Another round, another set of previews here at Around The Foghorn. Stuart and I both went two for two in our NLDS predictions, both predicting the Giants in a nauseating five games.
Now, with the San Francisco Giants set to meet the St. Louis Cardinals, we try to replicate our success in our National League Championship Series preview.
- Biggest Giants advantage for the series:
Stuart - The bullpen saved the Giants from a humiliating series in Cincinnati, and even though Tim Lincecum might not still be around to save their skin, guys like Kontos, Casilla, Affeldt, Lopez, and Romo are very capable of delivering the goods and saving their skin.
Bryan – The Cardinals rotation. The Cardinals rotation you say? Oddly, yes. The way things are shaping up, the Cardinals only plan to throw Adam Wainwright one time in the series (outside of bullpen relief in Game 7) and an ill-timed injury for Jaime Garcia will prevent the Giant killer from taking the mound. In four career starts against the orange and black, Garcia holds a 1.27 ERA and his crafty ways are exactly what baffles the Giants’ lineup. No disrespect to Lance Lynn, who’s a solid arm in his own right but the Giants couldn’t have asked for a much better situation, unfortunate as it is for the Cardinals. That said – the it’s no advantage if the Giants don’t turn it into one.
- Biggest Giants weakness for the series:
Stuart - While it’s true each performance kept them in each game, the starting pitching has been underperforming and is my biggest concern. Especially if Tim Lincecum comes to the rotation, you will have to rely on guys in the bullpen to put more work in, including Mota and Mijares if the rotation continues to fail to only go five in the games they start.
Bryan – I’m not really scared that the Giants will go into another offensive funk like they did for the first three games in the Reds series, but like Stuart, I’m a bit concerned about the rotation. Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong need to come out with their guns blazing in the series’ first two games, making sure the Giants head back to St. Louis with a series lead. The rotation was very sub-par against the Reds and doing so again is just asking for disaster.
- What should the Giants do with Tim Lincecum this round? Bullpen? Starter?
Stuart – Walking three in a row to start a game is never a good sign, and so I believe Barry Zito has punched his ticket out of the rotation, and Tim Lincecum’s work in the bullpen has forced management’s hand and will make him a starter in the end like they should. If that was class Lincecum we saw in Cincy and he continues to show up and be Big Time Timmy Jim, we could be in for another postseason classic with Timmy on the mound.
Bryan – This is a wait and see for me. The Freak is just that – so I could see Lincecum being used in Game 1 or even Game 2 and returning for a potential Game 4 start, if need be. But, I think the Giants might play this one by ear, waiting to see how the series unfolds. If they’re up in the series, they could go with Barry Zito in Game 4 and leave Lincecum as a big arm in the ‘pen. I personally don’t trust Zito against the Cardinals – the Red Birds hit a league leading .276 against Southpaw’s this year and Zito is just too much of a question mark to risk in a crucial series swinging start.
- What Giants player must the Cardinals contain to move on?
Stuart – The Reds kept Buster Posey to 4 hits in 19 AB, but unfortunately for them, 2 of those hits were big flies, one of them really big. If Buster keeps coming through against St. Louis, the Cardinals may run out of last strike comebacks. On the defensive side, the Cardinals have to run on the Giants pitchers and force the issue with Posey and expose them for their inability to hold runners on and get into scoring position.
Bryan – Although the Reds did a pretty solid job on the Giants top half of the order, I still think Angel Pagan is the catalyst for the Giants’ offense. Containing Pagan (and to a lesser extent Marco Scutaro) is the best way to beat the Giants and it’s a recipe the Cardinals will need to follow if they want their ticket punched to the World Series. It wont be easy though as Pagan owns a career .365 average in 34 games versus St. Louis.
- What Cardinal player must the Giants contain to move on?
Stuart – This is really tough because the Cardinals have so many weapons, like any playoff opponent would have. There are a lot of right answers to this question, but I’ll go with Allen Craig, the Cardinals 4 hitter. To think Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran, and Matt Holliday will never get on base is silly, so if you can shut down the guy who’s given the chance to bring them in, that’s a good start for a shutdown candidate.
Bryan – The Cardinals offense is disgustingly good up and down the lineup, so I’m not really sure there is one guy you can really focus on. However, if I had to pick one player to contain it’s Carlos Beltran. One of the best postseason players of all-time, Beltran will certainly have revenge on his mind, trying to show the Giants they should’ve paid him the money he felt he commanded this past offseason.
- Name a player from each team who you feel will make an unexpected, big, contribution in the series:
Stuart – I don’t expect the Cardinals to have someone “unexpected” contribute for the series since we know the names of these guys and realize that they’re all pretty freakin’ good. Carlos Beltran will create the narrative that the Giants “should have kept him” this series because he’s really good and is really not talked about to the level that I would think someone with 30+ HR and 10+ SB would be.
The Cardinals, much like the Reds, have a shortage of LHP on their staff (only one — Marc Rzepczynski), so Joaquin Arias probably won’t get his shot to go all Kobe on the Red Birds. Instead, Angel Pagan will do the work getting on base, and may even steal a base off of Yadier Molina, but I’m not going to predict he’s going to run wild on them because if you’ve seen Yadier Molina throw, it’s like watching a living legend and every time a runner successfully steals one you feel like they have cheated death itself.
Bryan – For the Giants, I expect a good series from Angel Pagan, who I mentioned above holds a career .365 average against St. Louis. He probably wont be running as much as normal, given the cannon behind the plate for the Cards, but getting on base will be plenty enough to disrupt the flow.
As for the Cardinals, David Freese and big moments seem to coincide with each other and I don’t see that stopping here. Freese doesn’t have a lot of history against the Giants, but the small history he does have is solid.
- Prediction – who takes the series and in how many games? Who’s your series MVP?
Stuart - The ESPN experts that have picked the Giants all say SF in 6. I don’t work for them, but I’ll agree with that. My series MVP will be Pablo Sandoval, but it’ll probably go to Hunter Pence because of the RBI he’ll rack up. The media loves the ribeyez.
Bryan – Much like the Reds, I don’t see a lot of disparity between the Giants and the Cardinals – each team is very talented and it’s probably going to be a break here or there that decides the series. That break will be home field advantage as the Giants take the series in seven long, heart pounding, torture filled games with Angel Pagan taking home the NLCS MVP hardware.