So. Let's assume you enjoyed that wonderful movie about the 2010 Giants, who won the World Series. But you haven't paid much attention since. And you're only now walking into the movie about the 2012 Giants.

Here is what you need to know: These are two entirely different movies.

Oh, there are a few of the same stars. Plus a vaguely familiar plot. But it's not the same film. At all.

Just as in 2010, the Giants of 2012 have surprised some people by getting this far. They meet the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. The first team to win four games in the best-of-seven will advance to the World Series.

In 2010, the Giants' primary cast of characters was openly labeled a band of "misfits" and "mavericks" and "renegades." The regular lineup included a bald home-run hitting outfielder who wore a big smile (Cody Ross) and a redeemed hardscrabble first baseman who wore superstitious thong underwear (Aubrey Huff). The relief pitcher who closed out every victory did so with a suspiciously black beard and ritualistic hand-signals after the game-winning pitch.

The 2012 Giants are far more conventional, led by relentlessly orthodox men such as Buster Posey and Matt Cain. Call them The Conformists.

What does it all mean going into the series against St. Louis? It means, on paper, that the Giants have an excellent chance to advance.

On paper, at least, the Misfit Giants of 2010 faced a tougher task than this one. The opponent two years ago in the League Championship Series was a formidable Philadelphia Phillies team that was a division champion and had won two consecutive National League pennants. When the Giants beat them, it was an immense upset. This time around, it wouldn't be. The Cardinals are a wild card team. They finished second to the Reds in the National League Central. And the Giants, of course, just vanquished the Reds.

In 2010, the Misfit Giants required unflappable manager Bruce Bochy to assemble a mix-and-match batting order (because of the position players' varied skill sets) but had a reliable and sequential bullpen (anchored by the bearded Brian Wilson). In 2012, the Conformist Giants generally have a set batting order but a mix-and-match bullpen (because of the early-season injury to Wilson).

In 2010, the Misfit Giants had an outfield that, depending on the opponent, could be populated by five or six different players with inconsistent resumes--including Ross and Pat Burrell. In 2012, the Conformist Giants have since August generally stuck with the same three outfielders (Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco).

Of course, it matters that the Cardinals are the defending World Series champions. They have ably survived the free agent departure of Albert Pujols, the big banger from that championship team. And they bring a number of delicious story lines to the table for this series, such as:

  • The slugging replacement for Pujols in the St. Louis batting order is none other than Carlos Beltran, who spent part of last season with the Giants after a blockbuster midseason trade. He had a few big moments but was often hurt. He often acted like an independent contractor and never lived up to the hype. Last winter, Beltran was upset when he claimed the Giants never offered him a contract extension before he signed with the Cardinals. The Giants say that's not true. No matter which side you believe, Beltran's at-bats will be must-see viewing. He has the highest on-base percentage of any player in postseason history (a minimum of 100 plate appearances).

  • The Cardinals are managed by Mike Matheny, a former Giants' catcher who was much beloved in the clubhouse during his seasons in San Francisco. But his career was cut short when he took one too many foul balls off his mask and developed severe post-concussion syndrome. Bochy never managed Matheny with the Giants, but the two former catchers have a ton of respect for each other.

  • The Cardinals' most unlikely playoff hero so far has been second baseman Daniel Descalso, who grew up in San Carlos and played at UC Davis. He began this season as a utility player and wound up as an infielding stalwart. Descalso had the game-tying hit Friday night in St. Louis' come-from-behind Game 5 victory over the Washington Nationals. Descalso has told people he was an A's fan as a youngster and never liked the Giants.

  • The Giants and Cardinals have a postseason history that may not be extensive but is certainly memorable. They've met twice before in best-of-seven series with a World Series spot at stake. In 1987, the Giants won three of the first five games with outfielder Jeffrey Leonard infuriating Cardinal fans with a "one flap down" home run trot. But then the series returned to St. Louis and the Giants never scored another run, losing the series on an infamous Candy Maldonado three-base error in Game 6 and a horrible Game 7 start by pitcher Atlee Hammaker. In 2002, the Giants of Barry Bonds beat the Cardinals in five games.

    Of course, as the script plays out over the next week, still more entertaining angles will arise. And if you are a late arrival, no worries. You've come into the theatre at a perfect time. The Conformists may not be as catchy a label for a team as the Misfits. But they have set a straight path for the Giants back to the World Series.

    Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.