Cards will put plan vs. Phils' staff to test again

Cards will put plan vs. Phils' staff to test again

Cards will put plan vs. Phils' staff to test again
PHILADELPHIA -- Jump out to an early lead before Roy Halladay has a chance to settle into a groove, then wish, hope and pray your pitching staff is up to the challenge.

That's the formula the Cardinals were hoping to employ during the National League Division Series against the Phillies' vaunted starting-pitching staff, and it was coming together so beautifully through five innings in Game 1 against Halladay on Saturday.

Then, disaster.

Ryan Howard spoiled those plans with one titanic swing of the bat in the sixth inning, slugging a three-run homer that powered the Phils to an 11-6 come-from-behind win. The tone has been set, but the Cards' plot remains the same heading into Sunday's Game 2 battle with Cliff Lee at 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS.

Division Series History
It's been much more difficult to come back from a series deficit in the Senior Circuit.
Scenario ALDS NLDS
1-0 18 14 29 3
2-0 17 4 19 0
2-1 14 5 16 1

"The one thing you're not going to do is ... you have to outscore them with their starting pitching, and that's not going to be a good formula," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.

The Redbirds got a three-run homer from Lance Berkman in the first inning to jump on Halladay, who threw a no-hitter in Game 1 of last year's NLDS against the Reds. Even though St. Louis was in control, it was reminded how quickly Philadelphia's offense can change a game.

"Especially with the team they are, we need to score more runs than that," Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal said. "They have a pretty good team. Nobody is an easy out on that team. Especially with that guy pitching, you know they have a guy who can control the game like that."

How crucial is Game 2 for the Cards? Teams that have fallen behind 0-2 in a Division Series in the Wild Card era have won only four times in 40 series. And no Senior Circuit team has come back to win an NLDS after losing the first two games.

"You have to protect that home-field advantage, especially going up against a team like St. Louis who are hot like us," Howard said. "They don't give up until that 27th out is made, and they showed that tonight. But it's huge to be able to get off to a fast start, protect the home-field advantage and give yourselves the opportunity to go out and try to win another one, and hopefully going into St. Louis be able to take the series."

The Cardinals were 65-36 in the regular season when scoring first and 70-29 when they scored three runs or more, but when Berkman walloped his first-inning home run, they were anything but content.

"We were saying in the dugout [that] three runs was not going to win the game," La Russa said.

Taking advantage of those early scoring chances during the rest of the series won't mean much if the Cards' pitching can't hold the lead. That will be one of St. Louis' biggest challenges.

"That's why it's three out of five," first baseman Albert Pujols said. "It's not a one-game series. We just need to bounce back tomorrow and hopefully tie the series and go home. I think if we can get a game right here, the home-field advantage and all that is going to go our way."

But if the performance of the Cardinals' bullpen on Saturday was any indication, the pressure will be on St. Louis' starting pitchers even as the series progresses. Redbirds relievers allowed seven hits and five runs in 2 2/3 innings Saturday.

"The starting pitcher has got the responsibility to hold them down, and we've been doing a good job and our bullpen has been doing good job," La Russa said.

As difficult as it was for the Cardinals to watch Saturday's game slip away from them, they can take solace in knowing the Phillies simply held serve at home in a pitching matchup that was about as lopsided as it gets -- Halladay, one of the game's best, vs. Kyle Lohse.

St. Louis will send its ace, Chris Carpenter, to the mound Sunday -- albeit on three days' rest -- against Lee in a battle of two of the game's best. Lefties Jaime Garcia (Cardinals) and Cole Hamels (Phillies) will square off in Tuesday's Game 3 in St. Louis in what appears to be a fairly even matchup.

"I think we're in a good spot right now as a team," Cards third baseman David Freese said. "We have some good momentum going for us. We were able to pounce on them early in today's game and they were able to bounce back, but if we can continue to do what we've been doing, I think we'll come out on top in the end."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.