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2004 MLB Playoffs
NLCS Preview
October 12, 2004

After all was said and done this year, the two best and most deserving teams in the National League will be playing in the NLCS this Wednesday.  It will be a battle of consistent winning throughout the year against the hottest team in baseball right now.  It will be a contest of similar matchups, but the minor differences will make ALL the difference.

Houston and St. Louis have loaded lineups, but the Cardinals are better 1 through 8.  On the flipside, Houston's rotation has guys with names like Clemens and Oswalt, while St. Louis comes back with a Williams and a Marquis.  Fortunately for the Redbirds, they will be able to use their lineup every game, while Houston's aces will be limited and won't even be able to start the first game or two.

With Clemens and Oswalt assured 2 healthy starts each, this series would have a very different dynamic.  Handcuffed by playing a five game series against the Braves, however, leaves Houston at a disadvantage in the area they did the most to improve in the offseason.  It doesn't help matters that Tony LaRussa has been in this situation many times before and Phil Garner looks a little too much like Bill Buckner.  With plenty of veterans on both teams, the difference could come from decisions by the managers and not by the players on the field.

Question marks are not missing from St. Louis' side, either, however.  Scott Rolen still doesn't have a postseason hit this year, although he has walked 6 times, giving him an OBP of .333.  That kind of output is the reason the Cardinals went through very few losing streaks during the year: when things are going bad, the players have always managed to adjust and improve on other aspects of the game to make up for it.

Expect some close, exciting games in this series, and don't count out Clemens just because of his last start (which wasn't even all that bad).  Houston's problem will be getting to the Rocket with a lead in the series, so even if the aces trump St. Louis, it may take a guy like Pete Munro to put the Astros over the top.  Home field will play an important role, and when Houston is playing in St. Louis with everything on the line, the Astros will quickly realize that St. Louis is not Atlanta.
Prediction: Cardinals in 7

Looking for the ALCS Preview?  Look no further!

Check out TCO's 2004 Season Preview for an April flashback to see how well The Commish predicted this season's outcomes.