By Keith Glab
Astros: 89-73 693 RS(11th) 609 RA(1st)
Cardinals: 100-62 805RS(2nd) 634RA(2nd)
This rematch of last yearís NLCS promises to be almost as exciting. The only reason being that the series doesnít begin until Wednesday, allowing Roy Oswalt to pitch on his normal 4 days of rest.
As it stands, this is a matchup of the best team over the past two years (Cardinals 205-119 in 04-05) versus the best team over the past five months (Astros 73-42 since May 28). Itís hard to say who has the advantage. If pitching really wins in the playoffs, advantage Astros. If defense does the trick, advantage Cards. My personal opinion is that offense actually counts for something in the postseason (unpopular theory, I know). This means that I must favor St. Louis by a tad.
Home field advantage also plays a role. The ĎStros will have to play up to four games in Busch Stadium, there they had a 2-6 record (the two wins coming in meaningless September games for the Cards) along with their 36-45 boverall road record. The Astros wonít even have the luxury of using Road Warrior Rockiní Roger (6-4 1.32 on the road) in either of the first two road games due to his involvement in Sundayís 18-inning thriller. They will, however, have Clemens pitching in the event of a game 7.
The Cardinals will counter with either Morris (14-10 4.11) or Mulder (16-8 3.64), hardly slouches, in that theoretical game 7. The biggest advantage that St. Louis will have lies in the Suppan (16-10 3.57) vs. Backe matchup likely in game 4, and the ability to use Jason Marquis (13-14 4.13) in long relief.
A lot of people might argue that the Cardinals arenít at their best since Scott Rolen is out, and that the Astros are better off for having a health Berkman now. I say that the Cardinals are most dangerous now, since John Rodriguez, Reggie Sanders, and Larry Walker are all playing together for the first time this year. The Cardinals are healthy, rested, and firing on all cylinders, and I donít think that the Astros will overcome them.
Prediction: Cards in 6