Rounding Third: Cards keep defying the odds

It seems like we spent the entire 2011 postseason explaining why the St. Louis Cardinals were not good enough to win a World Series.

Yet they did anyway.

This year they weren't supposed to get past the Atlanta Braves in the first- ever one-game wild card, let alone take out the best team in the National League in the Washington Nationals, especially after falling behind by six runs on the road in a decisive Game 5.

Yet they did anyway.

Now, St. Louis, a team that lost manager Tony La Russa and three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols this offseason, finds itself one win away from their 18th pennant after an 8-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.

"When this lineup is getting contributions from everybody, it's tough to get through," Daniel Descalso said. "You have Matt (Holliday) and Allen (Craig) and Yadi (Molina) and David ... they may go a few games, but they're not going to go more than a few without doing something."

History tells us that their third trip to the World Series in the last six years is basically a fait accompli, as since the best-of-seven LCS format was introduced, 12 of the 14 teams to hold a 3-1 NLCS advantage have gone to the World Series.

"We want to wrap it up just to wrap it up," David Freese said afterward. "But if you can do that here with these fans and with your family and friends, even better."

What makes this current run even more remarkable is the fact that St. Louis has won the last two games without Carlos Beltran. But, in typical Cardinals fashion, the player who stepped in for perhaps the best postseason hitter of this generation, Matt Carpenter, homered in his first at-bat Wednesday and scored twice in Thursday's triumph.

"That's what it takes to have a team that's going to win," said ace Chris Carpenter. "You bring Matt off the bench yesterday when Carlos goes down, and he has a big day again today. You have to have those guys there that are going to fill in."

The heart of St. Louis' order - Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina - had managed just five total bases without an RBI heading into Game 4. But, the trio combined to go 5-for-12 and knocked in five runs on Thursday.

"Things," cautioned Craig, "can turn around in a heartbeat."

And now they should have Beltran back on Friday after he was forced to leave in the second inning of Game 4 with a knee strain. Beltran, of course, is hitting .400 this postseason with 3 HRs and 6 RBI and has three extra base hits in eight at-bats in this NLCS. For his career, is a career .375 hitter in the postseason, best among players with a minimum of 100 at-bats.

"Right now, the plan is to come in tomorrow and do what I have to do in order to be in the lineup," Beltran said. "Today was a better day for me, better than yesterday.

Beltran's at-bats-per-home run ratio of eight is also tops in playoff history.

"We go out there and play the game," Freese said. "Obviously there are hardships that you're going to have to deal with. You don't want any, especially in the postseason. You want to be healthy and just grind it out. But with ���Los going down, you look over your shoulder and here comes Matt Carpenter.

"He's done it all year, stepped in so many situations. So we're at ease in that respect. Obviously, losing ���Los for an extended period of time is tough, but when he's ready he'll be back in there. We're going to grind it out. We've got a good clubhouse with a lot of talent. I'll take these guys any day."

Not having Beltran for a couple more games would actually add to the legend. At this point it seems as if the Cardinals are messing with everyone.

If they win on Friday they will be facing a Detroit Tigers team in the World Series that is led by perhaps the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander and the best hitter as well in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

And guess what, a lot of people probably won't pick the Cards to beat them either.

Yet they probably will anyway.