Keys to winning the 2011 NLCS

People say familiarity breeds contempt. That certainly is the case in this year's National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cardinals are quite familiar with their NL Central inhabitant Brewers, who won the division by six games. Despite that the two teams split the 18 games played this season, but the Cardinals won six of the final seven matchups and swept the Brewers at Miller Park in late August.

Only twice since the addition of the wild card have two teams from the National League Central met in the NLCS. It last happened in 2005, when the Houston Astros knocked the Cardinals out of the playoffs.

With Philadelphia gone the Brewers, who set a franchise record by going 57-24 at home, will have home field advantage for this series. But it might not matter, as the Cardinals emerged victorious in five of nine matchups in Milwaukee and their 45 road wins were tied for the second most in baseball.

Overall, the Brewers outscored the Cardinals, 71-64, while hitting .269 with 17 homers as a team. St. Louis connected for 18 home runs and had a batting average of .239.

This series will be even more intriguing since quite frankly they just don't like one another. La Russa accused the Brewers of stealing signs in early August and even said that the Miller Park L.E.D.-ribbon scoreboard changed brightness depending upon who was at the plate, Then benches cleared a month later when Carpenter and Morgan had words. The outspoken Morgan later referred to Pujols as "Alberta" on Twitter.

These teams faced off once before in the postseason and this series is a rematch of the 1982 World Series won by the Cardinals in seven games.

As an introduction to this NLCS matchup, let's take a look at the keys to winning the series for both clubs.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

1. DYNAMIC DUO

The Brewers' offense is fueled by a pair of NL MVP candidates in Ryan Braun and first baseman and pending free agent Prince Fielder.

Braun has become one of the best right-handed sluggers in the game and finished the year second in batting at .332. He also hit 33 home runs with 111 RBI, 109 runs scored and stole 30 bases.

Fielder caught some heat late in the year for alluding to the fact that this is probably his last year with the Brewers, but he produced yet another great season, playing in every game and hitting at least 35 home runs with 120 RBI for a sixth straight season.

The dynamic duo combined to go 9-for-16 with six runs scored, six RBI and two home runs during Games 1 and 2 against Arizona, but were just 5-for-20 with an RBI, three walks and four strikeouts in the three games that followed.

Milwaukee's offense seems to follow their lead and they will need to get it going.

2. STARTING ROTATION

There aren't many teams who can go toe-to-toe with Milwaukee in the starting pitching department, as the Brewers have a terrific top three in right- handers Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

Gallardo led the team in wins (17) and strikeouts (207) while working 207 1/3 innings, and pitched the team's only complete game. He was also a horse down the stretch for the Brewers, as he pitched to a 1.77 ERA and struck out 36 batters over 20 1/3 frames of his final three regular season starts.

He continued that dominance in the NLDS, as he won Game 1 and was terrific in Game 5, while pitching to a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings of work in the series. He won't be able to go until Game 3, though, and will be matched up with Carpenter.

Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke will hand the ball to Greinke in Game 1 against the Cards. He was a perfect 11-0 at home this season, but just 5-6 with a 4.70 ERA away from home. He would also be in line for a Game 5 start in Milwaukee.

Marcum was just the opposite, as he excelled away from home, but had some issues at Miller Park. However, Marcum could be a concern. He struggled in September and absorbed the loss in his NLDS start, surrendering seven runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings at Chase Field.

3. BULLPEN

Milwaukee has a clear edge in the bullpen department, but closer John Axford's blown save in Game 5 against the Diamondbacks was his first since mid-April.

Still, he is one of the best closers in the game and has a terrific cast setting the bridge in righties Francisco Rodriguez and LaTroy Hawkins and lefty Takashi Saito.

Rodriguez, who had a shaky inning in the Game 5 clincher, will be especially important dealing with Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman late in games.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

1. KEEP THE MAGIC GOING

When the Cardinals last reached the NLCS back in 2006 they entered the postseason having dropped nine of their final 13 games. However, they caught fire and claimed theirS 10th world title.

This year, they entered the playoffs as hot as anyone and they still are.

St. Louis found itself 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta on August 25, but went 23-8 to close the season and secured the wild card when the Philadelphia Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Braves with a dramatic extra inning win on the final day of the season.

St. Louis then shocked the baseball world by taking out the 102-win Phillies in the National League Division Series with a heart-pounding 1-0 win in Game 5 on Friday, as Chris Carpenter tossed a three-hit shutout to outduel Roy Halladay.

There's something going on with this Cardinals team. They are a loose bunch and it shows. They think they can beat anyone at the moment.

2. HEALTH OF MATT HOLLIDAY

Matt Holliday didn't start the first three games of the NLDS because of a finger injury and his presence was desperately missed, especially in the Game 3 loss, as the Cardinals stranded 14 runners and the 4-5-6 hitters combined to go 2-for-14.

Holliday, though, returned to the starting lineup for Games 4 and 5, and should be ready to go on Sunday for Game 1 which should be good news to Albert Pujols.

Speaking of Mr. Pujols ...

3. ALBERT PUJOLS

Of course it all starts with The Machine, who could be playing his final series with the Cardinals. To the Cards' credit, though, that storyline has become non-existent.

Flying under the radar a bit this postseason, Pujols is still the best hitter in the game and he showed it against a tough Phillies rotation, batting .350 with a three doubles.

The three-time MVP, though, hasn't homered in the postseason since Game 2 of the 2006 World Series and has just two RBI in his last 12 playoff games. St. Louis is going to need more than that and he could be ready to go off, as his 12 RBI versus the Brewers were tied for his most against any team this season.

He also homered four times off Milwaukee pitching this season.