Leadoff hitter: Perhaps more than anyone imagined, David Eckstein has made this Cardinals lineup a different animal. He's a big upgrade over Tony Womack, who might have brought more speed but not the kind of hitting savvy Eckstein does at the top.In the Division Series, Eckstein finished strong with a 3-for-4 game that included a two-run homer. Throw that in with his squeeze in Game 2, and it's obvious the Cardinals have a leadoff man who can make some good things happen -- and that certainly wasn't something that stood out about this club a year ago. Middle infield: The double-play combination of Eckstein and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek has it over last year's combo, more because of Grudzielanek being that much of an upgrade over Womack there than Eckstein being any sort of upgrade defensively over Edgar Renteria. But Eckstein's a lot less of a downgrade from Renteria than one might think defensively, with that run-and-throw approach of his from short. Granted, they're not without their potential pitfalls. The bullpen, which finished with the lowest ERA in the National League during the regular season, lost one of its core players when Al Reyes went down with an elbow injury in the season finale. The strength of the rotation helps balance that out a bit, though. The Rolen factor can't be ignored, either. Abraham Nunez has been a remarkable replacement for one of the best third basemen in the game, but everyone knows he's not a true replacement in the sense of filling Rolen's big shoes. That said, this team definitely has what it takes, and we saw that in the Division Series. It played exceptional baseball -- not flawless, but with brilliant execution in all phases of the game in each of the three games. "We've got a great club," Carpenter said. "We've got to continue to play the way we've been playing in this series to continue to move on." But as Champagne Celebration Part I carried on through the night Saturday, the Cardinals enjoyed every ounce of it, most of those ounces being sprayed all over the plastic-covered walls of the visiting clubhouse at PETCO Park. "It's all about popping the champagne," Game 3 winner Matt Morris said. "This was our second time doing it. Hopefully, there are two to go." They're certainly equipped to make it two down and two to go.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.