Unlike the ALCS, this year’s NLCS is comprised of teams who are no strangers to this type of stage. The St. Louis Cardinals will face off against the San Francisco Giants for a chance to go to the World Series. Both the Cardinals and Giants have had more success in the playoffs recently than every other team. In the past 14 years, this will be the Cardinals 9th NLCS appearance and the Giants 4rd. No other team has more than 3 appearances. In fact, with both teams in the NLCS again, this will mean that 2014 will be the 5th year in a row that the NL World Series team will be the Giants or Cardinals. The Cardinals were in the World Series in 2013 and winning in 2011. The Giants won in 2012 and 2010.
Even though no one is really shocked that these teams have made it this far, it was still unlikely for this scenario to play out. The Giants won steamrolled through the Pirates at PNC Park in the Wild Card game and defeated the NL’s best team in the Washington Nationals in 4 games. The Cardinals went to LA to face the Dodgers and beat them in 4 games. With winning the NL Central, the Cardinals will hold home field advantage and host game 1 and 2 and game 6 and 7 if necessary. As of right now, the pitching matchups are as follows:
Game 1: Madison Bumgarner(2.98 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright(2.38 ERA)
Game 2: Jake Peavy(3.73 ERA) vs Lance Lynn(2.74 ERA)
Game 3: Tim Hudson (3.57 ERA) vs John Lackey(3.82 ERA)
Game 4: Ryan Vogelsong(4.00 ERA) vs Shelby Miller(3.74 ERA)
The rotations are lined up with both teams #1-4 matching up against each other. Normally any game Wainwright starts the Cardinals should be favorites. Although there is some worry around Cardinal Nation about game 1. For one, Bumgarner is no easy matchup and is one of the NL’s best pitchers. More importantly though is the fact that Adam Wainwright reportedly aggravated an injury in his elbow in his last start. He is going to pitch game 1, but there are question marks on how much it will affect his game. In Game 2, the Cardinals definitely have the advantage in starting pitching. Lance Lynn has quietly had one of the best seasons of any pitcher and it’s going unnoticed. His 2.74 ERA ranked 9th in the NL in ERA. His opponent, Jake Peavy, has been good but has a reputation of choking in the playoffs. The stats defend that since Peavy has a 7.39 career post season ERA. The other two games should be more even and in the Giants favor.
What is different between this year’s Giants and Cardinals than other ones is the lack of dominant offenses. That’s not to say that they don’t have a good lineup, but it has taken a step back this year. The Cardinals step back in offense has been the most significant. This year they ranked 23rd in runs, 14th in batting average, and 23rd in SLG. Their lack of offense could be contributed by a string of injuries suffered in the year, most significantly being Yadier Molina. Even when healthy, Molina hasn’t all that great batting over 30 points less from last year and only putting up a .719 OPS. Matt Holliday’s power disappeared for most of the year until picking up toward the end of the season. Even if their team offense hasn’t been amazing, their lineup still provides a punch. Molina, Holliday, Adams, and Peralta can really hurt you if you aren’t careful.
The Giants offense has definitely been better than the Cardinals. In the MLB, they ranked 12th in runs, 10th in batting average, and 13th in SLG. One thing that hasn’t changed much is the performance of the face of their franchise, Buster Posey. In the 2nd half of the season he turned back into an MVP candidate swapping time between 1B and catcher. The Giants lineup in most consistent top to bottom than the Cardinals with quality bats all over including Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Hunter Pence. Apart from when the Giants bats demolished the Pirates scoring 8 runs, they haven’t been so hot in this post season. They have scored no more than 3 runs since and have scored only 9 runs in 4 games. Thanks to clutch pitching, they have are in this situation.
Another place the Giants have an advantage in is the bullpen. GM Brian Sabaen has put together a bullpen of more experience veterans and it has turned out great for them. In bullpen ERA, the Giants ranked 5th in the MLB at 3.01 and in 1st in opponents’ batting average at .217. Their bullpen is lead with closer Santiago Casilla who has a 1.70 ERA and 19 saves. Others including Jean Machi, Jeremy Affeldt, and Sergio Romo help comprise their bullpen. Their #5 starter, Yusmeiro Petit has been moved to the bullpen to be a long man with Tim Lincecum being an option was well. The Cardinals’ bullpen on the other hand focuses more on youth and young arms. Their bullpen has been inconsistent at times but has leveled out as the season ended. The Cardinals closer, Trevor Rosenthal, is an example of their inconsistency but still had a very quality year with a 3.20 ERA and 45 saves. He has stepped it up in the post season and shut down the Dodgers and now leads the post season in saves. Sam Freeman has been their 8th inning guy for part of the year and has been probably their best pitcher with a 2.61 ERA. Flame thrower Carlos Martinez and side arm RHP Pat Neshek consists of the main part of the bullpen.
Both teams have been riding a hot streak to get here and have both probably slightly overachieved. The question is which will continue the streak? Adam Wainwright claims that he is totally fine and healthy enough to pitch. If that was the case this series would be much closer. I have doubts that he is healthy enough to be as dominant as we expect from him. If Wainwright shows he can pitch like himself, the Cardinals will probably win the series. If not, it’s likely we see the Giants in the World Series
Prediction: Giants in 6