The Astros' lineup is deep, powerful and versatile -- especially since the addition of Carlos Beltran, above right, in June -- but it is clearly second-best in this matchup. The August acquisition of Larry Walker transformed the Cardinals' offense from merely spectacular to downright historic. They clobbered seven homers and scored 22 runs against Los Angeles, despite the fact Scott Rolen, above left, went 0 for 12, and 16 of those runs came with two outs.
The Cardinals boast Gold Glovers all over the field, particularly up the middle with catcher Mike Matheny, shortstop Edgar Renteria and center fielder Jim Edmonds, above left. The Astros' defense is merely average, and the team typically sends in a defensive replacement for left fielder Craig Biggio, above right, late in games.
Neither team's rotation looks as good as it did a week or two ago -- the Cardinals' because of injuries, the Astros' because of overuse. St. Louis will be without top starter Chris Carpenter, and of their four starters for this series, only Woody Williams, above left, has a winning record against Houston. But Houston is forced to start Brandon Backe and Pete Munro in Games 1 and 2 after using aces Roger Clemens, above right, and Roy Oswalt on three days' rest just to survive the Division Series.
The Astros arguably have the better closer in Brad Lidge, above right, who set an NL record for relievers with 157 strikeouts. However, the Cardinals' bullpen goes seven deep with lock-down arms; their main set-up trio of lefties Steve Kline and Ray King and right-hander Julian Tavarez may be unmatched in the game, and closer Jason Isringhausen, above left, is solid. The Cards' bullpen allowed only one meaningless run in four NLDS games against Los Angeles.