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

Watch: Mike Trout ties MLB record with his 25th home run

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It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:

In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.

Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.

Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.

Blue Jays acquire Tom Koehler from Marlins

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The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.

The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.

Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.