dodgers
Struggles down stretch wiped away as playoffs dawn
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
What happened before is of little consequence now, other than the fact that it has led the Dodgers and Cardinals to a postseason meeting for the first time since 2004.
For Los Angeles, those National League-best 95 wins do nothing but ensure the team home-field advantage. The 47 home runs and 135 RBIs from Albert Pujols would complement an MVP trophy well, but they won't win a championship.
It's all wiped away.
And, yes, that means we're erasing how it all ended, too.
Two of baseball's most storied franchises will begin their best-of-five Division Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. And when that first pitch, scheduled for 9:37 pm ET, is thrown by Randy Wolf, both teams intend to start anew. In fact, they're just thankful that they can.
Much is made about end-of-the-year momentum coming into October, at least by the teams that enjoy it. Look no further than the case study that was the 2007 Rockies to see how a strong season finish can be parlayed into a lengthy postseason run.
But what happens when the opposite is true? What happens when teams that have been so dominant uncharacteristically stumble to the finish line? Well, stay tuned. We're about to find out.
"It doesn't really matter how you end the season," Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw said. "The postseason is a new season. I don't think anybody is too worried about what happened. It doesn't really matter. It's a five-game season, so I would hope there's some urgency."
Neither the Cardinals nor the Dodgers will meet with much to build off from the last 10 days. St. Louis lost a chance at making a run toward home-field advantage by slipping to a 2-8 record down the stretch. That included being swept at home by the Brewers over the season's final weekend to conclude a stretch during which St. Louis won just once in seven games after celebrating its sixth division title this decade.
At the same time, Pujols, the unquestioned leader of a St. Louis offense that needs to rediscover some of the balance it showed in distancing itself in the division with a 20-6 August, finished the year in a 21-game homerless drought.
Any reason for concern on either front?
"We're going to be just fine," Cardinals Game 1 starter Chris Carpenter said. "We've got some serious professional guys over there that know how to play this game and played this game for a long time. And I think we're going to be just fine."
The Dodgers' stumble was much the same. Holding a three-run lead with three outs to go against the reeling Pirates on Sept. 27, Los Angeles lost not only that game, but also the next four, effectively keeping its champagne -- which had to be relocated three times -- on ice a week longer than expected.
Los Angeles did close out the year with two wins against the Rockies, but it hasn't helped that slugger Manny Ramirez has totaled more than twice as many strikeouts as he has hits in his last 12 games.
"He's been down this road before as far as postseason," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said of his left fielder. "And I expect him to show up for sure."
"The playoffs are almost like a new season, a fresh start," added pitcher Chad Billingsley. "It's a different atmosphere, different intensity. We needed one game to win the division, and sometimes one game can be the toughest to get."
Interesting thing, too, is that both Torre and Tony La Russa know something about limping into the playoffs.
The Cardinals' belief that there truly will be a blank slate isn't without merit. Five players from the Cardinals' 2006 World Series roster will be on La Russa's Division Series roster against L.A. That group certainly hasn't forgotten how it went from a 3-9 season finish to an 11-5 run that culminated in a World Series championship.
Still, aside from similar late-season scuffles, La Russa sees little reason to compare an '06 team that wilted in late September largely because of injury issues to an '09 team that remained healthy and still competitive, just without complementary results.
"If you look at our games, we really only had a couple of games where you said, 'You are acting like you got it wrapped up,'" La Russa said. "Most of the games were well contested. This club is different than the '06 club. We're coming in healthier, except for an issue or two, and we'll be fine."
As for Torre, he guided the same Yankees team that lost 13 of its final 15 games in 2000 to a World Series win the following month. So much for using September as an indicator for what to expect come October.
"Once it was over with, we exhaled and we were on a run," Torre said of that bunch. "But look at St. Louis and Detroit [in 2006]. They both limped into it, and they wind up in the World Series, both of them. So I don't know what is a sure-fire way to go into the postseason."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.