A look at the best-of-five National League division series between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals:
(All times CST) Game 1, Sunday, at St. Louis (2:07 p.m.); Game 2, Monday, at St. Louis (3:37 p.m.); Game 3, Wednesday, at Washington (TBA); x-Game 4, Thursday, at Washington (TBA); x-Game 5, Friday, at Washington (TBA). (All games on TBS or MLB Network).
Nationals won 4-3.
Nationals: RF Jayson Werth (.300, 5 HRs, 31 RBIs), CF Bryce Harper (.270, 22, 59, 9 triples, 98 runs), 3B Ryan Zimmerman (.282, 25, 95), 1B Adam LaRoche (.271, 33, 100), LF Michael Morse (.291, 18, 62), SS Ian Desmond (.292, 25, 73, 21 steals), 2B Danny Espinosa (.247, 17, 56, 37 doubles), C Kurt Suzuki (.235, 6, 43 with Athletics and Nationals).
Cardinals: CF Jon Jay (.305, 4, 40, 18 SBs, .373 OBP), RF Carlos Beltran (.269, 32, 97), LF Matt Holliday (.295, 27, 102), 1B Allen Craig (.307, 22, 92), 3B David Freese (.293, 20, 79), C Yadier Molina (.315, 22, 76), 2B Daniel Descalso (.227, 4, 26), SS Pete Kozma (.333, 2, 14).
Nationals: LH Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA, 207 Ks, 199 1-3 IP), RHP Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94), RHP Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03), LHP Ross Detwiler (10-8, 3.40).
Cardinals: RH Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94), RH Chris Carpenter (0-2, 3.71 in 3 starts after shoulder surgery), RH Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86), RH Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78) or LH Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92 in 20 starts).
Nationals: RH Drew Storen (3-1, 2.37, 4 saves, 37 IP), RH Tyler Clippard (2-6, 3.72, 32/36 saves, 84 Ks, 72 2-3 IP), RH Craig Stammen (6-1, 2.34, 1 save, 87 Ks, 88 1-3 IP), LH Sean Burnett (1-2, 2.38, 2 saves, 57 Ks, 56 2-3 IP), RH Ryan Mattheus (5-3, 2.85, 66 1-3 IP), LH Michael Gonzalez (0-0, 3.03, 39 Ks, 35 2-3 IP).
Cardinals: RH Jason Motte (4-5, 2.75, 42/49 saves, 86K, 71 1-3 IP), RH Mitchell Boggs (4-1, 2.21, 78 games), RH Edward Mujica (0-3, 3.03), RH Fernando Salas (1-4, 4.30), RH Joe Kelly (5-7, 3.53), LH Marc Rzepczynski (1-3, 4.27), RH Trevor Rosenthal (0-2, 2.78).
The Nationals took three of four at home against the Cardinals from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, but St. Louis outscored visiting Washington 26-12 during a three-game set Sept. 28-30. ... Jackson won the World Series with the Cardinals last season; he's the only member of Washington's starting rotation with even a single game of postseason experience — and none of the Nationals' top five relievers have been to the playoffs, either. Not much different in the everyday lineup, where only two regulars (Werth, LaRoche) have been to the postseason. So give the Cardinals a big edge in experience. ... Because the Cardinals are much better against lefties than righties, Jackson is expected to get the Game 3 start, with Detwiler in a possible Game 4. ... Led by LaRoche, six of Washington's eight everyday players hit at least 17 homers — and Werth certainly has that kind of power, too. He missed nearly three months with a broken left wrist. The club finished second in the NL with 194 homers. ... Nationals team ERA of 3.33 led the NL and was second in the majors. ... Washington was 48-33 on the road, the best mark in baseball. ... The defending World Series champion Cardinals persevered through injuries to Carpenter and 1B Lance Berkman under rookie manager Mike Matheny, and are in the postseason for the third time in four seasons. ... Moving on after the departure of Albert Pujols in free agency, the Cardinals have one of the league's most dangerous lineups with five 20-homer players for the first time in franchise history. The pitching staff was even better. Lohse had a career year heading into free agency, Lynn was an All-Star during his first year in the rotation and Wainwright had a strong year after missing 2011 due to reconstructive elbow surgery. In the bullpen, Motte tied for the league lead with 42 saves. He was the first closer in franchise history to get all of the team's saves.
