Getting to Know the Cardinals

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Have you calmed down from that Wednesday night yet?

The Phillies might not have had their season on the line on one of the craziest evenings in baseball history, but they still had a front row seat to the madness. Their rally off Craig Kimbrel in the ninth and Hunter Pence's broken-bat single in the 13th (when he probably should have been walked) will live in infamy in Atlanta for a long time.

They will also be celebrated in St. Louis, because that comeback gave the Cardinals a pass into the playoffs. How long it will be celebrated will be figured out in short order since the Phillies will be facing the Cardinals in the NLDS. If the Phillies sweep, the good memories of Wednesday night will fade out quickly in Missouri.

If the Cards should pull off the upset, though, you'll have plenty of people wondering if Charlie Manuel shouldn't have eased off on his team and given the Braves a chance to avoid slipping in their own flop sweat. Which outcome is more likely? Here are a few pros and cons to drawing the Cardinals to help you figure it out for yourselves.

PRO: If not for the epic collapse of the Braves, the Cardinals wouldn't have made the playoffs at all. Their season was shaping up to be a pretty big disappointment just two weeks ago, starting with Adam Wainwright's season-ending injury before the season even got underway. They are here now, but it isn't for a lack of trying to submarine themselves.

CON: That said, the Cardinals still closed the season on an 18-8 tear and put themselves in a position to take advantage of the second burning of Atlanta. Good people can disagree with how much momentum matters once you enter the postseason, but you'd certainly rather face a team stumbling to the finish line than one firing on all cylinders.

PRO: The Cardinals had to use Chris Carpenter on Wednesday night to get into the playoffs, which means that the most experienced and most valuable member of the Cardinals rotation won't pitch until Game Three. That's good news for a Phillies team that already has an edge in starting pitching.

CON: Jaime Garcia isn't exactly chopped liver. He allowed just one run to the Phillies in 15 innings this season and he was very strong in September. If he can steal a win, home field goes up in smoke and Carpenter suddenly looks very dangerous in Game Three.

PRO: Two key members of the Cardinals are battling injuries. Matt Holliday has a problem with his finger and Rafael Furcal hurt his hamstring. The Cards aren't exactly Murderer's Row when everybody is healthy, so anything that limits their ability to score runs is going to play right into the Phillies' hands.

CON: The injuries hurt, but the Cardinals still have a mighty potent lineup. They led the NL in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage this year so they aren't going to be a pushover. Even if Holliday is hurting, Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman make the middle of the order a minefield.  

PRO: The Cardinals bullpen is a nightmare. They blew 26 saves this season and never found a way to set up roles that consistently brought them outs in the later innings. If the Phillies starters do what they've done all year, there will be chances to win games even if the Phillies offense gets held down by the St. Louis rotation.

CON: Experience matters in the postseason and the Cardinals have loads of it on their roster. They won't be cowed by early deficits and they won't go into games with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee just hoping to put wood on the ball. That's a big difference from the Reds last year, especially now that the Cardinals have done the impossible once. 

It might also be the Cardinals' biggest reason to believe. On paper, the Phillies have every advantage in this series. Their lineup is strong, their bullpen is better and their starting pitching is the stuff that makes men write epic poetry. We just got a pretty big reminder of how little that stuff can matter in baseball, though, so consider the Cardinals easy pickings at your own peril.

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