Thursday 3:45 p.m. update:
The Cardinals took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five NLDS against the Washington Nationals with an 8-0 victory Wednesday afternoon.
Click here to read Derrick Goold's running account of the game.
Below is Bernie Miklasz's column, published late Tuesday night.
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WASHINGTON • It's down to a best-of-three series now, this compelling matchup between the Washington Nationals and your St. Louis Cardinals. Two teams at different stages of their baseball evolution are giving us an entertaining battle of the generations.
The Cardinals have been here before, experiencing the invigorating chill of October, and the drama that warms the blood. The Cardinals know what it's like to hold the trophy at the end of the season, and they have felt the sudden emptiness that follows defeat.
The Nationals are fresh and new and thrilled by a first-time adventure. Today at Nationals Park, hard by the Potomac River, Washington will be the site of its first major-league baseball postseason game since 1933. First this, and then a presidential election. The city is buzzing with ambition.
The Cards are standing where the Nationals want to be. The Cardinals have 11 World Series championships, October DNA, and the understated confidence of One Who Knows. The Nationals are youthful, restless and immensely talented. They see no limits to their future.
The Nationals want their World Series, and they want it now. But the Cardinals aren't prepared to yield. So one team will win two games and climb to the next platform, the NL championship series. Get your Cracker Jacks ready.
"Washington is going to be very good for a long time," Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker said. "They have some superstars in the making. They have a couple of superstars already. This is not an easy series, by any means. But I feel we match up pretty good with them. I feel good about the matchup. And hopefully experience outweighs the ton of talent they have over there, especially in the young guys."
Who will prevail?
The Nationals are personified by Bryce Harper, 19. He's the phenomenal outfielder. He's brash. He changes his hair color. His choice of a walk-up song before an at-bat includes Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend." When Harper tells a reporter, "That's a clown question, bro" the expression ends up on a $25 T-shirt. The kid showed up with so much eye black for Game 2 at Busch Stadium, it looked like war paint.
The Cardinals are best personified by ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, 37, a "get the hell off my lawn!" type of guy if there ever was one. The serious Carpenter believes the game should be played the right way and has no use for attention hounds who disrespect the code.
Here's the funny thing, the surprising thing: Carpenter likes the Nationals. No, this is not a joke. The towering inferno really likes the Nationals.
"It's great because they have got a good group of guys over there that really compete hard and compete the way you're supposed to compete," Carpenter said. "There's no bull. They just come to the park every day to play."
Maybe the teams aren't as dissimilar as I thought. That's why it's such an attractive series. Both teams do seem to love playing the game, and they adhere to high standards.
The Cardinals shouldn't win this series. The Nationals (98-64) were 10 wins better than St. Louis during the regular season. The Nationals have the next two at home, and a third at home, if necessary. And they were 51-30 at Nationals Park this year. The park does seem to give the Nats an advantage; they outhomered visting teams 101 to 64 this season, and scored 64 more runs (367-303).
Yeah, and the Cardinals were supposed to lose in Atlanta last Friday, too. The 2011 Cardinals didn't have the home-field edge in the NLDS. They were hammered in Game 1 at Philadelphia, losing 11-6. In Game 2, with Cliff Lee pitching for the Phillies, the Cardinals trailed 4-0 after three innings. They won 5-4 to even the series.
After losing Game 3 at home, the Cardinals faced elimination in Game 4. They won. They faced elimination at Philadelphia in Game 5. They won 1-0 on a Carpenter shutout to complete the upset.
In the NLCS opener at Milwaukee, the Cardinals were slapped around for six runs in the fifth inning and lost 9-6. They bounced the Brewers in six games.
In the 2011 World Series, Texas won three of the first five games and needed just one win when the series returned to St. Louis for the final two games. Game 6 happened, setting up the Cardinals' champagne celebration after winning Game 7.
When were the Cardinals supposed to win? Not in 2011, after falling 10 1/2 games out in the wild card race on Aug. 24. Not this year, after sinking to only two games over .500 (47-45) on July 18. And probably not after going off course and getting outscored 104-57 in a 5-13 skid that ended Sept. 15.
In Game 3, Carpenter will go against Washington starter Edwin Jackson, his teammate on the 2011 Cardinals. You never know which Jackson will show up, but he's been a much better pitcher at home (3.35 ERA) than on the road (4.78) this season. But the Cardinals have Carpenter set to pitch in a big game, and that's a good place to be.
In Game 4, Kyle Lohse faces lefty Ross Detwiler. Lohse went 16-3 in the regular season, had the league's fifth-best ERA (2.86) and pitched well to pick up the win over the Braves in Friday's play-in game. Detwiler is a talented pitcher, and he's been terrific (2.59 ERA) at home this season. But Lohse is having a career year, and he's building a portfolio for free agency. I like Lohse in this one.
If this goes to Game 5, the Cardinals have Adam Wainwright to oppose Gio Gonzalez. That looms as another close one, as was the case in Game 1. Flip a coin.
The Cardinals are in a better position to win the NLDS now than they were a year ago when taking on a 102-win Philadelphia team. Realistically, you have to like the Cardinals' chances of advancing. Settle in. This should be wild.