The Series: The G-Men are playing the 2011 World Champion Cardinals, who got in (like they did in 2011) via the wild card. This is going to be a hard fought NLCS. The Giants are the home team based on winning the division (and a better record) but the G-Men split the season series with the Cardinals 3-3, with a 1-1 split in SF and a 2-2 split in St. Louis. The Cardinals (team BA of .271 and Team ERA of 3.71 are as close to the Giants (team BA of .269 and Team ERA of 3.68) as you can get. The Cards have more HR’s (159 to the Giants 103) but less stolen bases (G-men 118 versus Cards 91). Can you say evenly matched?
The question will be momentum and desire. The G-Men are coming off the most emotional comeback in the history of the NLDS, three games down on the road in Cincinnati and winning all three. The Cards came back from 2 runs down in the 9th inning of game 5 to knock out the Nationals (BTW: glad to see it, teaches the Nationals to shut down Strasberg for the playoffs, what horseshit was that?). Will this series go the distance? Hard to say but based on the statistics it looks like a 7 game series to me.
On the Cardinals side look out for Carlos Beltran (simple awesome, we should have kept him), Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, David Freese, Descalso (perhaps the MVP of the Cardinals NLDS series) and Matt Holliday. Kozma, the new shortstop replacing Furcal, is a pistol and was batting .383 after one month in the majors. He is hot people. Finally, ignore Yadier Molina at your peril. He might be the best catcher in baseball short of Buster. Pitching might be a weakness. But Lohse (16 wins and a 2.86 ERA), Wainwright (14 wins and a 3.94 ERA – he can be had BTW), Lynn (18 wins and a 3.78 ERA and a revitalized Chris Carpenter (just back from surgery) are going to be tough. The closer for the Cardinals (Motte) has 42 saves and is one of the save leaders of the NL.
The Positives: Buster Posey. Period. Buster is best player in baseball right now (.338 BA, .408 OBA, 24 dingers, and 103 RBI’s) and the for sure MVP (and the Willie Mac award winner and maybe the comeback player of the year after the injury in 2011) and without him we are ten games back and not in the playoffs at all. That Grand Slam run in Game 5 in Cincinnati was chilling. I thought that I was watching Robert Redford in the Natural hit the lights with Lightening boy.
Behind Buster (in all ways, including in the batting order) is the Reverend Hunter Pence, who is the emotional heart of the team after his magic in Cincinnati to rally the troops with his intensity. He also plays a dynamite right field. For the first time I don’t miss Nate’s arm out there. The Gigantes are a veteran team (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutero, Xavier Nady) with a deep and skilled bench (Arias, Sanchez, Ryan Theriot, Aubrey Huff as a pinch hitter) and a strong bullpen (Casilla, Romo, Kontos, Affeldt and Lopez) and quality pitching (more about that below).
I talked about the Brandon’s (Belt and Crawford) in the last blog but I can’t say enough about these young men. Anyone who saw the picture of Crawford hanging over the rail at Candlestick when he was five years old and looking totally focused knows that this guy bleeds orange and black. They are going to be mainstays of the G-Men for years to come. Crawford is a human highlight reel who plays the best defense at short we have seen at AT&T since Omar was here. Belt is as good defensively at first as Crawford is at short, and Belt is a better hitter with more power (I think that he has both Giants splash hits this year, I was there for the last one) and is fearless, as anyone watching him go over the rail for a foul ball in game 1 of NLDS knows. He has found his groove and can now turn on the inside fastball. I expect that we will see Belt being seriously considered for the third spot in the batting order in a year or two. He is that good.
And don’t forget Bruce Bochy. Bochy has been masterful this year with position changes, double switches, using the bullpen carefully, keeping players rested and making the right moves at the right time (although I must admit I got a little concerned in Game 4 of the NLDS when we were down to one player on the bench and Romo had to bat for himself - for the first time this year).
The Questions: Once again, the Panda and the starting pitchers. Pablo is overweight and looking tired. He swings at balls three feet off the plate (but occasionally connects for a ripping home run, like the one that went into the river in Cincinnati). His defense is OK but Arias is better and Pablo does have brain farts now and then. The starting pitchers are all gassed. You can see it. Now the goal is to get six innings out of the pitchers and turn to the bullpen. Putting Lincecum in the pen to relieve Zito worked like a charm but I expect that Timmy will get a start in the NCLS and Zito will be on the bench. Will they be revitalized for the NLCS? I certainly hope so and expect so.
We are going to see Bumgarner and Vogelsong in the first two games. Bumgarner needs to focus (he is young but is growing up quickly and, hopefully, his recrd of pitching well at home will continue) and this is Vogelsong’s time – he has lived his entire life for this moment.
The Negatives: There are very few. Panda’s weight, fatigue in the bullpen (is Affeldt’s finger OK?) and Mota. LEAVE MOTA OFF THE ROSTER! He may have cost us the first two games at home in the losses to the Reds and I shudder every time I see him come out of the bullpen. Watching two losing games at home (including the 9-0 loss to the Reds) was gut wrenching. Is AT&T a negative? The G-men seem to play better on the road than at home but then again all 5 NLDS games were won by the road team. Maybe they are just too tight.
Wear Orange and Black. Bleed Orange.
Remember the Torture!