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Pair of aces ready to open NLDS

Pair of aces ready to open NLDS

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."

Peavy, the Padres' 24-year-old ace, certainly expects the best out of Carpenter, even if Carpenter has so many innings under his belt this year.

"I can't say he's going to go out there and be tired [Tuesday] and not make pitches, because I've had a chance to be around him and I know him well enough to know that his adrenaline is going to be [flowing] as much as mine," Peavy said. "He's going to be executing pitches and giving his team a shot to win the game."

Peavy brings a lot of fire to the mound along with his stellar stuff, which added up to a 13-7 mark and 2.88 ERA in 30 outings this year. He finished with a solid September (2.03 ERA in four starts) and totaling 216 strikeouts in 203 innings pitched.

The fourth-year Major Leaguer from Alabama knows he'll have to use all that stuff to harness that emotion and have a successful Game 1 start.

"I don't think my emotions are going to get the best of me," Peavy said. "I have a lot of excitement, a lot of adrenaline, but in the four years I've been here, I've learned to channel it in the right way."

Whether he can do it under the glare of the postseason, well, Peavy simply can't know based on experience. He has none, and he's not alone in the Padres clubhouse in that respect -- though there's a smattering of postseason experience in there.

For the Cardinals, this is old hat. They've been in the playoffs five of the last six years, and even players who will be playing their first playoff game in Cardinals red came to town with a lot of postseason experience under their belts -- Game 2 starter Mark Mulder (with the A's) and shortstop David Eckstein (with the Angels), for example.

Experience isn't the only factor the Cardinals have in their corner. They haven't been the NL's best team the last two regular seasons for nothing.

"We know we're the underdogs, but that's to be expected," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're not underestimating how good the Cardinals are, believe me. We know how good they are and what a solid ballclub they have. We think we're playing well right now, and I think we've shown that we can compete with any club if we play the ball we're capable of playing. That's what we need to do here."

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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