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

The Twins didn’t listen to CC Sabathia’s wishes concerning bunting

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Earlier this month, Yankees starter CC Sabathia jawed at the Red Sox after Eduardo Nunez laid down a bunt. Sabathia fielded it fine, but threw the ball away for an error. After the game, he called Nunez’s bunt “weak” and said the Red Sox should “swing the bat.” Sabathia, of course, is not that limber these days. Along with being 37 years old, the lefty has also battled knee and hamstring issues this season.

The Twins apparently didn’t hear what Sabathia had to say about bunting. After Brian Dozier singled off of Sabathia to lead off the top of the first inning on Tuesday, Joe Mauer laid down a bunt on the third base side and reached safely. Jorge Polanco then laid down a bunt of his own, also on the third base side, and was initially ruled out, but after replay review was ruled safe to load the bases with no outs.

Fortunately for Sabathia, he was able to limit the damage, getting Eduardo Escobar to ground into a run-scoring 6-4-3 double play and inducing an inning-ending ground out from Byron Buxton. It’ll be interesting, though, to see if the Twins continue to bunt against Sabathia throughout the night.

Jake Arrieta to return to Cubs’ rotation on Thursday

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Cubs starter Jake Arrieta has been out over two weeks with a strained right hamstring, but he’s ready to return to action. The right-hander threw a bullpen on Tuesday and it went well, so he will start in Thursday’s series opener against the Brewers in Milwaukee, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports.

Arrieta, 31, returns with a 14-9 record, a 3.48 ERA, and a 157/53 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. If he stays on schedule, he’ll make three starts through the end of the regular season, including the regular season finale on October 1 against the Reds.

Arrieta is expected to max out at 75-80 pitches on Thursday and will ramp up through the end of the month.