Houston Looks to Continue Surge at St. Louis

10/12/2004

The Houston Astros, who completed an amazing late season surge to just make the playoffs, took it a step further and won their only playoff series in franchise history.  This was from a team that was counted out as early as the All Star break. 

So what does Houston get for all that?  Nothing but a date with the best team in MLB during the regular season.  The St. Louis Cardinals, fresh off a dominating performance against the Dodgers, are lying in wait.

So Houston has no chance right?  Not quite.  The Astros could be Cardinalsí nemesis.  They are the only team to win a season series against St. Louis this year and look to take another series, the NLCS.

So how can St. Louis be stopped?  We all know that the Cardinals have 3 legitimate MVP candidates in Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen and added the dangerous Larry Walker down the stretch to form a formidable lineup.  We know they are a terrific defensive team and have players with professional attitudes.  But there are a few chinks in their armor.

The first weakness shows up on the injury front.  Rolen hasnít been up to par since a late season injury.  Chris Carpenter, arguably the Cardinalsí best pitcher this season, is unlikely to pitch in the series.  If those two players canít play at full strength, this team is greatly weakened.

The second weakness appears to be a strength at first glance.  The Cardinals were second the majors in staff ERA at 3.75.  The team ahead of them?  The Atlanta Braves and like the Braves the Cardinals lack a true staff ace.  The likes of Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, Woody Williams, and Matt Morris were good enough for their potent offense in the regular season but, like the Braves, could really struggle against the Houston lineup.

All that said the Cardinals won a 105 games for a reason.  If their starters can give them 5-6 strong innings, their talent-laden lineup and their powerful bullpen could overpower Houston.  Houston will need several things to continue its amazing run and garner a birth in the World Series.

First, Houston will need its 2 aces to be just that, aces.  Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt will need to be dominating for the team to have a chance.  The fact that both pitched on 3 days rest in the Atlanta series could be a stumbling block preventing them from being at their best.

Secondly, the killer Bs must continue to sting hard and often.  The old vets Biggio and Bagwell finally hit well in the playoffs as did the other Bs, Beltran and Berkman.  The Astros hit 11 home runs in the 5 NLDS games and will need to continue that production to win.

Overall, if both lineups hit as well as they are capable, it will come down to pitching.  This is where the Astros aces will be the winning factor.