St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants NLCS Preview

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Athlon previews the Cardinals-Giants matchup in the NLCS.

<p> Athlon previews the Cardinals-Giants matchup in the NLCS.</p>

Neither the Giants nor the Cardinals made anything look easy in the NLDS. After losing the first two games at home, the Giants handed the Reds three losses in a row in Cincinnati, the only time the Reds dropped three straight at home all season. The Cardinals — stop me if you’ve heard this before — were down to their last strike twice, down two runs at Washington. Now the last two world champions will meet in a rematch of the 1987 and 2002 NLCS. The teams split six regular season games. The Giants outhit the Cardinals .281 to .247 but the Cardinals hit for extra bases and outslugged the Giants .428 to .389. San Francisco outscored St. Louis 30-22, but that included a 15-0 blowout. Bruce Bochy’s troops win with excellent pitching and just enough hitting. St. Louis relies on a potent offense, which at times struggles with inconsistency. They scored 2, 12, 8, 1 and 9 runs against the Nationals in the NLDS.

Keys for San Francisco
The Giants hit just .194 in the Reds’ series, getting outhit in two of their wins. They managed just three hits in their 10-inning win in Game 3. San Francisco cannot win games that turn into shootouts, but they love close, low-scoring games.

Keys for St. Louis
The Cardinals seem to manage the staff through the first six innings pretty well. Whether it’s Chris Carpenter shutting down teams, or relievers Joe Kelly et al picking up the slack when Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright couldn’t get through three innings. And closing out games can be an adventure, but when given run support, the Redbirds’ pitchers don’t throw away too many games. So getting the offense going will be the difference.

Giants to Watch
The offense revolves around Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. However, center fielder Angel Pagan provided a huge spark in August and September and was instrumental in the wins at Cincinnati from his leadoff positon. The Cardinals will try to negotiate around the big hitters in the middle. If Marco Scutaro can be effective as a table-setter and Hunter Pence proves he can drive in big runs, the Giants will be tough to beat. It will be interesting to see whether Bochy goes with Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito in Game 4. The Giants have won 12 straight when Zito starts, but he struggled in Game 4 and was bailed out by Lincecum, who looked more like the Cy Young Lincecum than the out-of-sorts pitcher we’ve seen all season. Lincecum was certainly more effective than Zito, but is more suited to coming out of the pen, where he has proven to be a weapon.

Cardinals to Watch
Leadoff hitter Jon Jay is 11-for-18 against the scheduled starters for the first three games. With Jay on base in front of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig, life will be much more difficult for the Giants’ starters. Manager Mike Matheny, who has juggled lineups all season in an effort to keep guys sharp, has stuck with the same batting order in the postseason. But if he needs to change things up, look for Matt Carpenter in the lineup against Matt Cain. He was 4-for-4 this season off the Giants’ ace while David Freese was 0-for-4 with three Ks. However, I don’t see Matheny pulling Freese. Adam Wainwright appears to have hit a wall, not unexpected coming of Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2011. So Lance Lynn must step up and be the No. 3 starter behind Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse. Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and rookie Shelby Miller could be instrumental out of the bullpen as reliever Mitchell Boggs is showing signs of fatigue.

SAN FRANCISCO IN 6

-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

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