Despite their history as the National League's most successful franchise—the second-most World Series titles in baseball behind the New York Yankees—the Cardinals had never previously played in the NLCS. Their last postseason trip had been to the 1968 World Series when they lost to the Detroit Tigers. The Atlanta Braves were making their first postseason appearance since 1969, the first year of divisional play. The Cardinals were led by Gold Glove first baseman and solid hitter Keith Hernandez, while the Braves were led by Dale Murphy, who was later named the season's MVP. The Cardinals had been the first team to clinch a playoff berth on September 27 while the Braves were the last to make the playoffs, clinching the West on October 3 when the Giants beat the Dodgers.
On a side note, Atlanta's manager Joe Torre and two of his coaches Bob Gibson and Dal Maxvill were known for playing for the opposing St. Louis Cardinal team while Cardinal coach Red Schoendienst previously played for the Braves and Cardinal coach Hub Kittle previously managed in the Braves organization.
Game 1 was a wash—literally. The Braves led 1–0 behind Phil Niekro and were three outs from an official game when the umpire stopped it. When the rain did not subside, the game was postponed. Game 1 began from the start the following night in a match-up of the volatile Braves starter Pascual Pérez and longtime Cardinal starter Bob Forsch.
The new Game 1 was scoreless through two innings. In the bottom of the third, Willie McGee tripled and scored on Ozzie Smith's sacrifice fly to center. It stayed 1–0 until the sixth when the floodgates opened and the Cardinals scored five runs to finish off Perez and the Braves for the evening. Three straight singles by Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez, and George Hendrick chased Perez and made it 2–0 with two on and nobody out. Brought in to put out the fire, Steve Bedrosian walked Darrell Porter to load the bases and gave up a single to McGee that scored Hernandez. Ozzie Smith's single scored Hendrick and Porter scored on a sacrifice fly by Forsch. A wild pitch advanced the runners, and a Ken Oberkfell single made it 6–0 Cardinals. Donnie Moore replaced Bedrosian and ended the inning, but the game was as good as over.
The Cardinals added a cosmetic run in the eighth scored by Forsch on a sacrifice fly. The 7–0 win gave the Cardinals a 1–0 lead in the best-of-five series. Forsch went the distance and only yielded three hits while Perez got the loss.
After another rainout the night before, an exciting contest unfolded at Busch Stadium in Game 2 with the Braves sending Phil Niekro against John Stuper. The Cardinals took a 1–0 lead in the bottom of the second when Ken Oberkfell scored on a wild pitch. The Braves answered in the top of the third when Bruce Benedict walked, went to second on a Niekro bunt, and scored the Braves' first official run of the series when Rafael Ramirez hit a single that he followed by scoring on a three-base error to put the Braves in front for the first time, 2–1. Niekro helped himself in the fifth when Glenn Hubbard singled, Benedict doubled, and Niekro's sacrifice fly gave the Braves a two-run lead. In the bottom of that same inning, Keith Hernandez singled and scored on Darrell Porter's double to make it 3–2 Atlanta. In the eighth, Porter walked, went to third on a George Hendrick single, and scored to tie it when Willie McGee hit into a fielder's choice that forced Hendrick at second. With the score tied, the Cardinals won in the bottom of the ninth when David Green singled, went to second on a bunt by Tommy Herr, and scored on a single by Oberkfell. The last at-bat win gave the Cardinals a 2–0 lead heading back to Atlanta. Bruce Sutter got the win and Braves ace reliever Gene Garber got the loss.
In a must-win game, the Braves sent Rick Camp to the hill and the Cardinals countered with the sometimes volatile and often entertaining Joaquín Andújar. There were no runs in the first, but in the second, the Cardinals clinched the series. Hernandez singled, Porter walked, Hendrick singled to score Hernandez, and Willie McGee hit his second triple of the series to score two more runs. When Ozzie Smith singled to make it 4–0, Camp was history and for all intents and purposes, so were the Braves. In the fifth, Tommy Herr doubled and scored on a Hernandez single to make it 5–0. Facing elimination, the Braves fought back valiantly. Claudell Washington and Bob Horner both singled. Faced with the prospect of a big inning, manager Joe Torre pulled Washington and replaced him with the faster Terry Harper. But the next hitter, Chris Chambliss hit into a double play that scored Harper and made it 5–1, but took the Braves out of the inning since the next hitter was their star, Dale Murphy. Had Chambliss hit safely, a Murphy homer would have made it 5–4. Instead, Murphy singled with two outs, went to second on a wild pitch by Andujar, and scored on Glenn Hubbard's single. The scoring continued in the ninth when McGee drilled a home run off reliever Gene Garber to end the scoring at 6–2. Bruce Sutter got the save and Camp the loss. Darrell Porter was voted the MVP although it could easily have gone to either Willie McGee or Bruce Sutter.