Saturday, October 15, 2011

NLCS Thoughts: Haven't We Seen This Before?

So here we are on the off day between Games 5 and 6 of the National League Championship Series, with the St. Louis Cardinals leading the series, three games to two, over the Milwaukee Brewers.  With one victory over the Brewers in Milwaukee, the Cardinals will win their 18th National League pennant and advance to the World Series to face the winner of the Detroit-Texas ALCS.

As we wait for Game 6 on Sunday, I can't help but think that something is very familiar about this NLCS.  Repressed memories from five years ago are suddenly finding their way back into my consciousness, as the clouds that hid the nightmares of October 2006 are now lifting away.  Oh, yes.  The Cardinals have done this before.

 It's not Halloween yet, but this picture always gives me nightmares.

In 2006, St. Louis didn't clinch a playoff berth until their final regular season game, taking the NL Central when the Astros lost to the Atlanta Braves.  This year, the Cardinals clinched the NL wild card berth on the final day of the regular season after they Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Atlanta Braves in Game No. 162.

The San Diego Padres repeated as NL West champions in 2006 and held home field advantage over the Cardinals in the NLDS.  But St. Louis dispatched of the Padres in the Division Series and went on to face the 97-win Mets in the NLCS.  In 2011, Philadelphia repeated as NL East champions and held the home field edge over St. Louis, but the Cardinals knocked the Phillies out of the playoffs and advanced to the NLCS to face the 96-win Milwaukee Brewers.

The Mets finished the 2006 season with the best home record in the National League, going 50-31 at Shea Stadium during the regular season and winning all of their home games in the NLDS.  The Brewers ended the 2011 season with the best home record in the major leagues, finishing with a 57-24 regular season mark at Miller Park, before winning all three of their home games in the Division Series.

The Mets won Game 1 of the 2006 NLCS over the Cardinals, but lost the second game at home, sending the series back to St. Louis in a 1-1 tie.  The Brewers took Game 1 of the 2011 NLCS against the Cardinals, but lost Game 2 at home as the series shifted back to St. Louis all even at one.

St. Louis scored early and often against the Mets in Game 3 of the 2006 NLCS, pushing across five runs in the first two innings.  They would not score again after the second inning, but were able to hold on to win the game and take a two games to one edge in the series.  In Game 3 of the 2011 NLCS, the Cardinals scored four runs in the first inning against Milwaukee and did not score again.  However, that early outburst was all they needed, as they fought off the pesky Brew Crew and took a 2-1 lead in the series.

In 2006, the Mets stormed back in St. Louis to take Game 4, evening up the series at two games apiece and guaranteeing themselves a trip back to New York.  Milwaukee recovered from their two straight losses in 2011, defeating St. Louis in Game 4 to knot up their series and assuring themselves of a return trip to Milwaukee.

Hoping to come back to Shea Stadium with the series lead, the Mets fell to the Cardinals in the critical Game 5.  For all the success the Mets had at Shea Stadium, they would need to win two consecutive games there to win the 2006 National League pennant.  Fresh off their series-tying victory, the Brewers lost to St. Louis in Game 5 of the 2011 NLCS, putting them in a similar position where they would have to win two games at home to advance to the World Series.

Now do you see why this year's National League Championship Series is reminiscent of the events in 2006?  Of course, the Mets went on to win Game 6 of the 2006 NLCS at Shea Stadium before losing the seventh and deciding game, becoming the first team since the 1975 Boston Red Sox to lose a Game 7 at home after winning Game 6 there.

 The end result of the 2006 NLCS was heartbreaking to Mets fans, but this play gave us all hope.

History has repeated itself throughout late September and early October for the St. Louis Cardinals this year.  Heck, even the Detroit Tigers are two wins away from the World Series.  If you recall, after eliminating the Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, the Cardinals went on to defeat those same Detroit Tigers to win their tenth World Series championship.

Contrary to everything I've led you to believe in this post, I don't believe in deja vu.  But if Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder takes a called third strike against Jason Motte in the ninth inning of Game 7 of this year's NLCS, I may have to change my mind, especially since Motte wasn't even the closer for the Cardinals until September, which is the same month Adam Wainwright took over closing duties in 2006.

Uh, okay.  Maybe there is something to this deja vu thing after all.

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