Regular season records: Cardinals 90-72 (NL wild card), Phillies 102-60 (NL East champions).
Down the stretch: The Cardinals went 18-8 in September, making up an 81 / 2-game deficit to the Braves (it was 101 / 2 games in late August) to win the wild card on the season’s final day. The Phillies went 16-14 in September, at one point enduring an eight-game losing streak.
Rotations: Cardinals — RHP Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39 ERA), RHP Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45), LHP Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56), RHP Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3.79). Phillies — RHP Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35), LHP Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40), LHP Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79), RHP Roy Oswalt (9-10, 3.69).
Closers: Cardinals — RHP Jason Motte (2.25 ERA, 9 saves in 13 opportunities). Phillies — RHP Ryan Madson (2.37 ERA, 32 saves in 34 opportunities).
Why the Cardinals can win: They went 6-3 against the Phillies this season, and their offense (at 4.7 runs per game) is the best in the NL. Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal are banged up, but Allen Craig and Nick Punto have been stellar as fill-ins. The Cards’ bullpen blew a staggering 26 saves this season, but seems to have stabilized a bit, with Motte and Fernando Salas essentially sharing closer duties.
Why the Phillies can win: Like the 2011 Cardinals, the 2010 Reds had the best offense in the NL, which was nice — until Halladay no-hit them in Game 1 of the first-round series. If the Phillies’ high-priced rotation does what it’s supposed to do, this could be a short series. The Phillies have had some trouble in the eighth inning down the stretch, but the guess here is that rotation exile Vance Worley could become a key weapon in the bullpen.
Prediction: Phillies in 3.
Regular season records: Diamondbacks 94-68 (NL West champions), Brewers 96-66 (NL Central champions).
Down the stretch: The Diamondbacks went 16-9 in September, capping a 45-25 second half. The Brewers went 15-10 in September, including an 11-4 stretch at the end.
Rotations: Diamondbacks — RHP Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88 ERA), RHP Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49), LHP Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69), RHP Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38). Brewers — RHP Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52), RHP Zack Greinke (16-6, 3.83), RHP Shawn Marcum (13-7, 3.54), LHP Randy Wolf (13-10, 3.69).
Closers: Diamondbacks — RHP J.J. Putz (2.17 ERA, 45 saves in 49 opportunities). Brewers — RHP John Axford (1.95 ERA, 46 saves in 48 opportunities).
Why the Diamondbacks can win: If you seeded the field, one through eight, the D-backs would get the eighth seed. They outscored foes by only 69 runs, for a “Pythagorean” record of 88-74. Their strength is a bullpen that allowed the lowest opponents’ on-base percentage (.299) in the game, and an offense that has both power (the third-most homers in the NL) and speed (second-most stolen bases).
Why the Brewers can win: Winning home-field advantage was huge for the Brewers, as they were an MLB-best 57-24 at home. Their lineup features two MVP candidates, in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and their bullpen essentially has two all-star closers, though Francisco Rodriguez is now an ace setup man for Axford, who hasn’t blown a save since mid-April. Their homer-happy offense might feast on fly-ball pitchers Kennedy and Hudson.
Prediction: Brewers in 4.