They’ve been here before. Some might say so often that anyone outside of St. Louis and San Francisco is starting to grow tired of these same faces, but the Cardinals and Giants are (yet again) set to meet in the National League Championship Series. This is the fourth straight appearance for the Cards and the third straight appearance for the Giants, but even though this feels like a repeat, there are some new things to look out for.
Runners in Scoring Position
This was a weak spot for the Giants in the NLDS against the Nationals, but they still managed to squeak out runs against good pitching. With the Cardinals pitching rotation reeling a little from the Dodgers, the Giants need to be a bigger threat in the RISP department.
The Cardinals late bats
In Innings seven through nine, the Cardinals put up 15 runs. In the four games against the Dodgers, they belted seven homeruns, when they only hit 105 HRs all season. They’ve had an unprecedented surplus of power and was even able to make Clayton Kershaw look human last series. If late nights are not in your schedule, better inform your boss now.
With a name that makes him sound like the newest guest star on Downton Abbey, Bumgarner has a 1.13 ERA with one shutout in the Postseason this year. He’s only given up three runs (and one of them was off a wild pitch), while striking out 16 batters. To make matters worse for the Cardinals, he’s been even better on the road and he can hit dingers himself. Bumgarner is the opening game starter in St. Louis.
The Cardinals first baseman had some crucial hits in the last series, despite being in a small slump. The fact that the Cardinals runs all seem to come at the “right” time rather than “any” time seems to be the way this team keeps getting through. Pitching late to him, even with a .250 batting average, might seem like a gamble—he has four RBIs and a homer this postseason.
John Lackey, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller did really well keeping the trouble at bay, but the Giants *cough only *cough batted .500 against lefties. No to mention, Lackey has pitched more postseason innings than any active player. The St. Louis bullpen will be leaned on heavily, and their performance could prove crucial for the Cardinals.
The leadoff man for the Giants had a horrible series against the Nats that he’ll need to snap in order for San Fran to be productive. Blanco went 2 for 18 with no runs scores. Against a team as stacked as the Cardinals, getting an early jump on hits and runs will be paramount. Playing from behind against the Cardinals (late) bats is a recipe for disaster.
The journeyman outfielder has been plagued with injuries for a very long time. He is still recovering from them as we speak and was left off the Giant’s first two playoff series rosters. But now he’s back and seems to be ready to start. He has a batting average of .286 against the Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright with a HR and three RBIs, so look for him to splash early or be on the bench again.
The young second baseman was supposed to be the future of the Cardinals, but his postseason has been been anything but promising. While he did manage to hit a homer in Game 3 against the Dodgers, Wong is currently riding a .182 average in only three games. That’s still higher than his .100 batting average against the Giants during the regular season. He might be coming in as relief again if the St/ Louis bats get really cold, but this is not a great start for the next “big thing.”
The backdrop of Saint Louis
The scenes of protests in Ferguson following the shooting of Mike Brown are still entrenched in the minds of many people and now, on the verge of starting the NLCS in St. Louis, comes news of another shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer. The citizens of Ferguson captured the nation’s attention, shining a spotlight on the problem of police brutality in their neighborhood, and you can likely expect a second act as the national media descends on St. Louis for this series. Whether the sporting media will choose to gloss over the rampant problems in St. Louis is yet to be seen, but the story should be addressed.