The Giants and Cardinals both faced uphill climbs in the NLDS, and both have celebrated winning the World Series in each of the last two seasons.
And now, they will meet in the NLCS, with another World Series berth on the line.
In 2010, San Francisco captured the World Series, and in 2011, the Cardinals did the same. Both broke the hearts of Texas Rangers fans, while sending their cities into a state of shock and joy. And, while these players will be wearing the same uniforms they wore in 2010 and 2011, the teams are very different.
Do you remember Carlos Beltran, Adam Wainwright, and Pete Kozma sporting Cardinals jerseys last year? What about Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro and Ryan Vogelsong from San Francisco’s improbable run in 2010?
Do you remember Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey being as good as they were, Tim Lincecum having a 5.18 ERA, Jon Jay and Allen Craig playing significant roles, and Yadier Molina having a legitimate MVP case? If you do, then, well, your memory needs to be adjusted.
So, I think I will need to break this series down for you in-depth. Here is a full breakdown of the 2012 NLCS.
Catcher: Buster Posey vs Yadier Molina
The Giants didn’t get an early edge in the NLDS, falling behind 2-0. However, Gerald Dempsey Posey will give them an edge here.
Posey battled back from a brutal injury to hit .336 with 24 homers and 103 RBI, and he hit two more homers in the NLCS. In Game 5, with the bases loaded, one out and San Francisco on top 2-0, Posey crushed a grand slam just shy of the upper deck. He is hitting just .211 in the postseason, but without his grand slam, we’d be seeing the Cardinals and Reds in the NLCS.
Oh, and Posey also led the league in throwing out potential base-stealers.
Yadier Molina had an amazing season too, though. He had a better WAR than Posey (although the difference was very small), is a better defensive catcher, and had a similar batting average. Molina struggled in the NLCS, but he is still great.
Posey has done a great job handling Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, he has more power than Molina, and he is doing better than Molina right now. So, in a battle of the best catchers in baseball, Posey will prevail.
Posey 6, Molina 4, Giants 6, Cardinals 4
First Base: Brandon Belt vs Allen Craig
Without Allen Craig, the Cardinals wouldn’t have won the World Series last year. And now, he is helping the Cardinals yet again.
Craig is hitting .307 with 22 homers and 92 RBI in 469 at-bats, a strikeout rate under 19 percent and 35 doubles. He has stabilized a superb offense while settling into an everyday role, and he is hitting .348 in the postseason.
Belt is hitting .275, and he has a .360 OBP (which is better than Craig’s). However, he is in a deep slump, hitting .077 in the playoffs and being yanked from the Game 4 starting lineup. He is very streaky, and one of his deep, horrible slumps is happening at the worst possible time. Belt has seven strikeouts in the series, and he struck out three times in Game 5 of the NLDS.
This battle would be pretty even if it wasn’t for Belt’s slump and Craig’s hot streak. However, Belt gets on base and plays good defense, so I’m looking for the first base battle to not be as lopsided as everyone expects it to be.
Craig 7, Belt 3, Cardinals 11, Giants 9
Second Base: Marco Scutaro vs Daniel Descalso
Nationals fans know Daniel Descalso, and they will always hate him.
Descalso homered in the eighth and knocked in two with a single in the ninth, handing the Cardinals the win in Game 5 of the NLCS. He hit just .227 in the regular season, but his recent success has to scare the Giants. Descalso hit .273 in the playoffs, and .600 in Game 5.
Scutaro was dominant with the Giants, and his batting average (.306) is better than Descalso’s OBP (.303). However, Scutaro hit .150 in the NLCS with no homers, one RBI and two runs. He struggled a bit on defense, too, and his sudden drop in production should scare the Giants.
He does have a three-game hitting streak, though, and he didn’t strike out during the NLDS. That suggests that he had some bad luck, and that he will be ready to turn it around. After all, he did have a game against the Cardinals in which he hit a grand slam and drove in seven runs.
Because of his .362 batting average with the Giants (he made his SF debut on July 28), Scutaro deserves the edge here. But Descalso has the ability to change a lot at the bottom of the order, and his clutch performance will avoid any chance of a landslide here. So, Scutaro will get the edge, but it won’t be huge.
Scutaro 7, Descalso 3, Giants 16, Cardinals 14
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford vs Pete Kozma
Brandon Crawford made an impact for the Giants, but no one seemed to pay attention. Everyone understood what Pete Kozma did, except maybe Kozma himself.
Kozma broke a 7-7 tie in Game 5 with a two-run single in the ninth, finishing an improbable comeback and powering St Louis back into the NLCS. He made some nice plays on defense and did well in the NLCS, and he has been a more than adequate replacement for the speedy, but hurt, Rafael Furcal. In the regular season, he hit .333, and in the postseason, he delivered a clutch hit.
Crawford hit .248 in the regular season, but he can hit both righties and lefties, and he is great on defense. He hit an RBI triple and scored a run in Game 5, while making some great plays on defense to show that he can stand up on the big stage. The quiet, calm Kozma did too, though.
