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Banged-up pitching staffs will have to come through

Posted: Tuesday October 10, 2006 5:47PM; Updated: Tuesday October 10, 2006 5:59PM
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First Base

A big question of this series is whether the Mets will pitch to Albert Pujols in key situations.
A big question of this series is whether the Mets will pitch to Albert Pujols in key situations.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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CARDINALS: The Padres were careful pitching to Albert Pujols during the NLDS, but they weren't overly careful. The result: He struck out four times in 15 at-bats, but he still had five hits (.333) in the four games, hit a home run, drove in three runs and scored three. The Mets will pitch to the reigning NL MVP -- he might win it again, too -- at their own risk.

METS: After 14 years, Carlos Delgado made his first postseason appearance in the Mets' NLDS win over the Dodgers. It was a good one, too, with six hits (.429), including a home run, in the sweep. Delgado producing in the middle of the order is critical for the Mets, who will need all the runs they can get with a pitching staff devastated by injuries.

EDGE: Cardinals

Second Base

CARDINALS: A midseason replacement after a trade with Cleveland, Ronnie Belliard was arguably the key player in the Cards' NLDS win over the Padres, hitting .462, with two of his six hits coming with runners in scoring position. He's a flashy second baseman who plays deeper than most, but he's prone to dumb mistakes.

METS: The 36-year-old Jose Valentin runs under the radar in this lineup, but he's proven serviceable for the Mets. He doesn't hit for average -- in fact, he went hitless in the NLDS -- but he has a little power (18 homers in 137 games in '06) and, in the field, he's surprisingly rangy.

EDGE: Cardinals

Third Base

CARDINALS: One of the most pressing questions for St. Louis is whether Scott Rolen's shoulder will be strong enough for him to play in the NLCS. It's been bothering him for most of the year, and it got so bad in the NLDS that he had to sit out the final game. He's crucial in the lineup, hitting behind Pujols. If Rolen can't go, Scott Spiezio will step in.

METS: David Wright drove in 116 runs in the regular season hitting No. 5 in the lineup, behind Carlos Beltran and Delgado. In the NLDS sweep of the Dodgers, he had four hits in 12 at-bats, knocking in a team-best four runs. He still makes too many errors (19 in '06), but he can pull off the spectacular play once in a while.

EDGE: Mets

Shortstop

CARDINALS: For sheer grit, not many in baseball can top David Eckstein. He was affected by injuries this year, including a pulled muscle in his side, but he's back at the top of the lineup now. Ecsktein's strength is that he doesn't strike out. But with little power, nobody's going to walk him, either. He has to hit for the Cards to go.

METS: Flashy Jose Reyes can hurt opponents in so many ways. He has some power (19 homers). He can steal (64 swipes). He can hit (.300 in '06). And nobody knows any of that better than the Cardinals. He hit .346, with two homers and eight RBIs, against St. Louis this year. He's an exciting gloveman, too, though he'll boot some balls.

EDGE:  Mets

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