|CATCHER -- Mike Matheny vs. Damian Miller. St. Louis must rely on Matheny's ability to work the pitchers, because he doesn't hit. Miller is underrated working with pitchers and a more potent offensive force than Matheny, but he has a torn rotator cuff and torn Achilles tendon, and will be throwing in pain. Matheny has a quality backup in Eli Marrerro, and the Cardinals keep a third in Keith McDonald. Arizona has rookie Rod Barajas, who is hitting .160, but would be the only choice if Miller breaks down. Advantage: St. Louis.
FIRST BASE -- Albert Pujols (or Mark McGwire) vs. Mark Grace. McGwire signed a $15 million-a-year extension this year, while Grace had trouble finding a job. But Grace was a slick-fielding, contact-hitting, veteran influence for the Diamondbacks, while McGwire was injury-plagued and opted out of the season-ending series with chronic knee problems while hinting at retirement. That said, he was replaced at first over the weekend by Albert Pujols, the rookie of the year but still a rookie in his first postseason. Against tough left-handers, Greg Colbrunn might take over for Grace. Advantage: St. Louis.
SECOND BASE -- Fernando Vina vs. Craig Counsell. Statistically, Vina wins. Defensively, Vina wins. But at the end of the day, Counsell always seems to win. It's hard to explain, but he is the kind of player a championship team needs. No knock on Vina, who bats leadoff, scores runs and makes some spectacular defensive plays. But if that's enough, why does Counsell already wear a world championship ring? Advantage: Arizona.
SHORTSTOP -- Edgar Renteria vs. Tony Womack. Neither player has had a good year. Renteria was such a disappointment that he was on the trade block a couple months ago. Womack played like Renteria over the first half of the season and at one point lost his leadoff job because his on-base percentage was so low, but he came alive in September. Go with the hot hand. Advantage: Arizona.
THIRD BASE -- Placido Polanco vs. Matt Williams. With three home runs in 560 at-bats, Polanco is not the typical third baseman, but he played his way into the lineup. Williams is, and he is playing healthy on defense, which means he's looking like a Gold Glover again. Williams has lost some of his power, but he delivered clutch hits repeatedly down the stretch and will punish pitchers for mistakes. Polanco is a gem defensively, but lacks power. Advantage: Arizona.
LEFT FIELD -- Craig Paquette (or Albert Pujols) vs. Luis Gonzalez. Nothing against Paquette, but he fell 41 home runs short of Gonzalez, who's being mentioned in the same breath as Babe Ruth, for crying out loud. Gonzalez would fare well in a comparison with Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa, so we'll have to give him the nod over Paquette. Unless McGwire starts at first, which would put Pujols in left and make this position a lot closer. Advantage: Arizona.
CENTER FIELD -- Jim Edmonds vs. Steve Finley. Edmonds can do everything but run. He is a Gold Glove outfielder with a sweet, effortless power swing. Finley plays hard and can make the highlight film with his glove as well. He tends to deliver clutch hits, as does Danny Bautista, who sometimes takes over against left-handed pitching. But it's hard to go against Edmonds. Advantage: St. Louis.
RIGHT FIELD -- J.D. Drew vs. Reggie Sanders. Drew sometimes sits against left-handers, with Pujols going to the outfield, but that usually means McGwire plays first base. This could be a critical matchup, because the production the Diamondbacks got from Sanders batting primarily in the sixth spot made the difference from the other lineups in the division. Against certain right-handers, Sanders gives way to left-handed hitter David Dellucci. Advantage: Arizona.
BENCH -- Now that we've gone through the likely starters, these are teams that use their benches often, and not just in the late innings. We've already mentioned Colbrunn, Bautista and Dellucci for the Diamondbacks, but there's also veteran Jay Bell, who lost his starting job to Counsell. Erubiel Durazo gives Arizona a dangerous left-handed power bat, and Midre Cummings was a surprise addition because he spent most of the year at Triple-A. For St. Louis, if McGwire does not start, that's a pretty good late-inning threat. Bobby Bonilla still must be respected from both sides of the plate, making late-inning maneuvering intriguing. Miguel Cairo was a pickup to provide an extra infielder, while Kerry Robinson is used for late-inning defense. Advantage: Arizona.
STARTING PITCHERS -- Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Darryl Kile and either Dustin Hermanson or Bud Smith vs. Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Miguel Batista and Albie Lopez. Whatever advantage a team with Schilling and Johnson should have is thrown into doubt by the fact that two of Johnson's six losses this season were against the Cardinals, even though it was early in the season. Batista is underrated, while Lopez had been disappointing until pitching a three-hit shutout the night the Diamondbacks clinched. Morris has matched wins with Arizona's top two, while Williams was easily the best late-season acquisition of any contender in the league. Hermanson and Kile combined for 30 wins, giving the Cardinals a deeper rotation, although Kile's elbow is believed to be tender -- witness his Sunday debacle. Advantage: St. Louis.
RELIEF PITCHERS -- Neither team can brag here. Arizona's closer, Matt Mantei, has been out since May with a bad elbow and Byung-Hyun Kim inherited the job, with mixed results. St. Louis' closer, Dave Veres, lost his job to the tag team of Gene Stechschulte and Steve Kline. Both have retreads filling middle roles: Bobby Witt and Mike Morgan for Arizona, Mike Timlin and Veres for the Cards. The situational lefties are Greg Swindell for the Diamondbacks and Mike Matthews for St. Louis. Luther Hackman and Mike James make up the rest of St. Louis' bullpen, while Brian Anderson and Mike Koplove round out St. Louis'. Advantage: Nobody.
MANAGER -- Tony La Russa vs. Bob Brenly. In his first year out of the broadcast booth, Brenly has treated his players like grownups and has been rewarded with a professional performance. His strategy is not always predictable because he plays his hunches, but he also has used his bench liberally, which has served this veteran team well. La Russa is the master and World Series winner who was on the hot seat early in the year but helped orchestrate a late-season roll that exploited a soft schedule. Advantage: St. Louis.
INTANGIBLES -- Does a sense of urgency bring out the best in a team, or create undo pressure? We'll see with the Diamondbacks, an aging team that has commented since early in the season that it might get only one chance to win before management tears it apart. The Cardinals are a team with good young players getting better, and they will be heard from again regardless. The Cardinals won the season series, 4-2, and swept the Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark, but that was in April. Arizona has played more consistently home and away, while St. Louis has the best home record in the league but a losing mark on the road. Based on hitting and pitching stats, the teams are mighty close. St. Louis is third in the league batting and pitching, while Arizona is fourth in batting and second in pitching. Arizona plays with an attitude that annoys the opposition. Advantage: Arizona.
Ken Gurnick is a regional writer for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.