This will be the second consecutive October that these teams will be facing each other in the first round. And Tuesday's game figures to be a rematch between Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter and Padres right-hander Jake Peavy, who opened the series last year in St. Louis at old Busch.
The Cardinals won that game, 8-5, when Peavy got knocked out in the fifth inning, having allowed eight runs on eight hits. Carpenter left after six innings with an 8-0 lead, having given up just three hits. After the game, it was revealed that Peavy had pitched with cracked ribs that he sustained during the club's NL West-clinching on-field tumult a week earlier.
Carpenter won 21 games and the NL Cy Young Award last year. This year he's still a Cy Young candidate, but slumped, like his 83-78 club that was swept by the Red Sox in the World Series two years ago, to 15 wins this year.
"We battled all year long," Carpenter said. "A lot of people put us down and said we weren't going to make it, waited for us to lose. And we didn't do it. We kept battling. We held together in here, did everything we could every single day to come and play and win. This is the goal at the beginning of the season, to get to the end and give yourself a chance."
But don't expect a rerun of last year, when the Cardinals swept the Padres out of the best-of-five series. San Diego barely eeked out an 82-80 record and the division title in 2004.
"You don't want to go in limping like we did last year," said Woody Williams, who began his second tour with the Padres last season after helping the Cardinals into the World Series in 2004. "Obviously, this is a better team than last year. Expectations are higher. No team in the playoffs is going to roll over and make it easy. I think we've gotten what we deserved, and when we've had to, we've played very good baseball."
This year, the Padres were 88-74 and finished tied for first place with the Dodgers. The Padres won back-to-back titles for the first time in their 38-year history because they overwhelmed Los Angeles in head-to-head play, winning 13 of 18.
This is only the fifth time the Padres have gone to the playoffs and the first time in consecutive seasons. Plus, they had a battle the last two weeks right down to the final play of the season to seal the deal, winning their last nine of 11.
"It's been like this for a month," Padres right fielder Brian Giles said. "Philly and L.A. played great baseball. We had to keep winning -- and we did."
This year, the Padres have a decided bullpen edge against the Cardinals, who are without closer Jason Isringhausen. Because of the loss of Mark Mulder, the Cardinals' starting pitching is also short.
But the Cards have one thing the Padres don't have -- first baseman Albert Pujols, the great decider, who finished with 49 homers and 137 RBIs even though he missed nearly a month of the season with a pulled oblique muscle. And on the arm of Carpenter and the bat of Pujols the results of the series may rest.
"I think we were a little disappointed with the record, but everybody needs to be happy that we're in the postseason," Pujols said. "That's what you get yourself ready for in Spring Training and why you play hard all season."