Cardinals complete sweep of Dodgers
The Cardinals swept the Dodgers in what could be a preview of this year's NLCS.
Big Start: For three straight games in the series, the Cardinals got great efforts from their starting pitchers. Woody Williams pitched seven innings on Sunday, allowing two runs on five hits. But unlike Jason Marquis on Saturday and Matt Morris on Friday, Williams didn't pick up the win despite the Cardinals winning, 6-5. Closer Jason Isringhausen gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning to deny Williams the victory. But the Cardinals recovered by scoring in the bottom of the 11th to win their ninth game in a row.
Big Loss: With the defeat, the Dodgers now only hold a 3½-game lead in the NL West over the Giants. While L.A. was swept by St. Louis in the weekend series, San Francisco won three games from Arizona. The Padres lost two of three games to the Rockies and trail the Dodgers by six games.
Big Man: Jim Edmonds had yet another big game in this series. He went 3-for-5 with two runs scored Sunday, raising his batting average to .313. Edmonds hit his 300th career home run on Saturday -- his 40th of the season. After Saturday's game, Edmonds got a cell phone message from a familiar voice; Mark McGwire had called to congratulate Edmonds, and jokingly mention that Edmonds needed many more homers to catch McGwire on the all-time home run list. McGwire hit 583 in his career.
Big Mo: The Cardinals have won 69 of their last 91 games, after starting 23-22, and they've created the same kind of self-sustaining momentum the Yankees did in 1998 -- the players start going out every day absolutely certain they'll find a way to win, and this allows them to sustain their intensity. The Cardinals are crushing opponents; they outscored the Padres 20-7 in their recent three-game sweep of San Diego, and for the season, they have scored 194 more runs than they've given up.
Big Absences: Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley was back in the starting lineup on Sunday (he went 1-for-5) after missing Friday's game in order to attend the funeral of his grandfather and being used just as a pinch-hitter Saturday. The Cardinals are without injured lefty reliever Steve Kline.
Big Defense: When the series began, Los Angeles had committed only 57 errors, the fewest in the majors. Similarly, the Cardinals field almost a complete team of Gold Glove-caliber fielders, from third baseman Scott Rolen to shortstop Edgar Renteria to catcher Mike Matheny to center fielder Edmonds. Strong defense is part of the reason both teams have thrived with pitching staffs that don't overpower.
Big X-Factor: Few players have conquered the kind of throwing neurosis experienced by Rick Ankiel, because somewhere along the line, those affected eventually revert back to old problems. Ankiel is back in the big leagues and taking his shot at a comeback, and he has shown in the past and again this year that when he throws strikes, he can be dominant. There probably will be a time in a one-sided game when he will make his first appearance.
Big Dark Cloud Gathering: None of the NL contenders -- not the Dodgers, nor the Cardinals -- could want the surging Marlins to make the playoffs. Florida's pitching would make it a tough playoff obstacle, but the Marlins now must play 30 games in 27 days because of Hurricane Frances.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is on the New York Times Best-Seller List and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.