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NLDS Preview -- Phillies vs. Cardinals -- An Exercise in Nihilism

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Five game playoff series are cruel.  The sport of baseball takes 162 games to determine its playoff participants, and as few as three to send its first four teams home. It's unfair, but those are the rules.

When it comes to the Division Series, the Phillies have been remarkably successful in their recent run. After an unfortunate three game sweep in 2007 at the hands of the Rockies, the Phillies are a collective 9-2 in their last three Division Series.

In 2011, the Phillies square off against a St. Louis Cardinals team coming off an 18-8 September run that improbably pushed them past a foundering Atlanta Braves squad that led the National League Wild Card race by as much as 10 1/2 games on August 25th.

The Cardinals' greatest strength is their lineup, featuring legendary Albert Pujols, a reborn Lance Berkman, and Matt Holliday. The Cardinals may be without Holliday for at least part of the series, as the left fielder struggles with a tendon injury in his right (throwing) hand.

Since the addition of Hunter Pence, the Phillies lineup has been among the best in the league.

The rotation is solid, but the team will be without the services of ace Chris Carpenter until Game Two against Cliff Lee, and even then Carpenter will be pitching on short rest. Former Phillie and Kaz Matsui Grand Slamsmith Kyle Lohse will get the Game One start against Roy Halladay.

Both the Phillies and Cardinals feature fairly pedestrian bullpens, with the Phillies worn down by overuse, and the Cardinals hindered by a general lack of ability.

A great deal of the perspective on this series will come down to how seriously one takes both the late-season eight game losing streak, as well as the team's occasional maddening failure to hit for long stretches. Ultimately these short playoff series feature a great deal of luck, fortunate bounces, and random events. Think Eric Bruntlett, World Series Hero.

The Phillies are strong favorites in the series, and they should be. But the difference between a great 102 win team and a very good 90 win team is too small to meaningfully measure in a five game series. The history of baseball is littered with 100+ win teams who failed to win it all, and 85-95 win teams that basked in October glory.

In other words: October baseball.