The St. Louis Cardinals are one game away from reaching back-to-back World Series for the first time since the NL championship series has been contested.
The league's most successful club is not sure whether slugger Carlos Beltran will be available, but it has the opportunity to close out the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 at home Friday night.
St. Louis took a 3-1 series lead with Thursday's 8-3 victory. The defending champion Cardinals last appeared in consecutive World Series when they won the title in 1967 and lost to the Detroit Tigers in 1968, and the AL champion Tigers would be their opponent this year.
The Giants, meanwhile, are in the familiar position of needing three straight wins to advance after being down 2-0 in their division series against Cincinnati.
"These guys, they're fighters," manager Bruce Bochy said. "And this club has so much character. We've been through something like this, and we've had our ups and downs. But I've said this so many times, how tough they are and how resilient they are."
The Cardinals batted .198 through the first three games of the NLCS before Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Yadier Molina had two RBIs apiece as part of a 12-hit attack. Rookie Matt Carpenter, replacing an injured Beltran in the lineup, went 1 for 3 with two runs scored after he hit a two-run homer in Wednesday's 3-1 victory.
Beltran, who has never played in the World Series, tweaked his left knee in Game 3. The slugger is 12 for 30 with three homers and six RBIs in the postseason.
"Right now, the plan is to come in tomorrow and do what I have to do in order to be in the lineup," Beltran said. "Today was a better day for me, better than yesterday.
"Tomorrow is the day I need to go for it."
Cleanup hitter Allen Craig moved to right field Thursday, with Carpenter playing first base.
San Francisco has totaled four runs in its two defeats at Busch Stadium. NL MVP candidate Buster Posey is 2 for 14 with no RBIs in this series, Hunter Pence is 2 for 15 with his lone RBI coming on his solo homer Thursday and Pablo Sandoval was 3 for 16 before a meaningless two-run homer in the ninth in Game 4.
"We do need to get the bats going," Bochy said. "They've been shutting us down."
Posey, Pence and Sandoval combined to go 1 for 5 with one walk in Game 1 against Lance Lynn (1-1, 8.59 ERA), who will try to fare better in his second career postseason start. Lynn lasted 3 2-3 innings and allowed four runs in the Cardinals' 6-4 victory Sunday.
Lynn made 14 postseason appearances out of the bullpen, including four this year, before that outing.
"I'm as strong as I've ever been all year, and the playoff start was good to get," Lynn said. "Wish I could have done better the first one, but I've got a lot to learn from that one."
The right-hander went 8-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 12 home starts in the regular season. He won 18 regular-season games overall.
"It's a good first season as a starter," Lynn said. "You have a season like that when you're only 24, 25, it gives you a lot to look forward to."
After watching Tim Lincecum allow four runs over 4 2-3 innings Thursday, San Francisco probably doesn't know what to expect out of another former Cy Young Award winner in Barry Zito (0-0, 6.75) one night later.
Zito won his final seven regular-season starts, but lasted 2 2-3 innings and allowed two runs and four walks Oct. 10 in an 8-3 road win over the Reds. It marked his shortest career postseason outing.
"You don't win as many games as he's won this year if you aren't throwing the ball well," Bochy said of Zito. "He's earned this. And we have all the confidence in Barry tomorrow."
The left-hander had gone 3-0 with a 2.29 ERA over his first three career road playoff starts before facing Cincinnati.
Zito is 2-6 with a 4.89 ERA in nine starts against the Cardinals, although he won his lone 2012 outing against them by yielding two runs over 6 1-3 innings Aug. 7 in a 4-2 victory at St. Louis.
Numerous Cardinals have good numbers against him, with Craig 4 for 10 with three homers, Molina 6 for 16 and Jay 3 for 5. Reserve infielder Skip Schumaker is 7 for 16 with three doubles versus Zito.
"I know these guys," Zito said. "These guys know me. We've all been in this league for a while. With the exception of a couple of guys in the lineup we all know what we're up against."
Zito has never faced Carpenter while Beltran is a .227 hitter against him.