When it comes to the history of the National League, a Dodgers-Cardinals series sounds so regal, so legitimate, so competitive. And now they meet again for the first time since 2004. There will be no Stan Musial or Duke Snider, or Jack Clark versus Tom Niedenfuer this time around, but this series will give us Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, two Cy Young candidates and two managers -- Joe Torre and Tony La Russa -- on their way to the Hall of Fame.
Here are five questions:
1. How good is the Cardinals' 1-2 punch in their rotation?
Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright represent the best 1-2 starters in the postseason since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the 2001 Diamondbacks, who won the World Series. Together they are 36-12; in the second half, when the Cardinals pulled away, they went 19-4. Those two and the Giants' Tim Lincecum have been the three best pitchers in the National League this year. Neither Cardinals has been overworked this year, especially lately, meaning they should be fresh enough to start two games each should the series go five games. This year against the Dodgers, Wainwright and Carpenter allowed three runs in 21 innings combined. Carpenter is 5-0 with a 2.20 lifetime ERA against the Dodgers.
2. What is the Dodgers' rotation?
From Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers will have to pick three, then decide who goes in Game 1. Wolf likely will start Game 1 because he has been the Dodgers' best pitcher the last month. Kershaw has the best stuff and loves the responsibility that comes with greatness and with pitching big games. His six-inning, no-run, 10-strikeout performance Saturday night -- his first win since July 18 -- in the NL West clincher against the Rockies gave the Dodgers hope for the postseason. One Dodger says Billingsley has the stuff of a No. 1 but isn't ready for the responsibility of that role.
3. What has happened to the Dodgers' offense?
They have struggled mightily in the second half. They scored only seven runs in their last four games entering the postseason. Manny Ramirez hit .355 in the first half, but only .260 in the second half, and recently had an 0-for-13 stretch with nine strikeouts. They cannot win without more offense and without tremendous production from Ramirez. He absolutely carried them through the first round of the playoffs last year and had one of the greatest postseasons any hitter has ever had. But he has struggled against the Cardinals this year, going 4-for-28 with no homers and one RBI. The Dodgers lost five of seven to St. Louis this year and scored 19 runs in seven games.
4. Should there be concerns about the Cardinals' slow finish?
Perhaps. They lost seven of nine to end the season, which means they will start the postseason on the road. But after 2006, we've stopped making a big deal about momentum entering the playoffs. That year, the Tigers and Cardinals were clearly the worst of the eight teams in the playoffs that year -- they limped in -- yet they played in the World Series. Any team with Pujols and Matt Holliday in the middle of the order is going to be formidable. Pujols did, however, hit only .222 against the Dodgers this year.
5. Is Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin ready for postseason pressure?
He has had a tremendous year, stabilizing the closer spot that was unsettled when the season began. He saved 43 games and had a 1.95 ERA. But in September, Franklin had three blown saves and a 7.56 ERA, allowed 13 runs, and walked eight in 8 1/3 innings. The closer in the postseason is a slightly different animal. Until a guy has done it in really big pressure situations, you're never quite sure. We're not quite sure about Franklin, who has never thrown an inning in the postseason.
PREDICTION: CARDINALS IN FIVE
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.