Neither of these two are stars, but both have the potential to do great things, especially on defense. These players are very similar, hitting in the bottom of the order, making small impacts on offense and big impacts on defense. So, there’s nothing I can do other than call this a draw.
Crawford 5, Kozma 5, Giants 21, Cardinals 19
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval vs David Freese
Last year, David Freese was the World Series hero. This year, Pablo Sandoval is looking to become a hero.
Freese won the World Series with a huge home run and triple last year, and he is known as a clutch hitter now. Sandoval homered in the NLDS and did well in Cincinnati, which gives hope to Giants fans. Both have great stats, and Freese got a hit in all five NLDS games.
Sandoval has a .283 batting average, while Freese hit .293. Both have hit at least .333 in the playoffs, meaning that both will be a force on offense. Both play good defense, and both made the All-Star team. Both get on base, and both don’t strike out a ton.
Weight aside, these are two very similar players. Sandoval is 5-for-8 in his last two games, and Freese nearly hit .400 in the NLDS. It will be tough to stop both of these players, especially with the game on the line. Both have experience here, and both have come up big in the clutch. So, I will call this a draw, because I can’t really do anything else.
Sandoval 5, Freese 5, Giants 26, Cardinals 24
Left Field: Gregor Blanco vs Matt Holliday
Gregor Blanco did well in the NLDS, but he is definitely no Matt Holliday.
Holliday hit .295 with a .379 OBP in the regular season, and he hit 27 homers while driving in 102 runs. He only hit .250 in the playoffs while struggling in Game 4 and Game 5, but he is definitely a force. He has power, and he doesn’t strike out much (although he struck out six times in the NLDS while hitting .190).
Blanco was great in the NLDS, hitting .286 with one homer. He struggled in the second half of the season, but he still managed to put up a .333 OBP on the year while proving to be a force on the bases. He has some power, and he hit a clutch homer in Game 4. Blanco knows how to play defense, and his .283 September batting average is encouraging.
San Francisco’s speedy left fielder won’t let this matchup turn into a landslide, but Holliday is clearly the better player. He has more experience, while Blanco is more of an on-base guy who gets on base a lot less than Holliday. So, Holliday will get a big edge here.
Holliday 8, Blanco 2, Cardinals 32, Giants 28
Center Field: Angel Pagan vs Jon Jay
Angel Pagan and Jon Jay are two very similar players, who get on base and play great defense.
Both had batting averages around .300 (and, in Jay’s case, over .300) during the regular season, and both gave their teams sparks on both sides of the ball. Jay is known for making incredible catches while providing speed on the bases, and Pagan is known for doing the same. He made a huge catch in Game 5 of the NLCS, and Jay also made a great catch in the NLDS.
Pagan has some power, and he set the franchise record for triples with 15. Jay had the better batting average, but he has hit .167 in the playoffs with back-to-back hitless games. Pagan hit .150 in the playoffs, but he made an impact on defense and did better as the series came to a close. He drove in three with one homer in the final two games (combined) while posting a .400 OBP.
San Francisco’s center fielder is looking better, but I still have to make this a draw. Just like the two shortstops and third baseman, these players are very alike, hitting leadoff, getting on base and playing great defense.
Pagan 5, Jay 5, Cardinals 37, Giants 33
Right Field: Hunter Pence vs Carlos Beltran
In most years, this would be very tough for me to judge. However, this year, it’s a lot easier.
Pence is slumping, and Beltran is continuing his postseason success. Pence has been pressing ever since making his Giant debut on August 1, hitting just over .200 with his new team and striking out frequently. His defense has been good, but Pence definitely needs to step it up in the playoffs.
Beltran has been known for his incredible postseason play, and in Game 5, he got three hits while walking twice, reaching in all five of his at-bats. He hit .269 with a .346 OBP in the regular season, which isn’t great, but he went yard 32 times and drove in 97 runs. However, his .409 batting average and .500 playoff OBP has to concern Giants fans.
And, no one is fearing Pence’s .200 OBP, leg cramps and abundance of strikeouts.
Even though Beltran is clearly the better player right now, Pence has the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat. He is probably a bit better on defense, and he’s been known to go all-out to make catches. So, I will keep this close, but this doesn’t deserve to be the nail-biter it once would’ve been.
Beltran 7, Pence 3, Cardinals 44, Giants 36
With 30 points on the line and two above-average, if not elite, pitching staffs going at it, the Giants will get the edge; on paper.
Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong will get the ball twice if the series goes the distance, and Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito will pitch in Game 4. Cain and Bumgarner struggled against the Cardinals, but both won 16 games while posting superb ERAs (2.80 and 3.37). Vogelsong had a 3.37 ERA as well, and he excelled in his lone start against the Cardinals (this year).
San Francisco features four guys with 14+ wins and five double-digit winners, but the Cardinals have talent, too. Lance Lynn has struggled against the Giants, but he won 18 games, while Chris Carpenter has been dominant, Kyle Lohse has three losses, and Adam Wainwright can be dominant.
