Another off day. When postseason baseball is done right (i.e., your team is in them), there are stretches of agonizing, heart-pounding angst followed by periods of almost boring calm. Right now, with three days between the LDS and the LCS, we’re in that eye of the storm, the calmness before everything breaks loose yet again. While it’s probably good for our mental well-being, it does tend to drag after a while. We just want to see some baseball! Sure, the Royals and the Orioles are going tonight, but does the American League really count as baseball? That’s a value judgement you have to make on your own.
While we are waiting, everyone tends to try to break down the upcoming series. If you want more unbiased and reasonable reporting, well, you probably aren’t here. Still, let’s take a look at what the regular season tells us about the two teams and what kind of wild and erroneous conclusions we can draw from it.
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It’s interesting to see how close these two teams really are offensively. Save for home runs, which the Giants didn’t just crush but did hit at a better rate than the Cards, most everything else is pretty similar. What the Redbirds lost in power they made up for in patience and contact.
Someone pointed out that the two teams hardest to strike out, St. Louis and Kansas City, are still playing, perhaps indicating that being able to put the ball in play has positive aspects in October. (Well, it obviously has positive aspects anytime, but maybe more so in the playoffs.) Being able to wait for a mistake helps you beat pitchers like Clayton Kershaw by fouling off their good stuff or making sure it’s in the zone before you swing. Will they be able to carry that forward? It would seem reasonable, though we’ll look at the pitching of each team in a bit.
The Giants scored all of nine runs in four games against the Nationals–four technical games, though Game 2’s extra-inning marathon should have counted for two. Their last three runs came on a bases-loaded walk, a bases-loaded groundout, and a wild pitch. To say their offense struggled against the strong starting pitching of the Nats is probably an understatement.
Now, of course, they could break out like the Cards did against the Dodgers, but given the pitching staff the Cardinals have, you have to like the chances of low scoring affairs, something that the Cards have plenty of experience in winning this season.
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While the goal in the divisional series was to try to get into the Dodger bullpen, I’m not sure that should be the same hope this time around. The arms out there put up some nice numbers and there’s plenty of options for Bruce Bochy to use when different situations arise. None of the relievers were putting up ridiculously gaudy K/9 rates, but they weren’t shabby either.
The starting rotation is Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong. Even with the confidence of beating Kershaw, Bumgarner is a scary opponent. Peavy’s had a good run as a Giant, but I think the Cards have been able to beat him before. Hudson is always tough and Vogelsong was part of that 2012 collapse, winning Game 6 allowing one run over seven innings.
If Adam Wainwright is fully healthy and on his game, I’d give the Cardinal rotation a slight edge, but it’s very slight. It would be surprising if either side was able to hang a large number on a starter given how good they are and how the offenses have struggled at times this season.
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Without going position-by-position, it seems like the defenses are pretty similar as well. The Cardinals catch what they get to, the Giants get to a few more balls. With the two pitching staffs, limiting errors is going to be key. Giving a team an extra opportunity is a very good way to give up a run and, with them at a premium, giving up a run could be quite deadly.
THE SEASON SERIES
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San Francisco won the season series 4-3 and, as you can see, there were a lot of games where the bats didn’t show up.
The first game, the Cards got to Vogelsong, getting four runs off of him in 6.1 innings. However, Carlos Martinez came into the game in relief of Jaime Garcia and gave up two singles and a walk, allowing a run to score, before Trevor Rosenthal came in to try to stop the damage. Unsuccessfully, it turned out, as he gave up a two-run double to Michael Morse, sealing the deal. (Note that Morse is going to be activated for this series after an oblique strain had sidelined him since August.)
Game 2 in St. Louis was a matchup of our NLCS Game 1 starters in Wainwright and Bumgarner. The Giants were up 5-0 after two innings while Bumgarner threw seven scoreless, striking out 10. The Cards made it respectable off of David Huff, but they were really never in the game. Factoring in everything, that well may have been Wainwright’s worst game of the year.
