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Cards, Pirates destined to meet in NLCS?

The St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates are the second-best team in baseball. However, because both play in the National League Central, only one can be assured of a spot in the Division Series, while the other needs to battle it out in a harrowing one-game Wild Card playoff.

For now, it appears the Pirates will have the displeasure of playing in that pressure cooker. Pittsburgh has been in the Wild Card game each of the past two seasons, beating the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 before losing to the eventual world champion San Francisco Giants in 2014. Manager Clint Hurdle has his team at 61-43, but still sits five games behind the Cardinals.

St. Louis is simply a juggernaut going into August. The Cardinals have dealt with the loss of ace Adam Wainwright and then some, putting together another epic campaign. Manager Mike Matheny has led his club to a league-best 67-38 mark, including a ridiculous 40-16 mark at Busch Stadium. Despite a lack of star power, St. Louis is the favorite to go to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Despite St. Louis and Pittsburgh being in the same division, are they the favorites to reach the National League Championship Series? Well, depends on what you value in a postseason setting. Without question, the Cardinals and Pirates have been the two best teams in Major League Baseball this season. The division they play in has been solid, and could even send three teams to the playoffs with the Chicago Cubs 10 games over .500. Additionally, both have been incredibly consistent and are proven playoff outfits.

However, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals and New York Mets have tremendous pitching. Few teams can match – and the Cardinals and Pirates are not the few teams who can – the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation. Furthermore, the Nationals have the deepest rotation in the league with Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister. New York also has an impressive stable of arms with Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom.

Then there are the Giants, who consistently find ways to win. San Francisco, which has won the Fall Classic in three of the last five years, still has Madison Bumgarner and a cast of characters capable of going on a run. Plus, should the Giants play in the Wild Card game, Bumgarner is all but a lock to start. Good luck.

In totality, the Pirates and Cardinals are the two best teams in baseball. Unfortunately, there is a very good chance that neither will even reach the World Series when the smoke clears.

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