ST. LOUIS -- No team in baseball won more games than the Cardinals in the 2005 regular season. Thirteen teams in baseball won more games than the Padres in the 2005 regular season. But if you think we're looking at a mismatch heading into the National League Division Series, Tony La Russa says you'd better think again. The Cardinals manager made it clear Monday that the NL West champion Padres pose a threat to the defending NL champions, even if the Cards won 100 games for the second consecutive year and the Padres barely rose above the .500 mark at 82-80.
Considering the Padres went 4-3 against the Cardinals overall and took three of four in a May meeting here at Busch Stadium, La Russa wasn't exactly puffing his chest out and beaming overconfidence in his comments leading up to the series opener. "Well, I bet if they had their hand on a bible, they'll tell you they don't think we're really good because they beat us four out of seven, so I hope we throw out the regular season," La Russa said. "We saw them play well, and they play well enough to win a championship, and that's really what counts. They're in the tournament." So let the tournament begin, and it begins with a great mound matchup in Game 1, scheduled for a noon CT start as the final postseason at the current Busch Stadium begins. NL All-Star starter Chris Carpenter will take the ball for the Cardinals, and he'll be duking it out with fellow right-hander Jake Peavy, the 2004 NL ERA champ and the 2005 NL strikeout champ. Carpenter, 30, worked his way back from shoulder surgery to have a strong 2004 campaign, only to see it end early with arm soreness that kept him out of the postseason. He had a full season of health in 2005, going 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA in 241 2/3 innings pitched. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder scuffled down the stretch for what he says are mental reasons, not physical. Either way, he finished with a 5.73 ERA in six September starts. But he's getting to pitch in the postseason after missing out a year ago, and that's all that matters to him now. "It was a goal coming into Spring Training to battle all year and get a chance to play in the playoffs like we did last year," Carpenter said. "My only goal was to stay healthy and try to be consistent all year, and have a chance to be here with this team, and it's worked out."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.