ST. LOUIS — This is the last postseason under the reign of baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who loves to talk about how the hundreds of millions of dollars rich teams annually share with poor teams has given fans of every team hope and faith.
That is a good sell at the American League Championship Series. The Baltimore Orioles will advance to their first World Series since 1983, or the Kansas City Royals will advance to their first World Series since 1985.
However, here at the National League Championship Series, Selig ought not to peddle any notion of parity. The St. Louis Cardinals are in their fourth consecutive NLCS, the San Francisco Giants their third in five years. This year's World Series will be the fifth consecutive in which the NL entry has been either St. Louis or San Francisco.
The 14 slots available in the NLCS over the last seven years have been filled by only five teams — the Cardinals four times, the Giants, Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies three times, and the Milwaukee Brewers once.
It would make for a compelling conclusion if the NL team with the most victories in the regular season regularly advanced to the World Series. In fact, the 2013 Cardinals are the only NL team to post the best record in the regular season and win the NLCS over these seven years.
This year, the Giants dismissed the NL team with the best record, the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals, you might have heard, dumped the Dodgers, the team with the second-best record in the NL.
"On paper, you would probably say the Dodgers had a better team," St. Louis third baseman Matt Carpenter said.
So what is the secret to the October success of the Cardinals and Giants?
"These are two teams that really know how to play the game well," Carpenter said. "They're both well-coached. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They understand the postseason environment. They know how to win."
And, Carpenter said, the Cardinals demand to win.
"Developing a winning culture is a big part of why we're here," he said. "There's an expectation to play in the postseason.
"You know that the bar is set high when not getting to the World Series is a disappointment. That's a pretty special place to play."
A team lacking the depth of a superior regular-season team might still be built for October success, according to Giants relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt.
Three or four solid starters and three or four solid relievers, he said, and a team could be set for a long playoff run.
"Some teams are built for the playoffs," Affeldt said. "If you have a good rotation and a good back end of the 'pen, you have as good a chance as anybody to move on."
Catcher Buster Posey said the Giants are comfortable in the playoff atmosphere. "As weird as it sounds, it's almost more relaxing than the regular season," he said. "You grind out the regular season to make it here. This is the reward."
Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals' Game 1 starter, delicately handled the question of why St. Louis and the Giants stand a notch above the rest of the league in this so-called era of parity.
"I don't know how to put that without making 13 other teams mad in the National League," he said. "It's a tricky thing. But I do really believe when you get through the postseason, you win a couple of tough series, it gives you a greater edge and confidence going into the next time you're in the postseason.
"And the Giants, like we have, have put themselves in positions to be in the postseason over the years. They have great pitching. They have winning players over there. And when you have that confidence that you're going to get the job done, a lot of times you do get the job done."