NLCS preview: How San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals match up
10/13/2012 11:19:28 AM PDT
10/13/2012 10:30:23 PM PDT
INFIELD The Giants got little from first baseman Brandon Belt in the NLDS: 1 for 13 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts. That has to pick up. Second baseman Marco Scutaro's 3 for 20 against the Reds is probably more of an anomaly for a player who was an offensive force down the stretch. Brandon Crawford continues to provide quality defense at short and had the first RBI hit against the Reds in Game 5. Pablo Sandoval continues to show signs he is heating up, hitting .333 against Cincinnati with two doubles and a mammoth Game 4 home run. The Cardinals are solid at the corners with Allen Craig at first base and David Freese at third. Freese hit .381 (8 for 21) against the Nationals and is a tough out in the clutch. The surprises are in the middle , where light-hitting second baseman Daniel Descalso and shortstop Pete Kozma combined to go 10 for 27 (.370) with three homers, six walks and 10 runs scored against Washington.
OUTFIELD The Giants managed to survive Cincinnati despite leadoff man Angel Pagan not coming on until late in the series and Hunter Pence struggling throughout. Pence was a good cheerleader but didn't have an RBI. Gregor Blanco picked up some of the slack with a solid series and is the club's best defensive outfielder. Matt Holiday and Carlos Beltran are the engine in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. Both had terrific years, and Beltran comes into this series hot. He hit .409 against the Nationals and was on base all five times in Game 5. John Jay hit .300 this season (.374 OBP) and is superb in center.
CATCHER Buster Posey keeps adding to his resume. His grand slam in Game 5 against Cincinnati was the deciding blow, and his peg to third base that nailed Jay Bruce on the front end of a double steal was the most critical defensive play. Hector Sanchez is an able backup and figures to start Game 4, whether it's Barry Zito or Tim Lincecum on the mound. A lot of people thought Yadier Molina should have started over Posey in the All-Star game. He hit .315 with 22 home runs this season and will likely pick up his fifth Gold Glove. He threw out 48 percent of would-be base-stealers.
STARTING PITCHING The Giants are set up well with ace Matt Cain aligned to pitch Game 3 and a potential Game 7. Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong will start the first two games, and they have been better at home than on the road this year. The key question is Game 4: Lincecum or Zito? Lincecum was electric as a long man out of the bullpen against Cincinnati, and keeping him in that role might allow him to pitch more in this series. The Cardinals rotation is being held together by baling wire. Jaime Garcia was lost in the NLDS with a shoulder injury, so Lance Lynn starts Game 1. Chris Carpenter has a 10-2 postseason record but is pitching in the wake of a risky shoulder procedure to correct a nerve issue. Adam Wainwright, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, was shaky in the NLDS. Kyle Lohse was one of the best pitchers in the N.L. this season and is the real ace of this staff.
BULLPEN The Giants have a solid foursome with Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez and got big contributions from George Kontos and Jose Mijares against the Reds. Affeldt's health might be a question after a Game 5 injury. The Cardinals are tough on the back end with setup men Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte as the closer. Depth might be an issue.
BENCH Joaquin Arias was huge against Cincinnati and will continue to be the key man against St. Louis in pinch-hitting situations. Xavier Nady, Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot were a combined 0 for 10 in the Reds series. The Cardinals don't have much hitting depth off the bench, what with Lance Berkman unavailable after July knee surgery. Matt Carpenter is a .294 hitter with 33 extra-base hits, but most of those numbers came as a starter.
MANAGER After holding the Giants together through a regular season full of setbacks, Bruce Bochy guided his club out an 0-2 hole by pushing every right button, including using Lincecum out of the bullpen in two games. It rejuvenated the pitcher and the club. Mike Matheny has done an admirable job following in the footsteps of Tony La Russa. His decision-making on how long to stay with his shaky starting corps could determine the outcome of the series.
INTANGIBLES The Giants showed tremendous resilience bouncing back from a two-game deficit with three straight road wins, but against the Cardinals, they have to figure out how to use their own ballpark to better advantage. It's a given the Cardinals not only play to the last out but also to the last strike. St. Louis is a team with incredible resolve and that toughness against the odds might be its biggest strength.
-- CARL STEWARD