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No love lost between the Cardinals and Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Throughout the regular season, the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals battled for the National League Central crown.

Ultimately, the division race went to Milwaukee.

Once again, these teams will hook up, this time with a trip to the World Series on the line. The best-of-seven NL Championship Series will get under way Sunday at Miller Park.

The way both teams elevated their games at the end of the season, and into their respective NL Division Series, it seems fitting that these two Central heavyweights are matched up again.

But St. Louis manager Tony La Russa says it is more coincidence than fate that has brought them together.

"I don't think there's any script for this," La Russa said Saturday afternoon. "I think four teams got in from our league, and you could have mixed in the different combinations. It happened to be us and the Brewers in the same division.

"What that adds is we play each other a lot this season. That's just the postseason; you can never predict who's going to go to the next round and who's going to leave this one."

Adding to the storyline is a historical fact. These franchises met in the 1982 World Series, with the Cardinals winning in seven games. The Brewers were then in the American League. This version of the rivalry represents the first time that teams that faced each other in the World Series are meeting in a League Championship Series.

A month ago, such a meeting seemed even more improbable. On Sept. 4, the Cards were 8 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card standings. But St. Louis stormed through September and clinched the NL Wild Card on the last day of the regular season.

"I am surprised, just because of how far back they were," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "But they're really good. When they were playing at .500 ball, I didn't think that was the team they were."

For Game 1, Milwaukee will start right-hander Zack Greinke. St. Louis is countering with lefty Jaime Garcia.

La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan are trying to maximize how they use Chris Carpenter. On three days' rest Friday, Carpenter blanked the Phillies on three hits in a dramatic series-clinching 1-0 win at Citizens Bank Park.

La Russa and Duncan had similar conversations at the end of the regular season, figuring out ways to get Carpenter on the mound.

"The coincidence is that the last day in Houston, Dave and I started playing around with the Division Series," La Russa said. "I think you can rest assured we'll try to get Chris Carpenter as often as we can."

After the Cardinals beat the Phillies in Game 5 on Friday, La Russa joked about how to get the most out of Carpenter.

"So two days' rest four times," the manager quipped.

Now, Garcia gets the nod. He will be making his second postseason start. Garcia pitched effectively in his NLDS start, but he suffered a loss to Philadelphia. In Game 3, he was victimized by Ben Francisco's three-run pinch-hit homer. Those were the lone runs he allowed.

During the season, the left-hander was 13-7 with a 3.56 ERA. Against the Brewers, Garcia made two starts, and he was 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA.

Both pitching staffs will certainly be challenged in Game 1, as both teams are capable of plenty of offense. The Cardinals paced the NL with 762 runs scored in the regular season, while the Brewers were fifth with 721. And Milwaukee was first in the NL in home runs with 185.

"I think it's the best lineup in the National League," Greinke said. "It's just really deep. There really are no easy outs in the lineup."

In the NLDS, both teams had big performances from their big stars. Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun was 9-for-18 (.500) with four doubles, five runs scored, a home run and four RBIs. St. Louis' Albert Pujols was 7-for-20 (.350) with three doubles.

The Brewers send a former Cy Young Award winner to the mound looking to silence the Cardinals' offense. Last Dec. 19, Milwaukee bolstered its rotation by obtaining Greinke from Kansas City as part of a six-player deal.

Greinke, who turns 28 on Oct. 21, is playing deep into October for the first time in his eight-year career. The right-hander went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 28 starts, including a 2-1 record and a 3.15 ERA against the Cards.

"[We] saw him a little bit in the American League," La Russa said of Interleague meetings with Greinke during his time with the Royals. "High-quality starter, a lot of ways to get a hitter out, very competitive. Kind of what you expect to face when you get into October."

Greinke is available for Sunday because he wasn't needed in Milwaukee's thrilling 3-2 win in 10 innings over the D-backs on Friday night. Had Game 5 with Arizona game gone further, however, Greinke was about to be called upon in relief.

"Yeah, Zack was warming up in the bullpen," Roenicke said Friday night. "He was probably going to come into that game next. So it was nice to get him a little bit of work."

The way Greinke's between-starts schedule was, he was lined up to throw off the mound on Friday anyway.

During the season, six games separated the Brewers and Cardinals in the division standings. But the teams were 9-9 against each other.

Overall, the Brewers' 96 wins were second most to Philadelphia's 102 in the NL. At home, however, Milwaukee stands alone. With a 57-24 mark at Miller Park, the Brewers had the most home wins in the big leagues. They were able to build upon their home success in the NLDS, winning all three times against the D-backs.

It took 10 innings in the decisive fifth game Friday to advance Milwaukee deeper into the postseason than the franchise has been in 29 years. Nyjer Morgan's walk-off single ushered in a new era of Brewers baseball.

The 2011 squad is the first Milwaukee squad to win a playoff series since the 1982 Brewers represented the AL in the World Series.

The Brewers are hoping to ride their emotional wave into the NLCS.

"This is a great place to play," Roenicke said. "The atmosphere was great in the playoffs as it was during the season." Comments