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

Ichiro Suzuki tops Rickey Henderson as the oldest starting center fielder

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Marlins’ outfielder Ichiro Suzuki set a new record for the club on Sunday afternoon, and all he had to do was take the field. The 43-year-old made his second start of the year in center field, becoming the oldest starting center fielder in Major League Baseball since 1900.

Suzuki made his first start in center field back on May 6, but came 15 days shy of beating the record Rickey Henderson established in 2002 when he patrolled center field at a sprightly 43 years and 211 days old. During Sunday’s series finale against the Cubs, Suzuki’s 43 years and 246 days set a new record for aging outfielders.

Naturally, Ichiro commemorated his moment in history by doing what he does best — proving that age is just a number. He reached on a fielding error by Addison Russell in the first inning and came home to score on a Marcell Ozuna RBI single to pad the Marlins’ three-run lead. His defense wasn’t too shabby, either, as he gloved a shallow fly ball in the second inning to bail Edinson Volquez out of a bases-loaded jam.

The Marlins currently lead 3-2 in the seventh.

Indians sign Michael Martinez to minor league deal

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There’s something irresistible about Michael Martinez, at least where the Indians are concerned. Six weeks after parting ways with the utility infielder/outfielder, the Indians re-signed Martinez for the fifth time in three years, committing to a minor league contract that will see the 34-year-old in Triple-A Columbus this week. He was designated for assignment by the Rays last Thursday after slashing just .077/.172/.077 through his first 29 PA with the club.

Martinez bounced around the American League last season, logging four games with the Red Sox after the Indians jettisoned him in a trade for cash considerations. He returned to Cleveland on waivers and finished the year with a cumulative .238/.267/.307 batting line, contributing one home run and a .574 OPS in just 106 PA. He found more consistency in the minors, touting a .288 average, 11 extra-base hits and 12 RBI in 114 PA for Triple-A Columbus last season, but didn’t receive enough playing time to develop his stuff at the big league level.

Martinez will rejoin fellow infielders Chris Colabello, Nellie Rodriguez, Josh Wilson, Ronny Rodriguez, Todd Hankins, Yandy Diaz, Eric Stamets and Giovanny Urshela on the Clippers’ roster.