3. Experience counts in October. The Cardinals are vastly more experienced in the postseason than the Padres, and that could make a difference in fundamentals and clutch situations alike.
Achilles' Heel: They've done incredibly in the regular season, but can the Cardinals really succeed in October without Scott Rolen? Their slugging third baseman has been ably replaced by Abraham Nunez, but Nunez has exactly zero postseason games to his credit. Frankly, he can't possibly pick up the slack for what Rolen did in the first two rounds last year offensively.
1. Chris Carpenter vs. Joe Randa: Randa, who owns a rare 9-for-32 ledger with two homers against Carpenter, will be in a run-producing spot in the Padres' order for the opener. More than anything else, though, Carpenter just needs to shake off the cobwebs from his last few starts in the regular season.
2. Albert Pujols vs. Padres pitching: With Rolen out and Walker possibly a little less dangerous this year than last, it'll be interesting to see how the Padres approach Pujols with their predominantly right-handed staff -- starting with Jake Peavy, who has allowed five hits and two walks in 11 meetings with Pujols.
Darkhorse: So Taguchi has come up big with the Cardinals' fragile outfield this year, and he has last year's postseason experience behind him. A potential late-inning defensive replacement, he could be in a position to make a game-changing play either at the plate or in the field.
Reasons the Padres will win:
1. They may have finally found their winning groove. After a season of so many ups and downs it wound up pretty close to even, the Padres found a way often enough in September and really perked up when it came time to clinch the NL West last week.
2. Peavy could give them the boost they need right off the bat. As the Game 1 starter and unquestioned ace, Peavy can set a winning tone with one of his dominant mound performances. Even a lineup like the Cardinals' can be shut down when Peavy's on.
3. Brian Giles has willed this team to reach October with his grind-it-out mentality on top of his all-around talents. He can set a positive tone, too, and more than that he can deliver the big hit that could get the Padres started.
1. Trevor Hoffman vs. opportunity: Hoffman has been waiting seven years to make his third appearance in the playoffs, rising up the all-time saves charts. He has said all along that what really matters is saves in the postseason, and now he's got another crack at it.
2. Giles vs. Mark Mulder: Patient but with pop, Giles has been the lone constant in the Padres' lineup, and he might be the only left-handed batter the Padres go with against Mulder.
Darkhorse: Pedro Astacio was banished from what over the last five years has been the worst pitching staff in baseball. But after the Rangers let him go, Astacio has found new life with the Padres and could very well make an impact start in this series after a tremendous run to the finish off the regular season.
Achilles' heel: Experience. Very few Padres have been to the postseason, and for a few who have, it's been quite a long time -- seven years for cornerstones Hoffman and Giles. That factor can't be ignored against a perennial postseason participant like the Cardinals.
Prediction: Cardinals in four games