It feels like the St. Louis Cardinals (91-71) have been in playoff mode for months while fighting to win a hotly contested NL Central crown. They won their division the last weekend of the season, and rallied back from being down 2-1 to defeat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. The Cardinals advanced to the NLCS to face a surging Washington Nationals squad that’s stacked with firepower, but shaky in the bullpen department. According to William Hill, you can back the St. Louis Cardinals at 5/1 odds to win the World Series.

St. Louis Cardinals NLCS Washington Nationals
The St. Louis Cardinals host the Washington Nationals in the first two games of the 2019 NLCS at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO. (Image: Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports)

The St. Louis Cardinals were under siege since Labor Day, with a ferocious fight to finish a super-tight NL Central. The Cardinals were all hardened and tested, but many experts felt the Cards would suffer from combat fatigue by the time they played the well-rested Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.

The Braves blew a 2-1 lead and missed a chance to put the Cardinals away. The Cards avoided an early vacation by winning multiple elimination games. The Cardinals won Game 4 in extra innings in St. Louis, then went on the road and destroyed the Braves in Game 5. The Cardinals tied an MLB playoff record with 10 runs in the first inning. The Braves never really had a chance.

After beating the Braves, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt notoriously told his team, “I don’t give a f— who we play because we gonna f— them up!”

The Nationals will be coming into St. Louis hot after their extra-innings upset over the so-called best team in the NL.

Dog Fight

The Cardinals won the NL Central, but they fought tooth and nail until the final weekend of the season. The NL Central was a five-dog fight heading into late summer. At one point, less than four games separated first and last place in the NL Central. The race was so tight, even the lowly Pirates and Reds had a shot.

By Labor Day, the division boiled down to three teams. The Cubs, Brewers, and Cards beat the crap out of each other, and cannibalized each other in the standings. There was a legit possibility that the second-place team in the NL Central wouldn’t have enough wins to qualify for the wild card. Overall, the NL wild card was as close as it had ever been in the second half of the season, with more than 10 teams jockeying for the final two spots.

St. Louis got a little help from the Cubs when they imploded in the final two weeks of the season. They also got saved by the bell. If the season were a week longer, the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers would have caught up to them for the division crown.

Despite winning a tough-as-hell division title, the Cardinals didn’t have favorable odds to win the World Series. They were as high as 14/1 odds to win the championship when the postseason began.

St. Small Ball

St. Louis looks like the weakest team on paper, despite boasting the fifth-best bullpen in baseball with a 3.82 ERA. Their special talent is winning playoff games. Sure, the Cards exploded for 10 against the Braves, but did you notice the second batter of that historic inning made the first out by a sacrifice bunt? Cardinals manager Mike Shildt opted for small ball to start the game. He wanted to grab the first run and take it from there. Little did he realize the Cards were about to open the floodgates and bat around.

At the time, it made senses to keep Jack Flaherty on the mound in an elimination game. After the fact, even my grandma knows that Shildt should have pulled his ace after a couple innings with a 13-0 lead. There was no need for Flaherty to waste a 100-plus pitch outing after hurling 117 pitches in Game 2 NLDS. As is, Flaherty won’t pitch until Game 3 of the NLCS. Since the All-Star Break, Flaherty has a 0.91 ERA.

Shildt actually has bigger fish to fry. His closer, Carlos Martinez, has looked awful thus far, allowing six hits and two home runs in 3.1 innings. Shildt is known for his unwavering loyalty, but you can’t help but wonder if Martinez will be on a super-short leash in the NLCS.

The Cardinals don’t have the firepower to match the top of the order for the Nationals. They snatched Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason, hoping he would boost the offense. Goldschmidt (.260, 34 home runs, 97 RBI) had an inconsistent season, and hit more than 25 points below his career average. However, Goldschmidt now has an opportunity to show the baseball world why he’s the greatest hitter in Diamondbacks history.

On Deck: Game 1 in STL

The NLCS Game 1 starters will be Anibal Sanchez (11-8, 3.85 ERA) for the Washington Nationals versus Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.16 ERA) at home for the Cardinals .

11 OCT Game 1 Washington at St. Louis
12 OCT Game 2 Washington at St. Louis
14 OCT Game 3 St. Louis at Washington
15 OCT Game 4 St. Louis at Washington
16 OCT Game 5 St. Louis at Washington **
18 OCT Game 6 Washington at St. Louis **
19 OCT Game 7 Washington at St. Louis **
** if necessary

According to William Hill, the Washington Nationals are 4/1 odds to win the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals are 5/1 odds to ship the World Series. In some shops in Las Vegas and offshore, you can find the Cardinals at 5/2 odds. Coming into the NLCS, the Nationals are -120 to win the series over the Cardinals.

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