NLCS Preview: Giants vs. Cardinals
The NLCS is business as usual this year. If you want a feel good underdog story, the ALCS is the series for you. The NLCS pits two traditional NL powers, the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.
The Cardinals and Giants have represented the National League in the World Series for four consecutive years, winning it three times. This year will make it a fifth consecutive year that one of these two teams will play for the World Series.
Both teams have gotten this far thanks to stellar pitching. They finished the year with identical team ERAs at 3.50, good for a tie at 10th in baseball. The Giants are lead by ace Madison Bumgarner, who lives for the postseason and already has 2 World Series championships under his belt. They follow that with veterans Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Hudson, and Jake Peavy, a solid four deep rotation that performed quite well in their series against the Nationals. All 3 victories in the 4 game series were by 1 run for the Giants, they just got to be close and they know they have a shot.
The Cardinals are also set up well with their rotation, led by Adam Wainwright, who had a 20 win season this year. They then turn to John Lackey, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. The latter three pitched great games against the Dodgers in the Division Series, but it was Wainwright who got rocked for six runs in 4.1 innings.
So both rotations are pretty solid and pretty hard to distinguish, so now we turn to the bullpens. The Giants’ bullpen has been money so far this postseason. Santiago Casilla has two saves in three appearances and has yet to allow a run. Sergio Romo has set him up nicely with two holds in three appearances. Who can forget the unbelievable six inning performance out of the ‘pen by Yusmeiro Petit, who only allowed one hit in his six innings in the longest game in postseason history, which the Giants eventually finished off. Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez have also been hard to beat. It appears that if the Giants hand their bullpen the lead at this point, they’ll finish it off.
Rookie Marco Gonzales has led the way for the Cardinals bullpen. The 22-year-old, who had a 4.15 ERA in 10 appearances (five starts) on the season, is on fire when it counts, racking up two wins in three appearances, and he has yet to allow a run, in fact he has only given up two hits. Pat Neshek has been solid, though he did give up what ended up being the game winning home run to Matt Kemp in game two. Then, Trevor Rosenthal sits on the back end, already picking up three saves and three wins.
So with pitching being fairly equal, the only difference can come at the plate. The Giants had a significant advantage in runs scored on the season, (665 compared to 619 for the Cards) but the Cardinals were better at getting on base (.320 OBP vs. .311 OBP). Both teams have been in mostly low scoring, tight affairs, each having an offensive outburst, the Giants in an 8-0 win over the Pirates in the Wild Card game and the Cards in a 10-9 win to open their series against the Dodgers. The Giants have one of the better hitters in baseball in Buster Posey, and in general a middle of the order headed by Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval is more intimidating than Matt Holliday, Johnny Peralta and Matt Adams. With the emergence of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford as clutch hitters this postseason, the Giants may have too much offensively, even if Jon Jay keeps getting on base non-stop for the Cards.
It’s going to be a fun series; there will be a lot of close games if their divisional series are any indication. Ultimately, the bats for the Giants will prove slightly better and give the pitching staff a lead to hold, which is virtually guaranteed when you have a pitching staff as good as the Giants have. Bruce Bochy will also be an x-factor, as he continues to show he was born to be a coach in the postseason. It’ll be tight since both of these teams always show up come October, but it’s worth noting there has been a pattern over the last 4 years. Giants went to the World Series in 2010, Cards in 2011, Giants again in 2012, and the Cards back last year in 2013. Yes, it’s so close I’m resorting to patterns. Giants in 7.
Written by: Alex Dittmar