The teams set to do battle have been decided and a World Series birth is on the line. The St. Louis Cardinals dispatched of the Los Angeles Dodgers and showed once again why they own the boys from LA including Clayton Kershaw while returning to their fourth straight NLCS. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants had their way with the Washington Nationals dispatching of the team from our nation’s capital in four games. Why wouldn’t they? It is 2014 and they did win the World Series in 2012 and 2010. Another even year is upon us. An interesting note is that the Giants have a 4-1 record against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in their last five but can that keep up.
Let’s take a look at the schedule as well as a comparison of the two teams from key areas. After that, we should be able to formulate a logical winner of the 2014 National League Championship Series.
Game 1 at Busch Stadium: Saturday, Oct. 11
Game 2 at Busch Stadium: Sunday, Oct. 12
Game 3 at AT&T Park: Tuesday, Oct. 14
Game 4 at AT&T Park: Wednesday, Oct. 15
Game 5 at AT&T Park: Thursday, Oct. 16 (If Needed)
Game 6 at Busch Stadium: Saturday, Oct. 18 (If Needed)
Game 7 at Busch Stadium: Sunday, Oct. 19 (If Needed)
The Cardinals will be sending out a formidable rotation led by Adam Wainwright, who pitched a Cy Young caliber season. After that, the Cardinals will most likely use Lance Lynn and John Lackey, who has a career 2.92 playoff ERA in 20 games. Shelby Miller will most likely stay in the rotation for the NLCS. Wainwright was shelled in his NLDS start but he is veteran and can put that behind him. Miller was serviceable allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings while dueling with Kershaw in the series clincher. Lackey looked great and Lance Lynn found a way to get it done. This rotation looked serviceable but not overpowering in the NLDS.
The Giants will be trotting out a four-man rotation that consists of Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy. While not the rotation Giants fans have become accustomed to in the post-season, they were lights out. San Francisco’s four starters gave up a combined four earned runs in 25 2/3 innings of NLDS work while Bumgarner has given up two earned runs in 16 innings including the Wildcard game. Vogelsong left his poor 5.53 ERA September behind him en route to one earned run crossing the plate in his NLDS start. Peavy was exceptional as a series table setter in the NLDS, pitching 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball.
Edge: San Francisco
Not as dominant as 2013 but still formidable. Trevor Rosenthal had a decent 3.20 ERA during the regular season but shrunk to a miniscule 0.96 in September which implies, like last year, that he is ready. Carlos Martinez also appears to be ramping for the post-season as evident by his 0.64 September ERA. Factor in the experience of Randy Choate, the solid Seth Maness, and the youngster Marco Gonzales you create a quality bullpen. Rosenthal saved all three victories in the NLDS and with arms like Pat Neshek and Carlos Martinez contributing as well this is a solid bullpen to be contended with. The bullpen allowed four runs in 12 NLDS innings against the Dodgers lineup.
During the regular season, the Giants bullpen carried a 3.01 ERA which was good for third in the National League. That bullpen is one of the pitching keys to the Giants success. In June, the Giants flipped closers moving Santiago Casilla to the closer role while sliding Sergio Romo to setup man. In August and September, Romo has allowed two runs in 16 innings of work. Meanwhile, Castilla has allowed six runs in 17 2/3 innings over the same time with only one allowed in September. Hunter Strickland made an immediate impact after a September call up. In 19 1/3 NLDS innings, the bullpen has allowed four total runs.
Edge: San Francisco
These are not your 2013 Cardinals. They finished with 619 runs scored in 2014 (164 less than 2013 when they led the NL) and 105 home runs, which is good for last in the NL. They were also, second from the bottom in stolen bases. But the Cardinals found a way to find a new gear in the playoffs. Matt Holiday continues to perform with a 20 home run, 90 RBI season as well as Matt Adams who finished with 15 home runs, 68 RBI and a .288 average.
In the NLDS, Matt Carpenter was otherworldly with three home runs, and seven RBI while hitting .375. Adams hit a timely three-run home run in game four while the team that was last in the NL in home runs swatted seven against the Dodgers. They were the only team in the NLDS to not steal a base. The Cardinals offense scored 18 runs against the formidable Dodgers in the NLDS. They appear to have awakened bats that slept through a large portion of the regular season.
The Giants are known for pitching but their lineup scored 665 runs in the regular season, good for fifth in the National League. They were also fourth in team batting average (.255) and second in triples (42). There was only one team in the NL with less stolen bases than the Cardinals in the NL regular season, which were these Giants with 56.
In the NLDS, the Giants bats scored nine total runs in their series with the Nationals. They did attempt five steals in the series and were actually successful twice. The team hit a combines .222 with a .278 slugging percentage in the series. On the bright side, Brandon Crawford hit .294 in the series and Brandon Belt hit a home run while batting .278. Buster Posey continues to earn his money with seven hits in the NLDS good for a .389 average. Hunter Pence was serviceable with two doubles and a stolen base.
Edge: St. Louis
Prediction: Cardinals in Seven Games
Can the Cardinals opportune bats continue to deliver against a vaunted Giants rotation? The Cardinals found there offensive life against the Dodgers in the NLDS. Matt Carpenter could not be stopped. But can that continue? Are the Cardinals the team that was not exceptional in a 162 game regular season or the team that exploded in the NLDS? You have to go with the hot hand and what you see in front of you. They are currently far and away the better offensive team than the Giants. San Francisco will have to find their bats in this series. I know some will say that they did not need their bats to beat Washington but that line ends somewhere.
The Giants staff was incredible in the NLDS and Bumgarner was even better in the Wildcard game but they could be facing a lineup at the wrong time. You can only win 2-1 so many times before it catches up to you. This series will be focused on the Giants pitching and the Cardinals resurgent offense. But the Cardinals staff should be considered a slouch in any way. They can pitch and Wainwright will look to bounce back from his NLDS start.
We are looking at a series that has the potential to go seven games with the closers determining the series. I can easily see each team stealing one on the road and a marquee game seven matchup with the World Series on the line. If that is right, I might be forced to decide between Trevor Rosenthal and Santiago Castilla as the series determining factor. With that in mind, I have to go with the guy that has been there before.
In a very close series that can change at the drop of a dime, I will take the Cardinals in seven. I love the post-season.