NLCS people!!! Who’s gonna win (not who do I want to win, but who’s gonna win… and I have very defendable reasons for believing they are the same thing).
To quote the immortal Hammer, Break it down!
STARTING PITCHING: Conventional wisdom says this is the place where the Astros can dominate and take a series. Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, and Roger Clemens will go in Games 1-3. That’s pretty intimidating. Pettitte ate up the Cardinals this season, and has been one of baseball’s most stealthily dominant starters. But the Redbirds have handled Oswalt in ’05, and despite Clemens’ celebrated relief appearance (I was impressed, but can we stop praising a pitcher for putting down a bunt? If he weren’t a 42 year old HOF’er, nobody would care) he’s been hit hard over the last month or so.
As for the Cardinals, they beat Houston last year without Carpenter and Mulder, who seems to have recovered from the shot to the shot to the arm he took against San Diego. Both of those guys are capable of dominating games in the same manner as any of Houston’s Big Three, while Morris and Suppan are certainly capable. The advantage goes to Houston, but not as big as it needs to be.
OFFENSE: Not even close. Top to bottom, the Cardinals outhit the Astros. Houston has nobody better in their lineup than Pujols… not that anyone does, but with Walker and Sanders hitting well, Eckstein at the top, and Edmonds in the middle, Houston is at a serious disadvantage. Not that they’re as weak as they were at the beginning of the year- Ensberg, Berkman, Lane, and Biggio provide a little sock, while Taveras sets the table nicely- they’re not equipped to put up runs with St. Louis. More than that, the Cardinals can score in ways Houston can’t, "big ball" or "small ball," or all the balls in between.
RELIEF PITCHING: The numbers say that Lidge and Izzy are comparable, and I buy it, although St. Louis’ closer certainly is more likely to give fans a coronary. But he’s also better rested. The big advantage for Houston is in the guys that get the ball to Lidge. The Reyes injury really hurt St. Louis. If Houston chases the St. Louis starters early, the Cards could be in trouble. Especially from the left side, because of Ray King’s ineffectiveness.
INTANGABLES: The Cards run the bases better, they are dependable in catching the ball. Houston does both of those things well, but in the end, there’s a reason the Cardinals were the best team in the league this year. They are solid, versatile, and so focused it’s scary. Houston is on a roll, played well to get into the playoffs, and has veterans like Bagwell, Biggio, and Clemens that know how to get the job done. I just don’t think they will.
Cardinals in six.