Wainwright was horrible in his last start, though, and Carpenter just came back from an injury. Lohse is, in my opinion, the staff ace, but he will be facing Cain, San Francisco’s ace. San Francisco’s rotation struggled a bit, and I am worried about Bumgarner. However, he will be pitching at home in Game 1, and Cain will stand up to the pressure.
The Giants deserve the edge here, for their experience and talent. Wainwright is struggling and hasn’t pitched in the playoffs since 2006 (excluding the NLDS) while Lohse didn’t do much last year for St Louis. Lynn hasn’t started a playoff game, and he will start two games this series (putting his team at a clear disadvantage).
So, San Francisco will run away with the edge here, with some of the points coming because of Lynn.
Giants 18, Cardinals 12, Cardinals 56, Giants 54
St Louis has a shaky bullpen, but they get the job done. The Giants bullpen hasn’t been dominant either, but they’ve done enough.
Jason Motte, who has blown saves and almost never pitches a perfect inning, headlines St Louis’ bullpen, while miniature closer Sergio Romo leads San Francisco’s bullpen. Romo is a righty specialist who holds lefties to an average well under .200, and he recorded one save while blowing none and getting one win.
Javier Lopez never surrenders anything to lefties, Santiago Casilla can be dominant, Jeremy Affeldt is decent, George Kontos chews up innings, Jose Miljares has great stats, and Tim Lincecum is great, too. Lincecum appears to be staying in the bullpen, and he will be in the bullpen for Games 1 and 2.
Lincecum is very durable, and he has done well in the bullpen, giving hope to the Giants if a starter struggles. St Louis has their own bullpen, with Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica and others. Boggs and Mujica haven’t been too sharp lately, and Boggs struggled against the Giants in August.
So, the majority of the points go to an experienced bullpen that has done a nice job. Guillermo Mota is terrible, but he might be replaced by Jean Machi or Clay Hensley (and he should play a small role). St Louis doesn’t have any dominant relievers, and they don’t have as much depth as the Giants. Therefore, the Giants get the edge, and the lead.
Giants 12, Cardinals 8, Giants 66, Cardinals 64
The Giants are known for platooning players a lot, while the Cardinals have more of a set lineup. However, the bench will be a factor for both teams.
Joaquin Arias and Xavier Nady headline San Francisco’s bench, while Matt Carpenter and Skip Schumaker are the best players sitting on St Louis’ sideline. Nady didn’t do well in the NLDS, but Arias did, getting three hits in six at-bats. He won’t get credit for winning the game in Game 3, but his huge ground ball and great hustle won that game for the Giants.
Nady went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in the NLDS, and he hasn’t done very well lately. Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot have no hits in a combined five at-bats, which has to scare Giants fans. Hector Sanchez can hit, but he strikes out a lot. So, the Giants don’t have too much to work with on the bench, but they can always turn to Arias or Crawford (whoever isn’t starting).
Schumaker, Carpenter and Shane Robinson are the only Cardinals who don’t start regularly but have received at-bats. They have combined to go 1-for-11, with one walk and one run. Mike Matheny doesn’t turn to his bench very often, and he doesn’t have reason to. The Cardinals have a great lineup, and they don’t have much on the bench.
However, the Giants don’t either. This is tough for me to call, because the Giants seem to have it a bit better. However, Carpenter is hitting .294 this year, and Schumaker is hitting .276. So, I will call this a draw and let the final category determine the total.
Giants 5, Cardinals 5, Giants 71, Cardinals 69
Mike Matheny has been great at skippering the Cardinals, but Bruce Bochy is an experienced manager who was a wizard in 2010.
Bochy has managed in two World Series while winning one of them, in 2010. He was good in the NLDS, taking Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong out at the right time while doing a nice job with the bullpen in Game 5. Matheny made an important decision in Game 1 that didn’t pay off, but he did well with St Louis, too.
Managing comes down to experience and knowing what to do and what it takes to win. Bochy has made some questionable decisions, but he understands his players and what works best for them. I’m not as knowledgeable about Matheny, but I know that he is inexperienced as a manager and that he needs to prove himself.
Both have done a great job this year, but the edge has to go to Bochy. It will take a great series from Matheny to convince me that he belongs in a class with the elite managers in the game, and right now, Bochy certainly belongs in that class.
Bochy 6, Matheny 4, Giants 77, Cardinals 73
This will be a close series, and, since the Giants scored just four more points than the Cardinals, there’s no way the whole thing can be judged by my article.
But we can tell that this will be a hard-nosed, close series between the previous two World Series champions. Both have great pitchers, capable offenses, and postseason experience. There are lots of keys to this series, and overall, it will come down to both teams executing this gameplan.
Honestly, the series is too close to call. My initial reaction was to choose the Giants, but the Cardinals’ Game 5 comeback changed a lot. So, I won’t predict this series, and I’ll let you make a prediction with the information provided in the article.
However, I can assure you of one thing: you won’t want to miss any of the action. Because this series will be epic.