The Cardinals hope to take in this scene again in October when the stakes are much higher. (Source: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Cards learn road to World Series runs through Philadelphia

Some players huddle around a television set to watch “Black Sheep” for some laughs courtesy comedy kings Chris Farley and David Spade. Others focus on an exciting card game that elicits loud banter as the winner triumphantly circles the clubhouse.

This was the scene in the Cardinals clubhouse before the team took the field in Philadelphia to face the two-time defending National League champions. The stakes were pretty high for a series in May and the Cards were just relaxing. This Cards team has a special feel to it. These guys get it.

The chemistry is there. The talent is there.

Now, they just have to gain experience as a unit. The chemistry in the clubhouse will transfer to the field as the season goes on. At this point, the Cards are still figuring it out. [...]

David Freese is playing great, but he’s young. Jaime Garcia is a new face, too. Matt Holliday has only spent half a season in St. Louis. Brad Penny, he’s a new addition and so is Felipe Lopez. Every year, new pieces are added and a new team dynamic is formed.

The Cardinals are already a close group and they’ll only get closer as the days get hotter heading into summer. But, that takes time.

Monday, the Cards were on a roll. They swept the Braves the previous week and took two out of three from Cincinnati. St. Louis then came out and beat the Phillies 6-3. They were also treated to a show by a 17-year-old Phillies fan that ran onto the field. It happened again the next night when a fan carrying marijuana pulled the same stunt.

St. Louis learned a few things in Philly besides the fact that they have some crazy fans. Even when they weren’t on the field, they made their presence known. The past 55 games at Citizen’s Bank Park have been sold out. The biggest lesson from the four-game set?

The road to the World Series still runs through Philadelphia.

St. Louis may have the best record in the National League this morning, but the Phillies are still the class of the NL. Even with Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, and J.A. Happ on the disabled list and a struggling starting rotation with the exception of Halladay, the Phillies won the big series 3-1.

Many believe these clubs will meet in the NLCS come October. Considering the mediocrity of the National League as a whole, it’s easy to see why. The Cardinals are the lone team in the NL Central with a winning record. The Mets and Nationals are in second place in the NL East, and they both have a propensity for losing. Out West, the Giants look dangerous, but they’re lineup is always being called into question. And the Dodgers – the team that faced Philly in the 2008 and 2009 NLCS – are 12-16.

So, that leaves the Redbirds and the Phillies.

They have the best lineups in the NL.

Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Werth pack a big punch and have been the lone American League lineup in the NL.

The Cardinals closed that gap this offseason with Matt Holliday’s contract extension.

Ludwick, Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus have comparable firepower to the Phils big boppers.

The Cardinals bats were silent in Philly, but they’re always dangerous. When the Cards get hot and take advantage of more scoring opportunities, the rest of baseball will be cringing.

Partly because it’s hard enough to score runs off their rotation.

Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are the best one-two punch in baseball. Brad Penny and Jaime Garcia have been nearly as good and Kyle Lohse has had some quality starts in 2010. Yesterday ended the team’s 14 game streak of quality starts.

The Phillies can’t measure up to St. Louis’ guns.

Roy Halladay is possibly the best pitcher in baseball, but after that it gets shaky. Cole Hamels was lights out Tuesday, but he hasn’t proven to be great for an entire season yet. If he can figure it out, the Phils top two would rival the Cards aces. J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, and Kyle Kendrick make up a very hittable back of the rotation. Happ has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but he’s not a proven commodity. Moyer will likely burn out by August and the Phils will be on the phone with Pedro begging him for a few more months of electricity.

The bullpens are about even. It seems every bullpen in the majors gives its team headaches. The Cards biggest weakness is the ‘pen. The Phillies aren’t exactly strong in that area either. Ryan Franklin and Brad Lidge will have their ups and downs and the teams will just have to push on to October. Last year, Lidge found it when it counted and his brutal regular season hardly mattered. The year before he was perfect. The bullpen is always a guessing game.

The Phillies take the edge over the Cards despite their far inferior rotation simply because they’ve proven they’re winners. It all comes down to the rings on their fingers. With two straight NL championships, this team has the swagger and chemistry on the field once again. It automatically makes them the favorite. Plus, they have Halladay now and you know he’s hungry for some playoff baseball. Some Cardinals were around for the 2006 run, but that’s a distant memory.

This team will make its own memories and its own signature moments in 2010.

Will the final memory be the sweetest?

That answer won’t come until October. And a big part of it will likely come in Philadelphia.

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Tags: 2010 Adam Wainwright Chris Carpenter Cole Hamels National League NLCS Roy Halladay St Louis Cardinals World Series

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