Friday, October 10, 2014

Series Preview: NLCS (Giants vs. Cardinals)

The Giants/Cardinals NLCS series at a glance.

The playoffs resume this weekend, with the Cardinals having beaten Clayton Kershaw twice en route to a 4 game Divisional Series win. I'm not surprised at the Cardinals continued success against Kershaw, as they have proven over the years that they have his number in a way that no other team generally manages to do. Had it been Zack Greinke who got two starts instead of this year's (inevitable) Cy Young Award winner (and possible MVP), it could have been a very different series. And now, it's the series almost no one wanted -- the winners of three of the last four World Series crowns, facing off in the NLCS. It's hard for me to get much of a read on this series as it is a matchup I certainly did not expect, but I'll break it down anyway.

2014 Season Series: Giants won 4-3
The Giants actually won 3 of 4 at Busch this year before the Cardinals salvaged a series win in San Francisco at the beginning of July. These two teams also met in the 2012 NLCS, with the Giants rebounding from a 3-1 series deficit to claim the series and, eventually, the World Series as well.

Starting Pitching: Madison Bumgarner / Jake Peavy / Tim Hudson / Ryan Vogelsong vs. Adam Wainwright / Lance Lynn / John Lackey / Shelby Miller
Not much is known yet about the order of the Giants starters beyond tomorrow night's opening game (Bumgarner vs. Wainwright), but it's likely that all four of these pitchers will get a start at some point.  Like Kershaw, Bumgarner has struggled against St. Louis quite a bit. Wainwright, the Cardinals' ace, may actually be the weak link in the bunch right now as he struggled mightily against the Dodgers and the health of his arm has been called into question. Wainwright aside, both team's starters have fared very well in the playoffs so far. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Bullpen: Santiago Casilla vs. Trevor Rosenthal
Casilla took over the closer's role for a struggling Sergio Romo in the middle of the season, which is basically the opposite of what happened in 2012. Rosenthal has been walking on thin ice in steel toed boots all season as he's had virtually no outings that didn't involve baserunners, if not runs. The rest of the bullpen for each team has been fairly solid, but the Giants seemingly have no weak spots. Left handed relief has been somewhat of an adventure for St. Louis. If things get wild, the Giants have two serviceable longmen in Yusmeiro Petit (who pitched a good deal of their 18 inning win over the Nats) and Tim Lincecum. The Cardinals have Michael Wacha presumably in this role, though his health and status are a bit of a mystery. ADVANTAGE: GIANTS

Catcher: Buster Posey vs. Yadier Molina
Posey is the Giants' offensive linchpin, and he's at least serviceable behind the plate. Molina's offense has lagged a bit behind his usual output since he returned from a thumb injury that knocked out a significant portion of his season, but his defense and game management remain otherworldly. It's hard to quantify how much a bat helps a team versus defense, but if Yadi's bat is at peak form, there aren't any better catchers around. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

First Base: Brandon Belt vs. Matt Adams
Both of these players are powerful lefties whose careers still feel a bit underdeveloped. Both guys had dramatic home runs in the Divisional round that decided big games. With no lefty starters in either team's rotations, you can expect both players to see plenty of action. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Second Base: Joe Panik vs. Kolten Wong
Panik took over at second base midway through the season and has hit for average but little power. After being benched in favorite of small sample size hero Pete Kozma for Game 1 against Kershaw, Wong came through with some timely hitting to solidify his role as a starter. The Cardinals rookie continues to pull the occasional boneheaded maneuver, recalling his infamous World Series mistake, but his strengths outweigh his blunders at this point. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval vs. Matt Carpenter
The Panda is one of the Giants top run producers, but he's performed at a pretty pedestrian level for several seasons in a row now and can no longer be considered one of the premier players in the league. Carpenter, despite an MVP-caliber season last year, is still being confused with former pitcher Chris Carpenter at this point. Nevertheless, the third baseman is on fire right now, hitting home runs in 3 consecutive games against the Dodgers. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Shortstop: Brandon Crawford vs. Jhonny Peralta
Crawford is a defensive wizard (but not The Wizard, of course) who doesn't do a whole lot with his bat. He does have that grand slam that won the Wild Card going for him, however. Peralta was the Cardinals offensive rock this season, and he even acquitted himself nicely in the field by playing passable defense. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Right Field: Hunter Pence vs. Randal Grichuk
Pence is simply one of the most awkward players in the history of the game, but he's accumulated a pretty solid resume in his eight seasons in MLB. Whatever path he takes to the ball, in the field or with the bat in hand, he continues to get positive results, even if they're not pretty to look at. Grichuk got the start in right field in every game in the playoffs so far, but with right handed starters all around, someone else could take a turn. The rookie has looked good in the field so far and homered off Kershaw in Game 1 of their NLDS series. ADVANTAGE: GIANTS

Center Field: Gregor Blanco vs. Jon Jay
Blanco is a speedy, rangy outfielder but is a serious downgrade at the plate from what Angel Pagan would provide were he healthy. Jay doesn't have much pop in his bat, but he hits for high average and is good for a timely run or two. His arm can be a bit lacking, but he covers center field as well as most. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Left Field: Travis Ishikawa vs. Matt Holliday
Ishikawa is Plan C, with both Pagan and Michael Morse down. Morse may or may not be available in this series, but the expectation is that we'll see more of Ishikawa in left this series, which can't be a good thing when the guy can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. Holliday is one of the strongest men in baseball, and his bat is cooking right now. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Bench: Joaquin Arias vs. Daniel Descalso / Oscar Taveras / Peter Bourjos / A.J. Pierzynski
San Francisco's bench could be better represented by this image. If Morse is able to contribute, it helps the Giants greatly, as no one other than Arias had accumulated any meaningful at bats prior to these playoffs. Pierzynski was added to the playoff roster on the Cardinals side after sitting out the NLDS round. The Cards bench isn't really a strength, either, but the Giants situation makes them look otherworldly. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Manager: Bruce Bochy vs. Mike Matheny
This one is fairly straight forward. Bochy has been at the helm of two World Series winners in just the last four years. Matheny took over the Cardinals in 2012 and led them to an NLCS loss to the Giants and a World Series loss to the Red Sox. Futher time will tell what Matheny's legacy will be. ADVANTAGE: GIANTS

Prediction: CARDINALS in 6

The Secret Weapon roughed up Atlee Hammaker back in Game 7 of the 1987 NLCS. Will we see another amazing series like this one?

Game 1 game time is 7:00 CDT Saturday night at Busch Stadium with national coverage on FOX. Go Cards!

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