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Cardinals focused on work ahead not what's done

Club determined to take advantage of 2-0 edge with ace on the hill

LOS ANGELES -- With two victories in hand, even the most advanced metrics indicate that the St. Louis Cardinals are 50 percent of the way to triumph in the 2013 National League Championship Series.

But looked at in a slightly less empirical way, the Cardinals may have already done a higher percentage of the difficult work in finding a way through this series and into the World Series.

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Before this series started, there was one clear formula for the Redbirds to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers. This involved the Cardinals winning the two games that Adam Wainwright started, and finding two other victories in games started by some other St. Louis pitchers.

Before the NLCS had even proceeded to the West Coast, the Cardinals achieved that second goal. They won Game 1 started by Joe Kelly, who danced around danger well enough, often enough to leave with a tie game. And then they won Game 2 started by Michael Wacha. Whatever is said about the revelation that is Wacha risks only understatement in these October days.

That leaves the two games started by Wainwright, if there are that many. Wainwright will start Game 3 at Dodger Stadium on Monday, at 7 p.m. CT on TBS. And if the series went the distance, he would be available to start Game 7 on regular rest.

It ought to be pointed out that the truly large amount of trust the Cardinals have in Wainwright has evidence behind it. Most recently, in two starts against Pittsburgh in the Division Series, he went 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA. He book-ended that series, winning the first game and the last.

The Cardinals haven't hit anything like the Cardinals, the NL's leaders in runs scored during the regular season. But it is all right to only score four runs in the first two games when the other guys only score two.

One way or another, the brilliant pitching by the young starters and the young relievers -- and Randy Choate, it should be added -- set the Cardinals up as well as they could be set up after two games in a best-of-seven event.

But this kind of thinking is for the rest of the world. The Cardinals cannot think that something of great value has already been accomplished, not with three games scheduled in Los Angeles, not with so much work yet to be done.

And of course, the Cardinals don't think that way. Taking nothing for granted is part of the Cardinals way.

"Fortunately, our guys have trained themselves since February to play them one at a time," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Sunday. "And regardless of what happened yesterday, good, bad, indifferent, I think they've done a real nice job of staying consistent with that, not getting caught up in too high or too low. We've had some brutal losses and the guys came back the next day like it never happened. We've had some exciting wins and we've come back the next day with a lot of the hunger.

"So that's what we continue to preach. That consistency is really in my mind what separates the good players from the very good players and the good teams from the very good teams."

The Cardinals, of course, picked up some valuable, if painful, experience in this area last October. Leading San Francisco, 3-1, in the NLCS, the Cardinals lost the last three games to the Giants, who went on to win the World Series.

"Last year, as we went into the NLCS with the Giants, it looked like we were in very good position," Matheny said. "That changed quickly. All of a sudden we had a full turnaround in momentum, and I don't think guys will ever forget that of being that close and then watch it slip away.

"So, to me, once again, it gets back to the simplicity of not just this game but this pitch. That's all we can control. If they put out the distractions, which we talk about so much this time of year, that really is the differentiator is how you can minimize the distraction. One of those distractions is getting too far ahead of yourself, whether it's being comfortable where you are or thinking too far down the line with the series. Just play the game. Play this pitch. Do your part and expect your teammates to do theirs."

It's all completely true. But we can safely say that, without getting ahead of ourselves, being up 2-0, before Wainwright even has a chance to pitch, is one definition of a good, solid October situation.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

St. Louis Cardinals