Cardinals land in familiar territory

Up 3-1 again, St. Louis hopes to avoid a similar fate to last year's NLCS collapse

Updated: October 16, 2013, 9:09 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- David Freese at least managed a little smile as the question came out. Carlos Beltran was polite, but short. Mike Matheny didn't want to go down that road at all.

Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves up 3-1 in the National League Championship Series after Tuesday night's 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, that is the same position they were in last season, before losing in seven games to the San Francisco Giants, the eventual World Series champions.

But no, they really don't want to spend all that much time thinking about that right now.

"We don't think about that," Beltran said. "It's different. Last year we faced a different ballclub. The Dodgers are not the Giants. They have a different staff, and I believe they kind of play a different type of ballgame."

But are there any lessons to be learned?

"What happened last year is in the past," Beltran said. "We had our opportunities; we just couldn't get it done. The Giants did. They played better than us. In series like these, the teams that play better are the ones that move on. I know that sounds cliché, but you can't take anything for granted. You could be down two or three games, but you never know. You cannot predict baseball."

You certainly would've had a hard time predicting what happened to the Cardinals in the NLCS last season. After scoring 18 runs in the first four games, St. Louis was outscored 20-1 in Games 5, 6 and 7.

Lance Lynn had a chance to close it out at home in Game 5 against Barry Zito. He lasted just 3 2/3 innings and the Giants won 5-0.

Their ace, Chris Carpenter, had a chance to end things in Game 6 against Ryan Vogelsong. He was down 5-0 by the end of the second inning.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Beltran
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCarlos Beltran doesn't want to think about last year's NLCS for the Cardinals.

Kyle Lohse got the ball in Game 7 on a rainy San Francisco night. He was lifted after just two innings and the Giants went on to a 9-0 rout.

"You have a pretty good handle on things when you're up 3-1," said Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker, who played a similar role for the Cardinals last season. "We were pretty confident over there. We had Chris Carpenter going and Kyle Lohse -- who had a great year -- going, so we liked where we were at and it didn't happen for us.

"We lost, so hopefully that's going to be the common theme over there. It's going to be a battle. There's a reason why they're here again. They're a really solid team. But we've got our horses [Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw] lined up. If we're going to lose, we've got our best guys going."

It's for that reason -- and a host of more esoteric ones, too -- that Cardinals manager Matheny didn't even bring up last year's series by name in his postgame remarks.

"We certainly don't talk about wonderful positions," Matheny said, referring to the Cardinals' 3-1 series advantage. "What we talk about is that we've got a game to play tomorrow. We've got a huge responsibility to go out and play it the right way, to take a lot of the positive that we had in our clubhouse and on our bench and out on the field that we saw today and continue that."

Painful as last year's series might be to relive during this short turnaround between Game 4 Tuesday night and Game 5, which begins at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Freese said everyone who lived through it learned from the experience.

"We just have to go out and attack the game," Freese said. "You can't be on your heels; you have to make your own chances and try to get it done.

"Hopefully, we're going to the World Series after the game [Wednesday]."

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