Cardinals defeat Giants to take commanding 3-1 lead in NLCS

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The Cardinals are just one win away from joining the Tigers in the World Series.

Behind an excellent pitching performance from Adam Wainwright and a relentless attack from their offense, the Cardinals defeated the Giants 8-3 tonight and now own a commanding 3-1 series lead in the NLCS.

Wainwright had his curveball working tonight and limited the Giants to just four hits while striking out five and walking none. His only mistake was a solo homer by Hunter Pence in the second inning. He threw an efficient 70 out of 95 pitches for strikes before Fernando Salas pitched the final two innings.

The Giants were hoping Tim Lincecum’s success in the bullpen would lead to a big start tonight, but it just didn’t happen. He struggled with his command in the first inning en route to giving up two runs and was knocked out of the ballgame in the fifth. The Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth and seventh innings to put the game out of reach. Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay all knocked in two runs apiece.

The Giants aren’t done, but it’s tough to have much confidence going into tomorrow night. Why? Well, Barry Zito will be tasked with keeping the Giants’ season alive after giving up two runs on four hits and four walks in just 2 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Reds. Madison Bumgarner, who was banished to the bullpen following his Game 1 clunker, will be there to back Zito up if he makes another early exit. Lance Lynn, who gave up four runs over 3 2/3 innings in Game 1, will try to make sure the series doesn’t make it back to San Francisco.

Mike Napoli and Rays have “mutual interest” in a deal

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.

Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.

Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.