3. Preparation. The Mets had a double-digit lead by mid-June, giving manager Willie Randolph a chance to plan for the postseason. He was even able to compensate for the losses of Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez in the NLDS.
Because of the injuries, the rotation is very short for a best-of-seven series. Since the 1998 Yankees became the last team to turn a double-digit division win into a World Series title, 15 runaways have flopped. And speaking of Achilles' heels, when Cliff Floyd re-injured his during Game 3 of the NLDS, it may have left them short in the outfield and much weaker from the left side of the plate.
1. Carlos Beltran vs. his reputation. His 2004 postseason is a tough benchmark, and if he feels the need to live up to it, he could spend the series in a funk. He spent all season winning over New York, and it would be unfair for him to feel like he has to start all over again.
2. Billy Wagner vs. the middle of the Cardinals lineup. Wagner is the top left-handed closer in the NL, but his late-inning opposition will be formidable when the Cards send up righty-swinging Pujols, lefty-hitting Jim Edmonds and righty-swinging Scott Rolen. If Rolen's sore shoulder keeps him out, switch-hitting Scott Spiezio could be in the mix.
Endy Chavez. With Floyd's heel acting up again, Chavez probably will be the starting left fielder. Do we hear Brian Doyle, who had to replace the injured Randolph at second base for the Yankees in the 1978 postseason and hit .438 in their six-game World Series victory over the Dodgers?
Reasons the Cardinals will win:
1. All that postseason experience. The core of the team -- Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen -- has been kept together and is still mighty dangerous. This team has been to the NLCS four times in the last five years. The Cards have also been there seven times under manager Tony La Russa, but have only one NL pennant to show for it -- 2004.
2. Pujols is a monster. He probably would've hit 60 homers this season had he not missed a month before the All-Star break with a pulled oblique muscle. Because Edmonds and Rolen usually hit behind him, it's awful difficult at times to walk Pujols in a "pick your poison" scenario, as the Padres continued to find out in the NLDS.
3. Chris Carpenter is widely considered the best starting pitcher in the NL. He'll have his work cut out for him this time. With the absence of Mark Mulder -- out for the season after shoulder surgery -- the pitching rotation is pretty thin. But even two wins by Carpenter won't be enough to carry the day in a best-of-seven series.
Achilles' heel: No question it's the bullpen. With closer Jason Isringhausen out for the season after hip surgery, it's been a real mess. In his absence, La Russa has been forced to go with Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper as his closers, enjoying nominal success. Randy Flores is this year's Ray King in the left-hander's role. But it's all shaky, at best.
1. Carpenter vs. Mets in Game 3 at home. If the Cards can somehow split at Shea Stadium, the third game could be the key contest of the series.
2. Cardinals lineup vs. Mets bullpen. Like the Padres' 'pen, it's a tough one to crack. St. Louis has got to get to the setup guys before having to face Wagner in the last inning.
La Russa needs at least two of his other starters to step up, and Jeff Weaver has to do it again. The right-hander was large in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Padres, although his pre-St. Louis playoff history hasn't been a good one. The Dodgers allowed him to walk via free agency, and the Angels released him before the Cards took him off the trash heap.
Mets in six.