Nationals: With one of the youngest rosters in the majors, strong pitching in the rotation and bullpen, and an unexpectedly vibrant offense, the Nationals (98-64) moved into the NL East lead for good on May 22 and finished with the best record in baseball. They are making their first postseason appearance since moving to Washington from Montreal before the 2005 season. The Expos/Nationals franchise hadn't been to the playoffs since 1981, while a major league team in the nation's capital last participated in the postseason in 1933, when the Senators lost in the World Series. ... A significant player who will not be facing the Cardinals: hard-throwing right-hander Stephen Strasburg. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts over 159 1-3 innings in his first (nearly) full season following elbow ligament replacement surgery on Sept. 3, 2010. But the Nationals, in a much-debated decision that drew plenty of criticism, shut down their ace early, saying his workload was going to get too heavy in his comeback from what's commonly called Tommy John surgery. His final start of 2012 came on Sept. 7, when he lasted only three innings and allowed five earned runs against Miami; while the Nationals were expected to let him pitch one more time, they announced he was done for the year a day later. ... Washington overcame all sorts of injuries to the lineup, including trips to the DL for Werth, Zimmerman (right shoulder), Morse (back muscle) and Desmond (side muscle). ... If the players are nearly all new to the October stage, the manager most assuredly is not: Davey Johnson joined the late Billy Martin as the only skippers to win division titles with four franchises. Johnson instilled his group with confidence from spring training on, declaring he deserved to be fired if the Nationals failed to reach the playoffs. He won two World Series as a player and managed the New York Mets to the 1986 title. ... The Nationals were the only club in the majors with a winning record ev ery month in 2012; add in a 17-10 mark in September 2011, and that makes seven in a row. ... With Strasburg gone, the role of ace goes to Gio Gonzalez, who led the majors in wins after being acquired in an offseason trade from Oakland. The Nationals held him out of his last scheduled start of the regular season so he'd be well-rested for Game 1 of the playoffs. ... The Nationals got another boost in a deal with the Athletics in early August, picking up Suzuki. He replaced Jesus Flores as the primary catcher and started 11 games in a row until Washington clinched the division title.
Cardinals: There's life after Pujols and former manager Tony La Russa, after all. The wild-card Cardinals returned to the postseason thanks to an ensemble effort with several anchors to the lineup and rotation. Molina should be in the conversation for NL MVP after putting up a career year that justified the five-year, $75 million contract extension he signed in spring training. On track for a fifth straight Gold Glove, Molina is the undisputed standard bearer at his position with an arm that discourages baserunners from even attempting a steal. He had personal bests at the plate, too, finishing fourth in the league in hitting. The $20 million or so the Cardinals had been prepared to pay Pujols went to Beltran and injured SS Rafael Furcal, both All-Stars. ... The Cardinals won 12 of their last 16 to finish 88-74, matching their high water mark for the year. They ended up nine games back of first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central and were the last team to qualify for the postseason, but their wealth of October experience could be an equalizer. St. Louis took advantage of three Braves throwing errors — and a disputed infield-fly call — to win 6-3 at Atlanta in baseball's first winner-take-all wild-card playoff. Lohse allowed two runs over 5 2-3 effective innings and Motte got four outs for the save. Holliday homered and scored twice. ... Matheny is the fifth manager to take the Cardinals to the postseason in his first year with the club, and first since La Russa in 1996. ... Starting pitchers worked six or more innings in 85 games, the most for the franchise since the 1969 rotation that featured Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton also did it 85 times. ... Jay was just the Cardinals' third regular outfielder to have an error-free season, joining Orlando Palmeiro (2003) and Curt Flood (1966).
— Harper Here, There, Everywhere. The 19-year-old phenom led the majors in runs from Sept. 1 on, and his 22 homers were second-most for a teen in baseball history (Boston's Tony Conigliaro hit 24 in 1964). But Harper does so much more to make a difference, whether it's a big throw or tumbling grab or the occasional lost-in-the-sun fly in center field (remember, he was a catcher in college). Always aggressive on the bases, he'll steal home or tag up on a popup caught by the second baseman.
— RBI Machine. Craig was third on the team in RBIs, but there's a reason he's the cleanup man. In his first season as a starter, he was eight RBIs shy of 100 despite playing only 119 games due to injuries. He began the year in right field and was the regular first baseman most of the season after Berkman went down early with knee woes. Craig had two hits and an RBI in the wild-card game at Atlanta.
— Closing Argument. After saving 43 games in 2011, Storen missed the first 3½ months of this season because of elbow surgery in April. Clippard, an All-Star as a setup man last year, became the closer and thrived — until recently. He struggled down the stretch, and Storen appears to be Johnson's ninth-inning man once again.
— Mr. Inspiration. The 37-year-old Carpenter was hoping to be healthy for spring training 2013 when he underwent a procedure in July to relieve nerve pressure in his pitching shoulder that caused numbness to the entire right side of his body. The team's longtime ace made three starts in September, the last of which he equated to a third spring training start, but his experience could be a plus. He was 4-0 in the postseason last year, memorably outpitching Phillies ace Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NLDS and winning Game 7 of the World Series.
— Pleased To Meet You. It will be interesting to see how all the young Nationals respond to their first taste of the limelight and high-intensity postseason. Harper, of course, and Zimmerman, Morse, Desmond, Espinosa and Suzuki will be making their playoff debuts, as will all but two pitchers. Zimmerman tends to be as even-keeled and pressure-free as they come, specializing in game-ending homers, including one in the very first game at Nationals Park in 2008.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.