Cheap Seats

Cardinals Game 3 NLCS win threatens club's underdog role

I'm not sure I can get used to this.

For the first time since June, the Cardinals have shed their underdog role and now must carry the burden of being the favorite.

By taking a two games to one lead in the National League Championship Series over Milwaukee, the Redbirds are undoubtedly now the team to beat for the National League's World Series berth. Only four times has a team come back from a 2-1 deficit in the NLCS to advance to the Fall Classic. And right now I am going to try not to think about the fact that one of those squads was the 1996 Cardinals.

Their Wednesday night win was a perfect example of why the Birds just keep on rolling. In his last start, Chris Carpenter carried his teammates on his back when they couldn't score. This time Carpenter couldn't find his groove and the offense and bullpen combined to bail him out. One night the offense stars. One night the pitching claims the spotlight. And lookout if the offense and the pitching show up on the same night...

While the Cardinals have the advantage, they certainly can't rest. They need to do anything they can to win this series in the next two games at Busch Stadium. First, they will make their task a lot easier if they can avoid going back to Milwaukee where the Brewers might be inspired by their lopsided home record and their boisterous fans. But, second, if the Cardinals could win the NLCS in five games -- or at least six -- they could reboot their rotation and have Chris Carpenter start the first game of the World Series on full rest.

I hate to get that far ahead of things. But the Cardinals have been playing from a disadvantageous position for weeks. They had to use Carp the last day of the season, limiting his impact on the NLDS. They had to pitch him in the fifth game of the division series so he couldn't make his first start in the NLCS until game three. If they got this far with Carpenter so marginalized, it will give the Birds a much better chance in the Series if they can get him front and center.

I don't believe the changed light on the Cardinals changes their mission. This is the natural evolution of a contending team: Either you keep moving forward or you die. The St. Louis players have long believed they had the pieces to go all the way. Now they just have to prove it to everyone else.