St. Louis quickly moved past overmatched San Diego, advancing to the NL championship series for the second straight season and fourth time in six years after finishing a division series sweep Saturday night. “We’ve got a great club,” Carpenter said during a brief break from dousings. “We’ve got to continue to play the way we’ve been playing in this series to continue to move on. We’ve got some quality guys here. We played quality games. We went out and swung the bats early.” SAN DIEGO – Chris Carpenter stood soaked with champagne in the St. Louis clubhouse as he reeled off everything the Cardinals are doing right this postseason. They jumped to big leads in all three first-round games against San Diego. Carpenter and the other starters were superb and the bullpen sealed it each time. The defense turned enough double plays that the Padres never found any kind of offensive groove. This St. Louis team has long considered itself a World Series contender, especially hungry for another shot at winning it all after being swept by the Boston Red Sox for the championship last October. Only two members of the Cardinals have rings: Reggie Sanders with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and David Eckstein in 2002 with the Angels. Both played key roles in Saturday’s 7-4 win at Petco Park, where the Padres and their sellout crowd had little chance of slowing the Cardinals. St. Louis has carried the success from its major league-best 100-62 regular-season record right into the next phase. The 37-year-old Sanders, in the postseason for the fifth time in six years, set an NLDS record with 10 RBIs. He hit a grand slam and drove in an NLDS-record six runs in an 8-5 Game 1 victory, then added two-run doubles in each of the next two games. Afterward, his teammates chanted “MVP! MVP!” and “Reggie! Reggie!” through the clubhouse. “In a short series, that’s kind of what you look for,” manager Tony La Russa said. “You get a hot hitter or two, a hot pitcher or two, you swing the games. He was big in each game. I don’t think he had a meaningless RBI. … One of the things we believe about our club is that we have a bunch of guys that are prime-timers. They’re not afraid to take big at-bats. He’s one of them.” The personable Eckstein, who stands all of 5-foot-7 and weighs only 165 pounds, hit a two-run homer that just cleared the left-field fence in the second – his first career postseason home run in 22 games. Sanders’ bases-loaded, two-run double came four batters later, and just like that the Cardinals had taken a 5-0 lead and knocked former teammate Woody Williams out of the game after 1 2-3 innings and 53 pitches. “It was very important for us to go out there and set the tone early and find a way to get a win,” Eckstein said. “Every game can change momentum. Especially after we had that lead, you definitely don’t want to lose that lead because in that situation you could end up all of a sudden they come back, then it’s a whole new ballgame tomorrow.” While St. Louis players calmly walked off the field as if having just completed a regular-season series sweep, the Cardinals let loose in the visitor’s clubhouse a few minutes later with a crazy party. Some players got bubbly poured down the back of their uniform pants. They figured they’d earned the chance for a wild, albeit brief, celebration. Everybody involved insisted it wouldn’t last long before the Cardinals would return to getting ready for whoever is next. Their opponent was decided Sunday, when Houston advanced to the NLCS with a 7-6 win over the Atlanta Braves in 18 innings. The Cardinals and Astros will play in the NLCS for the second straight year beginning Wednesday at Busch Stadium. “I think we all know what we need to do and it’s just having a little fun while we’re getting there,” second baseman Mark Grudzielanek said. The Cardinals never trailed in the first round, and now they will have home-field advantage for the NLCS, though the way they are playing it hardly seems to matter. Carpenter will go in Game 1 after pitching six shutout innings in the opener against San Diego. Mark Mulder, the Game 2 winner, is still nursing a bruised left biceps he sustained on a line drive by Joe Randa and it’s unclear when he will pitch. La Russa acknowledged he started thinking about the next round before Saturday’s game, brainstorming how he would set the rotation depending whether the Cardinals played the Braves or Astros. “I was thinking it was too superstitious to think about it, but now we can,” La Russa said. The Cardinals certainly appear to have the talent for another run at a ring. They can beat opponents with pitching, defense, home runs and hit-and-runs. What did they prove with their first-round sweep? “That we’re a good team,” Grudzielanek said with a grin. “It’s a great experience for anybody to be involved in something like this. It just doesn’t come around too often. Fortunately we have an opportunity to get back where we were last year, and that’s our mission.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!