- Tim Kurkjian, MLB reporter
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Pop a beer and pull out all the references to Gorman Thomas, Harvey's Wallbangers, Whitey Herzog and Bruce Sutter. The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals will play in the postseason for the first time since the 1982 World Series. One team was expected to be here (the Brewers), one was not, but both will arrive at the National League Championship Series coming off electrifying one-run victories in Game 5 of the division series. It is difficult to imagine an NLCS without that great Phillies rotation, but a Brewers-Cardinals series should be a lot of fun.
Here are five questions about the series:
1. How hot are the Cardinals?
They won 23 of their last 32 games to come from 10½ games back to make the playoffs. Then they beat a prohibitive favorite, the Phillies, in the LDS. This is more than just a story of a team that, by all rights, shouldn't even be here, and therefore is playing with great freedom and energy. This is something else. This team is loose. Manager Tony La Russa is loose. He seems really happy, and not just because his team is winning. "I love our team,'' he said. He always says that, but this team is different. Maybe it's the presence of Lance Berkman, a really good player, who has brought a free-spirited, fun-loving approach. This team has not gotten bogged down by the possibility of playing its final games with Albert Pujols. In fact, the opposite is happening.
2. In what shape is the Brewers' rotation?
It could be better. Yovani Gallardo won't be available to start until Game 3 because he was needed to start Game 5 of the LDS. Gallardo was the Brewers' best pitcher down the stretch, and he became the first Brewer ever to record three straight starts of double-figure strikeouts. So Zack Greinke will start Game 1. His stuff is very good, and he was better at home (unbeaten at Miller Park) than on the road. Shaun Marcum lost his way a little in his one start in the LDS, and he had average results against St. Louis in 2011 (1-1, 4.50 ERA). Randy Wolf was rocked in his one LDS start. "I like their starting pitching,'' one scout said, "but I don't like it as much as I did two months ago.''
3. In what shape is the Cardinals' rotation?
It has issues because Chris Carpenter, the Game 5 hero in the LDS, will be unavailable until Game 3 at the earliest. Jaime Garcia, who pitched very well in the LDS, likely will get the start in Game 1. Kyle Lohse is the most rested of the starters. Edwin Jackson acquitted himself very well in his first postseason start in Game 4. The rotation will be helped by an improved defense, which helped win Game 5, specifically with a tremendous play by shortstop Rafael Furcal, a key play by second baseman Nick Punto and a great throw by the game's top defensive catcher, Yadier Molina. Earlier this year, the Cardinals' defense was below average. It is at least adequate now.
4. How good is the Brewers' middle of the order?
The Brewers have the best one-two punch in the league with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, who each will finish in the top five of the MVP voting, and Braun has a chance to win it. But as good as those guys were this year, the Brewers got contributions from all sorts of unlikely guys. George Kottaras hit for the cycle. Casey McGehee hit three home runs in one game. And, who else, Nyjer Morgan got the first walk-off hit in Brewers postseason history.
5. How good is the Brewers' bullpen?
In September, the Brewers' bullpen ERA was 1.14. It had its struggles in the LDS. In Game 5, closer John Axford blew his first save since April 18 in Philadelphia, but, to his credit, he worked out of a terrible jam in the ninth inning against Arizona to make sure he didn't put his team behind. Don't look for that to shake Axford's faith in himself. Francisco Rodriguez had a shaky eighth inning in Game 5, but got through it. Don't look for him to wilt, either. And don't look for this team to wilt after winning its first playoff series since 1982. The Brewers went 57-24 at home, and now they'll possibly have four more home games. The Brewers feel the lift from the wild crowds at Miller Park.
PREDICTION: BREWERS IN SEVEN
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Tim Kurkjian on Twitter: @Kurkjian_ESPN
Check out the top five questions heading into the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers.