Oct 7, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) before game two against the Cincinnati Reds of the 2012 NLDS at AT

NLCS: Who Are The Giants X-Factors Against The Cardinals?

The Giants are fortunate to still be alive. Their starting pitching wasn’t up to par in the NLDS and they benefitted from some Reds’ miscues. But, here they are.

The Cardinals came back from 6-0 deficit in Game 5 against the Nationals, scoring four runs in the ninth inning to bring Washington’s season to an end. They also have an ample amount of momentum entering the NLCS, in case you were wondering.

Considering how the entire postseason has shaken out so far, nothing seems to be predicable.

But who will emerge from the Giants?

Madison Bumgarner

To say that Bumgarner needs to revert to mid-season form would be an understatement. Not only was he once a Cy Young candidate, but he was also arguably the most consistent starting pitcher on the Giants’ pitching staff. Yet, a rough patch that started in late August has Bumgarner in need of a good outing on a big stage which is exactly what Sunday will shape up to be.

In Game 2 of the NLDS, the southpaw allowed four runs in only 4.1 innings pitched. Last week’s short outing extended Bumgarner’s streak of short starts, as he hasn’t even sniffed the seven inning plateau since August 20th, which, not including the playoffs, was seven starts ago.

Aside from not eating up innings, during that seven game stretch, he posted a 5.89 ERA. Yes, he’s very young and consistency is hard to find, but with that said, consistency has been a trait of Bumgarner’s that the Giants have become very accustomed to since he first broke into the majors. Naturally, this has raised some eyebrows. Not eyebrow raises of amusement, but eyebrow raises of sheer concern. Let’s just say that he’s taken a few steps back in a year where he should’ve taken a few steps forward.

With Bumgarner’s reliability being nothing but a question mark, the Giants’ entire starting rotation is surprisingly, a question mark as well.

Along with Bumgarner reeling, Matt Cain didn’t fit the bill of an ace in Games 1 and 5 during the NLDS. The 2010 postseason hero didn’t make it past the sixth inning in either starts, instead, he left left his job up to the bullpen to complete. Additionally, in Game 4 Barry Zito didn’t make it through three innings before allowing four free passes, and ultimately being yanked. And lastly, Ryan Vogelsong played with fire in Game 3, pitching just five innings while getting saved by his defense on multiple occasions.

The least of concerns for San Francisco has become their main concern within just a matter of a week. Luckily, they escaped round one, and begin the championship series with a clean slate. But Bumgarner, who has held St.Louis’s core (Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina) to a .229 clip in 35 career at-bats, will have to set the tone in Game 1 unlike Cain did in Game 1 of the NLDS.

If he doesn’t, the Giants will put themselves in a vulnerable position again. And there are no guarantees that they play the comeback kids role again.

Hunter Pence

It’s great that Pence has a career in motivational speaking, but let’s not forget the fact that he has a job, and it’s called protecting Buster Posey. If he can combine his two jobs, than he’s god. OK, maybe not god, but you know what I mean.
Pence’s task of protecting Posey will be amplified. Pence caught a break when Posey came up with the bases loaded in Game 5, meaning that the Reds had no place to put him. The result, well, speaks for itself. In case you were hiding under a rock, he hit a grand slam. But the bases won’t always be juiced when Posey digs in. In scenarios where the Cardinals elect to pitch around Posey, Pence needs to come through. In the first round, he didn’t, going 4-for-20 with no RBIs.

However, Pence boasts plenty of experience against the Cardinals, most of which came from his days with the Astros. The quirky outfielder has certainly changed since his days in Houston. I guess you could say he’s a more mature hitter, even though he still jumps out of his shoes for practically every pitch. But it gives him an edge, somehow, some way.

In total, he has a career triple slash of .322/.357/.491 against the relentless Red Birds. To narrow it down a tad more, he’s 30-for-110 off the four projected Cardinals’ starting pitchers for the NLCS.

Pence doesn’t have to record a hit every time he steps in the box. A more watered down definition of his job is to make St.Louis pay for walking Posey. It’s that simple.

Ryan Theriot

Theriot isn’t going to take on a massive role in this series. Heck, he might not even have a role on the field at all. But what he will do is mentor his fellow teammates. Because not only does he know the Cardinals very well from his tenure with them, but he has success against them from his time with the Cubs.

Overall in his career versus St.Louis, he’s a .316/.350/.436 hitter. Whether he passes along some pointers while he’s in the dugout, or just happens to blurt out some random fact, Theriot will help whether his contributions get noticed or not.

Wouldn’t be ironic if he comes up in a big situation?

Tags: Hunter Pence Madison Bumgarner NLCS Ryan Theriot San Francisco Giants

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