NLCS Preview: Cardinals vs. Giants

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Cardinals and Giants have in store for us in the National League Championship Series.

The Teams

St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants

The Matchups

Game 1 Sunday in San Francisco: Lance Lynn vs. Madison Bumgarner
Game 2 Monday in San Francisco: Chris Carpenter vs. Ryan Vogelsong
Game 3 Wednesday in St. Louis: Kyle Lohse vs. Matt Cain
Game 4 Thursday in St. Louis: Adam Wainwright vs. Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito
Game 5 (if necessary) Friday in St. Louis
Game 6 (if necessary) Sunday in San Francisco
Game 7 (if necessary) Monday in San Francisco

Analysis: These two organizations typically feature talented starting rotations, and the names here are certainly well known. But neither side is operating at 100 percent at the moment. Lynn faded down the stretch during the regular season after being named to the National League All-Star roster and allowed Jayson Werth’s walkoff home run as a reliever in Game 4 of the NLDS on Thursday. Bumgarner began showing signs of fatigue in late August and got shelled by the Reds in his lone NLDS outing. Carpenter pitched effectively against the Nationals last round but isn’t anywhere near full strength after making just three starts during the regular season due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Vogelsong had a 6.75 ERA after August 8.

Numbers can be thrown out the window this time of year, but fatigue is a very real concern in mid-October. And both sides would appear to be dealing with it after scratch-and-claw regular seasons.

The Storylines

  • The clubs played six times throughout the summer and split the meetings three games apiece.
  • Will the Giants regret not inviting Melky Cabrera back to their roster? The 28-year-old impending free agent outfielder would have been eligible to return from his PED suspension for Game 1 of the NLCS, but the club told him in late September to not even bother working out.
  • The return of Carlos Beltran to AT&T Park should get plenty of play on the FOX broadcasts. He finished the 2011 season with the Giants after a deadline trade that sent top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler over to the Mets. Beltran preformed well, but the Giants wound up missing the playoffs. And now he is killing it for the opposition. We would expect some boos out in San Fran.
  • This NLCS pits two of the best all-around catchers in baseball against each other. Buster Posey, MVP hopeful, registered a superb .336/.408/.549 batting line with 24 home runs and 103 RBI in 148 games during the regular season. Yadier Molina, also an MVP candidate in the National League, hit .315/.373/.501 with 22 homers and 76 RBI in 138 games. “Yadi” is generally regarded — and the stats do back this up — as the best defensive catcher in Major League Baseball.
  • The series also boasts two of the top defensive center fielders in MLB in Angel Pagan and Jon Jay.
  • The Cardinals scored the fifth-most runs in the big leagues this season and finished with the sixth-best OPS. The Giants ranked 12th overall in runs scored and had only the 14th-highest OPS.
  • Hunter Pence has become an emotional leader on this Giants team, but he batted just .219/.287/.384 in 248 plate appearances after being acquired from the Phillies on July 31 and went 4-for-20 with no extra-base hits in the NLDS. San Francisco would love for him to get hot.
  • The Giants’ bullpen is loaded with high quality arms, but the same can now be said for the Cardinals. Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly have emerged into reliable young flame-throwers and Jason Motte is no stranger to postseason save opportunities. Shelby Miller will also likely get some use.

Prediction

The Cardinals are far more loaded offensively than the Giants, boasting five 20-plus homer bats. And while power can be a fickle thing in a seven-game postseason series, it’s hard to bet against the more potent offensive team when the pitching matchups don’t sway convincingly in one direction.

CARDINALS WIN THE SERIES 4-2

Struggling Francisco Rodriguez’s job seems to be secure

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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle on Thursday, allowing a run in a 2-1 loss to the Mariners. It’s the sixth time in nine appearances that the right-handed veteran has allowed a run, bumping his ERA up to 6.23. He’s blown two saves and has two losses on the year.

Despite that, it doesn’t sound like Rodriguez’s job as the Tigers’ closer is in any jeopardy, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. When asked how much of a leash Rodriguez has, manager Brad Ausmus said, “I’ll let you know.” Ausmus continued, “I think people have short memories. This guy did a pretty good job for us last year. Early on, people were worried because the velocity was down. Well, the velocity is back.”

“But at some point,” Ausmus said, “he does have to pitch the way he pitched last year, because he did an outstanding job for us last year and in a city that has been looking for a closer that was consistent for a long time, he was that.”

Rodriguez, 35, doesn’t have the stuff he once did. And the Tigers do appear to have someone who would be a better option in high-leverage situations. Lefty Justin Wilson has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings so far this season with 15 strikeouts and three walks. But for now, it sounds like Rodriguez will be free to work through his issues.

The Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field

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Don’t look now, but the Nationals have the best record in baseball at 16-6. They’re coming off a 10-game road trip in which they went 9-1, including sweeps of the Braves and Mets and a 3-1 series against the Rockies at Coors Field. During that series with the Rockies, the Nationals scored 46 runs, which is nearly as many as the Royals (54) have scored all season long. The Nats scored double-digits in all three wins.

The first game at Coors, an 8-4 loss, saw a three-hit game from Anthony Rendon and a homer from Ryan Zimmerman.

The second game featured Trea Turner hitting for the cycle and driving in seven runs. Daniel Murphy had three hits and five RBI.

The third game saw Turner finish a triple short of the cycle. Bryce Harper had four hits. Zimmerman had three hits including a homer. Murphy homered, too.

The fourth game featured homers from Adam Eaton, Harper, and Murphy. Seven members of the lineup had multiple hits and six had multiple RBI including pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

The series helped the Nationals bring their run differential to +34, the best in the National League. The Yankees are the only team with a better differential at +35.

Indeed, the Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field. They return home to open up a three-game set with the ailing Mets on Friday night.