The third of the fourth game set saw the Cards win behind six scoreless innings from Michael Wacha, who also won’t be starting in this series. Yusmeiro Petit, whom St. Louis may see out of the bullpen, allowed just one run in six. You might remember that one, since it was Oscar Taveras going deep in his first start in the big leagues. Ah, the memories.
San Francisco took the series with a win in the last matchup, kicking off June by obliterating Lance Lynn. Lynn allowed seven runs (only four earned, but still) in 3.1 innings. That was his last bad game until the end of the month, when he allowed seven to the Dodgers. Since he didn’t have as much trouble with them in the NLDS, let’s hope the same applies here.
A month later, the Cards went out to the Bay Area and took two out of three, though the Giants kept their momentum going by stealing the first one. Marco Gonzales made his second start in the big leagues and got touched for five runs in 4.1 innings while Tim Lincecum threw eight scoreless, because of course. A home run by Pablo Sandoval was the big blow off of Gonzales, though the four walks he issued played a role as well.
Wainwright got a shot at redemption and took it the next night, throwing 7.2 innings of four-hit, no-run ball to do just enough to beat the Giants. Vogelsong allowed two runs in the third on back-to-back RBI singles by Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday (in one of the rare times he batted second) but Wainwright, Pat Neshek and Rosenthal made those two stand up.
The Redbirds took the rubber match in the last meeting of the regular season between the two squads. They laid into Bumgarner this time, putting up two in the first on a Jhonny Peralta home run, then scoring three more in the fourth to put the game well in hand. Carlos Martinez got the start and did much better this time, allowing just one run in five while striking out six. Given the cushion, the bullpen made the rest of the game fairly anticlimatic.
Probably because of my bias, but I like the Cardinals in this one, even though I can’t see it going any less than six. The home field advantage will help some, given how great the Cards played at home (51-30) versus on the road (39-42). (For comparison, San Fran was 45-36 at home and 43-38 on the road, so it doesn’t make much difference for them.) I think that the Cardinal offense might be a bit better than San Francisco’s, at least if the bats can continue from what they were doing last series, and I like the depth of the Cardinal staff.
That said, freaky stuff tends to happen with the Giants in the postseason. There’s a reason they’ve won seven straight postseason series–they are good and they take advantage of any breaks that might go their way. The Cards haven’t beaten the Giants in the NLCS since 1987–that needs to end right now. This is a series that will decide who the “team of the half-decade” will be–whichever team wins will be going to its third World Series in five years. It’s an even-numbered year, which has worked out for the Giants in the past, but every streak comes to an end.
Let’s look at the historical numbers for our Game 1 starters. First, Bumgarner.
Unsurprisingly, he’s been very good. That’s basically because he’s a really good pitcher. The confidence that this team has after beating Kershaw twice will help, but this is a Giants team that has plenty of postseason experience and Bumgarner isn’t likely to rattle on the big stage. You can never account for luck, of course, but I expect that he’ll throw a very good game, even if he doesn’t inspire the same fear that Kershaw does.
Now, Mr. Wainwright.
Waino’s been bueno, of course, and it’s good to see that he’s been able to corral the Giants for the most part. Nobody has much of a line against him–well, expect Bumgarner! Let’s try not to walk the eighth place guy to get to the pitcher in this one, OK, Mike Matheny?
For all the complaining in the national media about the familiarity of this series, I expect it’s going to be a better baseball series than the ALCS. My gut feeling over there (and, given I don’t follow the American League all that much, is probably not worth the pixels used to express it) is that Baltimore is going to end that Cinderellaish run of the Royals in five games or so. Maybe not and we’ll still have a chance for an ’85 rematch (this time with instant replay), but that’s what I’m thinking.
This one, though, could be decided late in every matchup. Which is scary given Rosenthal, but it’ll be exciting baseball no matter!