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Cardinals in good shape to close out the NLCS at home

While it would have been nice for the St. Louis Cardinals to close out their National League Championship with the Dodgers in their first opportunity, they're still in good shape.

The Redbirds have two games on their home turf to punch a ticket to the 2013 World Series. But it's in the home team's best interests to close the series out sooner than later.

A lot of comparisons are being drawn between the situation this years edition of the Birds and the clubs that lost 3-1 NLCS leads in 1996 and 2012. But there are a lot of differences in the situation the Cardinals are in this year and what they faced then.

First, the last two games of this series are at Busch Stadium. In 1996 they were in Atlanta and in 2012 they were in San Francisco. At this time of the year, the home field advantage is a big deal.

But perhaps even more important, the Cardinals in 1996 tried a risky gambit with their starting pitching -- and failed. Former manager Tony La Russa moved veteran hurler Todd Stottlemyre up to pitch on short rest in game five in attempt to close out the series and Stottlemyre gave up five runs in the first inning as the game eroded into a 14-0 rout. That left St. Louis with a pair of inexperienced hurlers -- Alan Benes and Donovan Osborne -- against Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

In 2012 the Cardinals started injured ace Chris Carpenter in Game 6 against the San Francisco giants. With a fastball in the mid 80s, Carpenter was rocked for five runs in the first two innings. In Game 7 the Cardinals were on the wrong end of a pitching match-up with Giants ace Matt Cain going against St. Louis middle of the pack hurler Kyle Lohse. The Cardinals couldn't overcome the disadvantage and lost.

This time around the Dodgers have used up their ace, Zack Greinke, in games one and five. Likely Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers in Game Six, he's lost each of his last four starts against St. Louis. And the Cardinals have the top of their rotation coming around for games six and seven.

Phenomenal rookie starter Michael Wacha, 2-0 with one run allowed in his two post season starts and seven hits allowed, combined, over his last three starts, will toe the rubber in Game 6. If Wacha doesn't get the job done, the Cardinals will have ace Adam Wainwright, one of the top two or three pitchers in the National League this season on the hill against the Dodgers number three starter.

Wainwright has allowed two runs or less in all but one of his seven post season starts and one run or less in five of seven.